The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.
All websites strengthen control of information related to the Shouguang floods on self-media platforms. Take care to delete unconfirmed rumors, photos, videos, malicious comments, and so on. (August 23) [Chinese]
Amid severe storms across China, the Shandong city of Shouguang was inundated last week, causing damage worth a reported US$1.34 billion and wrecking 10,000 homes and 200,000 greenhouses in the area, China’s biggest domestic vegetable producer. As is often the case after natural disasters—itself a frequently contentious designation—scrutiny of the preparedness or responses of local officials has become politically sensitive. At Sixth Tone, Wang Yiwei and Xi Yue report on critics of the decision to release water from nearby reservoirs:
On Sunday evening, three reservoirs upstream of Shouguang released 320 square meters of water per second into the Mi River, according to local media. The deluge from the dams was gradually reduced until Tuesday evening, when all three stopped releasing water. This, combined with the pouring rain, raised the water level of the Mi River in Shouguang to its highest point since 1974.
[…] Netizens from Shouguang are furious with the local government for opening the dams and releasing water from the reservoirs, as well as its claim that the typhoon was largely responsible for their losses. “A ‘natural disaster’? ” wrote one user on microblogging site Weibo. “You can’t blame everything on nature.”
[…] Zhang Zhenju, deputy director of Shanghai’s flood control headquarters, told Sixth Tone that a lack of preparedness on the government’s side had led to the losses. “Shandong typically sees long periods of little or no rainfall,” he explained. “So when all of a sudden it went from drought to flood, neither local governments nor residents were prepared.” Zhang added that while releasing water should be a solution of last resort, not doing so could also lead to more severe problems, like the complete collapse of a dam. [Source]
South China Morning Post’s Alice Yan reported a local official’s response to criticism of the dam opening:
[…] Zhou Shouzong, director of the Weifang Flood Control and Drought Relief Command Office, defended the move, saying it had been necessary to release the water downstream of the Mi River near Shouguang, news website Thepaper.cn reported on Friday. Shouguang is under the administration of Weifang, a prefecture-level city.
“If we hadn’t discharged the water, it would have posed a serious threat to the safety of the reservoirs, and would even have increased the possibility of the dams collapsing,” he said. “[If that happened] it would have threatened the lives of millions of residents living in the downstream areas of the river.” [Source]
One exampled of content targeted by the censors is the reported suicide of 39-year-old local Zhang Jinlai, whose farm was damaged by the flood. CDT Chinese has preserved a now-deleted article on his death.
Heavy flooding in Beijing in 2012 sparked a flurry of media directives to counter those who "seized the opportunity to attack the Party and the government, as well as the social system." Searches for many related terms were blocked on Weibo, while censors enraged staff at Southern Weekly by cutting eight pages of reporting from the newspaper.
After the Tianjin port explosions in 2015, China Media Project’s David Bandurski wrote that "for China’s leaders, making sense of the senseless is a disruptive and dangerous act, because it nudges the mythically infallible foundations of legitimacy and power. It is never the right or the proper time, according to official China, to seek the sense of tragedy." For more on the official handling of accidents and disasters in China, see CDT’s interview with historian Jeremy Brown.
Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.