Almost as soon as the initial aftershocks stopped reverberating last week, the rumors began. Some say that frogs, insects and other animals fled shortly before the earth shook. Others insist that water mysteriously drained from ponds, or that Beijing knew the massive earthquake would strike but chose not to publicize it with the Olympics around the corner.
Patently false, perhaps, but enough to alarm the Chinese leadership.
“Stop rumors to avoid social panic and stabilize order,” said an earthquake report issued Wednesday by the government of hard-hit Mianyang. On the same day, Beijing announced that it had punished four people in northern China for spreading rumors on the Internet about the quake, without explaining what the punishment was.