Catalogues All | Ecology and Animal Stories | Society WAKING THE GREEN TIGER

Subtitle: A Green Movement Rises in China
Category All , Ecology and Animal Stories , Society
Year: 2012
Country: Canada
Running Time: 78'
Production: Face to Face Media
Director: Gary Marcuse
Official Website:

Seen through the eyes of activists, farmers, and journalists, Waking the Green Tiger follows an extraordinary grassroots campaign which successfully stopped a huge dam project on the upper Yangtze river in southwestern China.

Featuring astonishing archival footage never seen outside China, the documentary also tells the story of Chairman Mao’s determination to conquer nature in the name of progress. Millions of people were mobilized in campaigns that reshaped China’s landscape, destroyed lakes, forests and grasslands, unleashed dust storms, and stifled science. For fifty years the idea was instilled in succeeding generations that nature must serve the people. Critics of this approach were silenced for years.

An environmental movement arises when a new law is passed which, for the first time in China’s history, gives ordinary citizens the democratic right to speak out and take part in government decisions. The activists set out to test their freedom and save a river.

The film includes footage shot by one of China’s first environmental filmmakers, Shi Lihong, of Wild China Films. Her revealing film about the fate of a farming community that was moved to make way for a dam was used by farmers to organize resistance to another massive dam project that would have displaced 100,000 people.

Other participants in the film includee China’s former director of Environmental Protection, Qu Geping, who gives us a candid, no-holds-barred look at the state of the environment in China, as well as leading activists Ma Jun, Yu Xiaogang and Liu Jianqiang. Judith Shapiro, author of Mao's War Against Nature was a consultant on the project.


More on Film


This is the third in a series of films that Betsy Carson and I have produced about the origins of environmental movements in North America, Russia and now China. These programs (Nuclear Dynamite, Arktika: the Russian Dream that Failed, Waking the Green Tiger) have been produced in association with CBC’s The Nature of Things.

These films are, each in their own way, celebrations of the rise of grass roots movements on three different continents over a period of fifty years. In North America the environmental movement grew out of a peace movement in the 1950s that was inspired, in part, by environmental concerns. Radioactive strontium from nuclear testing in Nevada and the South Pacific was detected in milk and in children’s teeth and bones. This led to a greater understanding of food chains that allow the concentration of radiation as fallout landing in farm fields was consumed by cows and passed to children through their milk. In Russia the environmental movement was inspired by concerns about toxic Soviet era nuclear waste that was abandoned in the arctic as nuclear submarine bases were closed and the Russian economy collapsed. In China, as shown in Waking the Green Tiger, a movement crystallizes around a campaign to save a wild river in Yunnan province. What all these movements have in common is the passionate desire of ordinary people to protect the environment and their willingness to speak out and to assert their right to do so.

Together these programs trace a transformation in our understanding of the world we live in over the last 60 years. In the past the world seemed larger and more fragmented. Events half a world away had little impact. But gradually, with a better understanding of food chains and ecology it has become clear that we live in a fragile collection of interlocking ecosystems, and the biological systems and species that we destroy may never be see again.

The step from environmental awareness to environmental action is difficult. Activism by its nature disturbs the status quo and triggers a response from vested interests. Without support from the public, the government, and the law, environmental activists are often exposed to pressure, repression or violence, as has happened in many countries. A movement is more than a spontaneous demonstration. It only emerges when the ground has been prepared for it. In our films we have tried to describe both the inciting events that triggered the movement and the broader social context that made a movement possible.

The existence of an environmental crisis in China is well known. For decades public policy was driven by the philosophy that nature must serve the people. During Mao’s time the philosophy was more explicit: man must conquer nature. The consequences of this neglect are evident. China’s outspoken vice-minister of the environment, Pan Yue, is outspoken about the extensive air and water pollution that affects half of the population. The news media have published and broadcast hundreds of thousands of reports about air and water pollution and endangered wildlife. Every week there are hundreds of local demonstrations triggered by concerns about toxic waste. But until quite recently there was little evidence of anything like a grass roots movement that could make a difference. Many green groups were limited to more symbolic efforts like tree planting, litter collection, and nature walks.

But starting in 2004, as described in the documentary, something changed. Green activism evolved into a green movement when local villagers and activists joined forces to oppose a massive dam project on the Upper Yangtze river at Tiger Leaping Gorge. How this happened, and how this green movement supports the evolution of democracy in China is the subject of our film.

Gary Marcuse – Writer / Director

More about Director

Gary Marcuse

Gary MarcuseWriter / Producer / Director

CBC Television Programming Executive (2004-2008): Liaison for the CBC documentary unit in charge of regional development and local documentary production, CBC Vancouver.

Independent production: Writer, director, producer for Face to Face Media: The Mind of a Child, (Gemini Canada Award), Nuclear Dynamite (Gemini, Beijing Golden Dragon, and 12 international awards), ARKTIKA: the Russian Dream that Failed.

Writer and director: Champions of the Wild (Great Sea Turtles, Jaguars and Siberian Tigers episodes), and The Search for Women Warriors for the series Ancient Clues for Omni Productions.

Executive Producer for the feature documentary FIX: The Story of an Addicted City by Canada Wild Productions (Nettie Wild, Director).

Industry Service: Past President and national executive, Writer’s Guild of Canada, Vancouver Branch (ACTRA), Founding member, Documentary Organization of Canada, Vancouver Branch, Past National Chair, Documentary Organization of Canada.

Selected awards: Genie, Beijing Golden Dragon, Gemini, Gemini Canada, Columbus, New York, Chicago, Houston

Festivals & Awards

2012 Ecofalante Environmental Film Festival, Brazil

2012 The Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital, USA

2012 San Francisco Green Film Festival, USA

2012 Saltspring Film Festival, USA

2012 Courtenay Film Festival, Canada

2012 Spokane International Film Festival, USA

2011 Planet in Focus Film Festival, Canada
Won Best Canadian Feature Film Award

2011 Vancouver International Film Festival, Canada
Voted Top Ten Canadian Films

Press & Reviews

"That's just one of the provocative, subversive and downright surprising questions raised in Waking the Green Tiger, a stirring documentary by a Vancouver filmmaker…"
Martin Knelmanm, TORONTO STAR