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LinkAsia | Mar 4
A side effect of rapid industrialization and few regulations, China's rivers are often treated as little more than sewers. But as LinkAsia contribu...
In the immediate aftermath of last week's floods in Beijing, state media reported that 37 people had died. But reports online indicated that the death toll was actually much higher. This led to a wave of criticism against the government, which finally admitted that the death toll was more than double the original number. Our contributor in Hong Kong, David Bandurski, tells us more about the censorship surrounding the Beijing floods.
China is edging closer to an important leadership change this fall. And that makes this an especially sensitive time, a time when leaders hope not to see scenes like this.
The streets of the nation's capital turned into rivers. Modern apartment complexes inundated. And behind the record rains, a flood of criticism, like this post on Chinese social media by a prominent writer with more than five million followers:
"Our country is so powerful, but one big rainstorm can drown its biggest city, and a single lightning strike can derail its fastest trains."
In this deleted post, a user ridicules city officials who said, "We are holding up."
"Tell us how we're holding up!" he writes. "In Fangshan, the situation hasn't entirely improved, and 10 people there have died because drainage systems are inadequate. How is that holding up?"
China's leaders quickly moved to stem the tide of criticism. They issued an order saying media should do fewer reports on the floods. Reporting should stay positive, they said. And most of all, it should not reflect back. No criticism of human error or responsibility. This was a "natural" disaster.
As the days went on, attempts by media to do more in-depth coverage were scuttled by authorities. Eight pages of coverage for the July 26th edition of the scrappy Southern Weekly newspaper were pulled at the last minute.
On the eve of the one-week anniversary, the focus was on the feel-good story. Wei Wei, a dog that retrieved belongings from the floodwaters. People's Liberation Army soldiers selflessly clearing mud from the streets with their bare hands.
On its front page, the city's Beijing Daily reported the new official death toll on July 27th, and the conviction that this was all nature's fault:
"77 Dead in Large-Scale Natural Disaster of July 21," read the headline.
A saccharine editorial right underneath read:
"The list of those who died has been released. Let us express our profound condolences to our brethren who were lost, and our highest esteem to the heroes who gave their lives!"
Marking the one-week anniversary of the floods on July 28th, there was no news, except positive assurances from Beijing leaders that this would never happen again.
One week on, this is the message from China's leaders. On the eve of the 18th Party Congress, let us unleash a flood of positive emotion. Popular anger must flow silently. Doubts and questions must sink to the bottom.
In Hong Kong, I'm David Bandurski for LinkAsia.