Bioethics Blogs

Making a Case for Reducing Pollution in China, or The Case of the Ugly Sperm by Janelle Lamoreaux

The Chinese film, Under the Dome, tells the story of a former CCTV news anchor’s struggle to understand and deal with smog in the wake of her pregnancy and motherhood. The filmmaker and narrator, Chai Jing, makes a case for reducing pollution in China by highlighting the potential correlation between Beijing’s smog and the tumor found in her developing fetus, diagnosed in utero. The film was released on video streaming websites in February of this year, and quickly went viral. According to China Dialogue, the video was viewed hundreds of millions of times before being removed from major streaming portals one week later. This viral appeal could be attributed to the film’s concentration on reproductive health, along with the ways environmental and personal narratives intersect at this critical juncture. Case in point: At a screening of Under the Dome that I attended in London, our host introduced the film by relating Chai’s story to her own struggle finding out she was pregnant while living in smog-filled Beijing. In her case, as in Chai’s, tackling pollution in China became more pressing when its potential consequences threatened future generations.

There are other, less personalized, less narrativized approaches to making a case for reducing pollution in China via reproductive health. One of these is developmental and reproductive toxicology. Since the mid-20th century, this branch of toxicology has focused on studying correlations between toxic exposures and reproductive ability, as well as congenital disorders in developing offspring. Among the group of toxicologists I researched while conducting fieldwork in Nanjing, China, who I refer to as the DeTox Lab, the case for reducing China’s pollution was initially made through male infertility.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.