Death on the Silk Road (1999)

An old documentary I found on YouTube which discusses China’s nuclear testing program in Lop Nor. You can watch it here.

I found a helpful description on this website:

Death on the Silk Road

Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; 212-808-4980
Produced by Richard Hering and Stuart Tanner for Channel Four Dispatches
VHS, color, 27 min.

Reviewed by Cliff Glaviano, Coordinator of Cataloging, Bowling Green State University Libraries, Bowling Green, OH

This film reveals the extraordinary risks involved in attempting to document possible health hazards of nuclear weapons testing in China. From 1964 to 1996, the Chinese conducted a series of at least 43 nuclear experiments of high-yield tactical nuclear weapons at the Lop Nor site in Xinjiang province. Though the area of the tests is sparsely populated, many cities on the ancient Silk Road trade route are downwind from Lop Nor and have been exposed to fallout from above ground tests and radiation releases from underground tests. The Great Silk Road currently is among areas highly promoted by China for foreign tourism.

A team of doctors and filmmakers pose as tourists in order to assess the potential effects of nuclear testing in China. Each takes considerable personal risk to attempt to document increased incidences of birth defects, leukemia and other cancers in Xinjian. Increased rates of these medical problems could be evidence that Chinese nuclear testing has placed the Xinjian population at risk. The team obtains its evidence by gaining illegal access to Chinese medical records, by interviewing local doctors, and by offering medical services to indigent residents. This is a documentary of a very real case of modern spying in which evidence collected by the team is smuggled out of the country by accomplices. One team member is detained for hours and strip-searched at the Beijing airport, before being released to board his out-of-country flight for lack of evidence.

Death on the Silk Road won the 1999 Rory Peck Award for Journalism. The review copy lacked a view of the most compelling evidence the team was able to collect (“shot missing”) and also contained a blank sequence of about 20 seconds duration before the final credits. Assuming the production copies of the video have corrected these small faults, the film is recommended for 9th grade through adult audiences. Scenes of victims with birth defects or diseases are graphic and could disturb less mature viewers.



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