Gender and Environmental Pollution in China
The Other Half is an independent Chinese film by Ying Liang. The film follows the narrative of Zeng Xiaofen who works as a legal clerk in the city of Zigong in China. The film presents a contemporary commentary on the status of women living in a major Chinese city in and the problems that they face. Throughout the film, Xiaofen faces problems including a boyfriend with a gambling addiction, a father returning home after abandoning the family, and health concerns; yet all of these problems are overshadowed by the threat of impending environmental doom. Zigong, China is a major manufacturing location for chemical companies because of its abundance of natural resources, specifically salt; thus, the biggest problem that affects the city is pollution of the environment due to the presence of major chemical factories. Ying uses this film to show how women often bear the brunt of environmental concerns and highlights how men and women respond differently to issues of the environment. The narrative analysis framework helps us to better understand the difference between the values and responses of men and women. Ultimately, the narrative that Ying provides for us shows that in a society where men dominate business, politics and policy, and the legal process women have no way to save their own lives.
What Ying successfully shows in her film is how men and women differ in experiences, values, interests and power. In this film, the primary interests of the men are economic; they see environmental issues as a threat to economic development. Women, on the other hand, are more concerned with how environmental pollution affects their health and security. Because of this difference in values, men and women respond to environmental issues in different ways. Women respond to health concerns through legal and political means, while men respond by reframing the issue.
The first time that Ying links the issue of gender and the environment is when Peng Kangda, the chairman of Dongsheng Chemicals, comes to see the lawyer that Xiaofen works for. More than 400 of his workers held a street protest after three women workers claimed they had deformed babies. The women blamed the plant and planned to prosecute Kangda. The main product of Dongsheng Chemicals is benzene, which Kangda admits could be “toxic like most chemicals.” The plant was blamed for causing cancers, tumors, woman diseases and “god knows what else.” The lawyer believes that Kangda will “probably win” in a case against the women because he follows the Communist Party environmental policies and because “economic development comes first.” Therefore, women bear the brunt of the negative health impacts of chemical production (deformed babies, miscarriages and cancer) yet their boss, a man, will not have to pay the price for putting their lives in danger.
Later in the film, Kangda gives an interview in an attempt to reframe how people view his company: “People always think of chemical [companies] as polluters of the environment, and it’s true that many chemical companies think it’s too costly to control emissions—It reduces profits, so it’s not a wise investment—but we don’t agree. Our recycling system has improved our earnings and preserved the environment.” Here he is trying to move the discourse away from the negative health impacts of pollution to the positive things his company is doing to promote environmental protection.
In the end, a leakage of benzene at the Dongsheng Chemical plant results in an explosion forcing 200,000 people to evacuate the area and Xiaofen dies. In conclusion, throughout the course of the film Dongsheng Chemical Company is prosecuted by women who are being harmed by the toxic chemicals, yet Peng Kangda’s response is to reframe the issue instead of compensating the women, and in the end the women pay the ultimate price for Dongsheng’s carelessness The Other Half uses Dongsheng Chemicals, a real chemical company located in Zigong, as an example of how men and women are affected by and respond to environmental degradation differently. Ultimately, women are concerned with protecting their safety and their health, while men value making a profit at any cost—even if the cost is the lives of women.
Ying, Liang, Shan Peng, Xiaofei Zeng, Gang Deng, and Ke Zhao. Ling Yi Ban: The Other Half / 90 Minutes Film Studio ; a Film by Ying Liang. New York, N.Y: DGenerate Films, Inc, 2006.