A Lesson for Beijing in the Politics of Snow

Howard French reports in the International Herald Tribune about the political implications of the snow crisis:

It would not be an exaggeration to say that China’s big snowstorm has revealed an embarrassing crisis of, well, crisis management in this country. There seems to have been an utter lack of preparedness for anything like a weather emergency of these proportions, an appreciation of which was not lost on many Chinese, including the propaganda system, which has worked overtime to combat this impression.

The rule of thumb in matters like these is that a people’s expectations rise in proportion to a country’s successes. China’s recent successes, needless to say, have been immense, and, as any number of commentators pointed out, a country that is capable of putting astronauts in space and being host to big ceremonies, as one online commentator remarked (read a coy reference to the Olympics), should be able to keep the highways open and the trains running, too, snow or no snow.

By this standard, the Great Snowstorm of 2008 has been a public image disaster for the Chinese government – not vis-à-vis whatever foreigners might think about the country, an area that President Hu Jintao, in a bit of unfortunate timing, recently said merits a major new propaganda drive, but rather in terms of the much more important question of how Chinese see their government and its ability to provide basic services.

On a related topic, see “Why Snow Matters Politically in China” from Sam Crane’s Useless Tree blog. Read more about the Great Snowstorm of 2008 and its effects, via CDT.


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