Beijing Floods Spur Mockery of Xi Jinping Thought on “Flood Control”

Catastrophic flooding caused by Typhoon Doksuri has killed at least 21 people, left approximately 26 people missing, and led to the evacuation of hundreds of thousands in northern China. Rainfall in Beijing broke a 140-year old record and neighboring Hebei province received more than its average annual rainfall in the deluge. The mass flooding calls to mind the 2021 Henan floods in which nearly 400 people died, and the 2012 Beijing floods which left 79 dead—although many believe that figure is a dramatic undercount. At The New York Times, Chris Buckley reported on the flood response in Beijing

The intense rain prompted Beijing to close tourist attractions like the ancient Forbidden City. But the worst effects have been felt in the city’s outer districts, where downpours overwhelmed riverbeds that usually stay dry for much of the year.

[…] Most of the fatalities were in the outer parts of Beijing, including Mentougou District, where video shared by local news outlets on Monday showed cars being swept down a swollen river. Chinese television later showed footage of residents in the district walking through muddy streets strewn with cars that had been washed away. The Beijing government said 13 of the missing were in Mentougou, and another 10 were in Changping, another semi-rural district.

[…] The Chinese capital’s high vigilance over the rains appears to partly reflect memories of flash floods in 2012, when officials seemed ill-prepared. The government ultimately announced a count of 79 dead, mostly from drownings in the southern parts of the city where drainage was poor, but some in the city believed the actual death toll was even higher. [Source]

Zhuozhou, a city in Hebei province located less than 50 miles southwest of Beijing, has been particularly hard-hit. The city seems to have had an uneven disaster response, with the city’s Public Security Bureau sending out a plea for help on Weibo, but deleting it shortly afterward. Some evacuees have been left stranded in traffic on highways elsewhere in Hebei because toll roads have not waived fee collection. For NPR, Aowen Cao reported on the logistical and bureaucratic hurdles that have slowed the disaster response there

Around 9,000 local rescue workers are involved in search and rescue operations in Zhuozhou, with more teams rushing over from neighboring Shanxi and Henan provinces, state media CCTV reported on Wednesday. Hundreds of thousands of residents have been evacuated.

Power cuts and interrupted cell signals caused by flooding have hampered the speed with which local authorities have been able to respond.

Some rescue teams have been waiting for invitation letters from Zhuozhou’s authorities before taking any action, as only invited teams can get into the city per Chinese regulations, the newspaper Southern Weekly reported.

A villager, bursting into tears, told Southern Weekly that the official seal needed for the invitation letters was swept away by floodwaters. [Source]

Zhuozhou is an important logistics hub for China’s publishing industry, and preliminary reports indicate that millions of dollars worth of books have been destroyed by the flooding:

On Chinese social media, there has a torrent of subtle criticism for Xi Jinping’s perceived mishandling of the floods. Just two weeks before the typhoon hit, China’s Ministry of Water Resources published a volume titled “In-Depth Study and Implementation of Xi Jinping’s Key Pronouncements on the Management of Water Resources,” and organized study sessions on it for water resource departments across the central, provincial, and local levels. On Douyin, China’s TikTok, netizens sarcastically eulogized Xi’s “prescience” in matters of flood control, and his tendency to “point the way forward” in fields in which he has no expertise: “Organizing a study session on ‘Xi Jinping Thought Regarding Water Management’ for world experts in flood control is a wonderful thing! He’s pointed the way forward for global flood control!” Another commenter quipped: “He’s pointing a new way forward for the earth’s rotation 👍👍👍.” On Weibo and Twitter, a number of commentators shared photographs of past Party leaders visiting disaster sites. Xi rarely mingles with the public—and then only in tightly choreographed settings—but state media often highlights his “personal” oversight of disaster response efforts. A Weibo hashtag lauding Hebei Party Secretary Ni Yuefeng for personally visiting flood zones was deleted from the platform after Ni’s comment that Hebei should serve as a “moat” for Beijing drew criticism. 

There were also some ugly instances of online hypernationalism related to the flooding. On Weibo, dozens of commenters hijacked a hashtag about the strength of the typhoon to suggest that the storm ought to steer clear of China and head to Japan. “Scram to Japan, storm,” urged one commenter. “Beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it.” Similar comments flooded a CCTV livestream report on the flooding, as well as a Weibo post from the China Meteorological Administration’s weather service. A comment underneath that post read, “Go eat kimchi [an online slur for Korea], and drink some radioactive water [a reference to the discharge of treated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant].” A hashtag noting that the typhoon might turn towards South Korea rocketed to the top of Douyin’s trending ratings, while a hashtag on the plight of a Hebei village trapped by floodwaters was suppressed. 

There have also been a number of inspiring rescue efforts. In Zhuozhou, families have been using an collective online spreadsheet to organize evacuations and find missing relatives—the crowdsourced efforts are reminiscent of nascent labor organizing among Chinese tech workers in 2021. Some 1,000 rescue teams have entered the disaster zone to help. 


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