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Ignoring Warning Signs – Online Discussions on the Pengzhou Mountain Flash Flood

A day after the mountain river flood in Pengzhou, Chinese netizens reflect on how the incident could happen.

Manya Koetse

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The mountain flash flood that killed at least seven people in Sichuan’s Pengzhou is trending on Chinese social media, where people are discussing how this tragic incident could happen despite the Longcao valley being filled with warning signs not to go down to the river.

On Saturday, August 13, a flash flood in the city of Pengzhou in Sichuan province killed seven people and injured eight.

Videos taken at the scene show how people were taken by surprise as the water burst down the mountain. Many people had set up tents and tables, enjoying playtime with families and friends by the shallow water.

The incident happened in the afternoon at the Longcao valley (龙漕沟) in the Longmen Mountain Scenic Area, a popular area for (domestic) tourism and day trips. Since it was a sunny Saturday, the area was particularly crowded with people playing, cooking, eating, and camping by the water.

As the flash flood came, not everybody initially seemed aware of how life-threatening the situation was. Some people still took the time to collect their belongings, taking their tents and chairs with them before leaving the scene (see videos in Twitter thread below).

Other videos show how some visitors were slow to respond or even ignored warnings given to them about the rising water levels.

Not all people could reach the river bank in time and some people, including children, were swept away by the speeding water. One particularly heart-wrenching video showed a father and his child trapped in the river and being dragged away by the strong water current (#男子在洪水中紧抱孩子#).

 

“Cherish Life, Don’t Go Down the River” Warnings Ignored

 

Earlier that day, at 14:37, a Longmenshan weather warning forecasted short periods of heavy rainfall in the area, increasing the risk of mountain floods, after which the local authorities immediately sent out patrol teams to the riverside to warn visitors to get away from the area.

The area around Longmen mountain and the Longcao valley have warning signs placed by Pengzhou authorities that people should not go down the river due to the risk of sudden mountain floods, especially in summertime.

Warning sign saying: “Cherish life, please don’t go down the river.”

Other photos show that some river bank areas are also fenced off to prevent day-trippers from playing at the river, with warning signs placed: “Prohibited to go down the river, cherish life, if you still go down the river, you must bear the consequences of your risky actions” (禁止下河 珍爱生命 私自下河 一切后果自负).

“Cherish your life, don’t go down the river, if you go down on your own accord, you should bear all consequences of your own risky actions.”

With hundreds of people around the area, it is clear that many warning signs were ignored. This seems to be a common occurrence, since the site is somewhat of a ‘social media hotspot’ (网红打卡点).

Chinese influencers and Xiaohongshu users often post photos of themselves having a BBQ and enjoying the water at the Longcao valley, letting their children swim in the mountain river.

Longcao valley is a ‘social media hotspot.’

At 15:30 on Saturday, less than hour after the initial weather warning, the area’s Xiaoyudong (小鱼洞) first saw a flash flood, and the people who were still at the mountain river were swept away by the water.

According to people who were at the scene, rescue vehicles had problems getting to the scene shortly after because the road was blocked by visitors’ cars.

One popular Weibo blogger called Wuwei Liye (@无为李爷) wrote that he firmly rejected the idea that local authorities should be held responsible for what happened: “They did all they could. Not only did they put up warning signs, they even put up fences (..) and later also shouted out to visitors that they should hurry and get out, but nobody paid attention to them.”

The blogger writes that social media is partly to blame for normalizing risky visits to the river bed and mountain river. “Irresponsible platforms and influencers wrongfully giving publicity to this should be held responsible.”

This stance is also reiterated by official media outlet Global Times (环球网). In a Weibo editorial, they blamed social media celebrities for hyping up Longcao valley despite the area being a fenced-off no-entry zone.

Photo via Baidu, showing visitors entering the area despite a warning sign and fences.

Global Times draws a comparison between the Longcao valley and other dangerous areas that are popular among social media influencers, such as a famous Qinghai road where they pose for pics despite the traffic, or a “starry sky” tunnel in Ningbo, where some risk their life for a pretty photo.

A road in Qinghai and a traffic tunnel in Ningbo are popular picture-taking spots for social media influencers, who risk their own safety and that of others for the perfect selfie.

Many other bloggers also think parents taking their children out to the river bed should also be blamed for their irresponsibility.

Photo showing people enjoying themselves in the Longcao area despite a warning telling them not to go into the river.

Meanwhile, one man who was at the scene is being praised on social media for his brave behavior. As one woman struggled to cross the river with the flash flood nearing, he went back to grab her and bring her to safety. A hashtag dedicated to the vigilance of the heroic man garnered over 140 million views on Weibo on Sunday (#彭州突发山洪黑衣男子逆行救人#)

On the afternoon of August 14th, Pengzhou again sent out a total of fifteen rescue teams for a third search and rescue operation. The rescue operation was rounded up by night time.

By Manya Koetse

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Local News

Knife-Wielding Woman Goes on Rampage at Guixi Primary School

Shortly after the incident, videos and photos began circulating on WeChat, showing young children covered in blood on the ground.

Manya Koetse

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A woman in Guixi, a county-level city in Jiangxi’s Yingtan, has been taken into custody after stabbing people at a primary school on Monday, May 20, around noon. The incident resulted in at least two fatalities and left ten others injured.

Shortly after the incident, videos and photos began circulating on WeChat, showing young children covered in blood on the ground, victims of the woman’s stabbing rampage at the Mingde Primary School in Guixi’s Wenfang.

The incident immediately attracted significant attention on Weibo, where netizens not only commented on the tragedy of innocent children being involved in such a horrific crime but also on the unusual fact that the suspect is female; as typically, perpetrators of such crimes are male.

Others also questioned why the school security guards were not present to prevent such an incident and how the woman managed to gain access to the school grounds in the first place.

The 45-year-old female suspect is a native of Guixi. It’s reported that she used a paring knife to carry out the stabbing attack on the school premises.

Shortly after the incident, local authorities called on blood donation centers in Guixi to extend their opening hours, and local residents started queuing up to donate blood to help out the victims who are still being treated for their injuries.

Another question that lingers is why the woman would commit such an atrocious crime. People suggest it is bàofù shèhuì (报复社会), a Chinese term that translates to “retaliate against society” or “taking revenge on society.”

Baofu shehui is often cited as a type of criminal motivation for knife-wielding incidents in China, particularly those occurring at schools, where individuals with personal grievances and/or mental health issues commit these extreme crimes. Such incidents have happened multiple times in the past, notably between 2010 and 2012, during a series of elementary school and kindergarten attacks.

Different from these kinds of attacks in Europe or the US, it often involves older perpetrators who are disillusioned, frustrated, and alienated from their communities amid rapidly changing social and economic conditions in China.

But for many netizens, such a possible motivation does not make sense. Some commenters wrote: “Taking revenge on society should never be done by venting one’s anger against children.”

Others wish the worst upon the perpetrator. One popular comment says, “I hope she gets the death penalty, and that the victims’ families get to execute her.”

By Manya Koetse

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China Insight

Red Cross Society of China in Bad Light Due to Online Rumors after Gansu Earthquake

Even though the rumors surrounding the Red Cross might be false, the public concerns surrounding charity efforts are real.

Manya Koetse

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A handwarmer for 500 yuan ($70), a tent for 2200 yuan ($308), a blanket for 100 yuan ($14)? An online list detailing items supposedly procured by the Gansu Red Cross for earthquake relief efforts has ignited controversy on Chinese social media in recent days. Although the Red Cross has denied all rumors, the incident underscores public skepticism towards the organization.

After the devastating 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck Jishishan (积石山), a county in China’s Gansu Province’s Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, on December 18, Chinese social media platforms were flooded with news related to the disaster. The overnight earthquake killed at least 148 people and left hundreds injured.

News of the earthquake resonated deeply throughout the country, and the ongoing search and rescue operations and relief efforts, hindered by landslides, ruined infrastructure, and freezing temperatures, have attracted major attention online.

While much of the discourse revolves around the goodness of the people contributing to charities and doing all they can to help victims in the affected areas, there is also public distrust surrounding the motives of some charities or helping organizations that might use the disaster as an opportunity to make a profit.

One hotly debated topic revolves around the Red Cross Society of China, after a list surfaced online of items allegedly purchased by the Gansu Red Cross for relief efforts in the aftermath of the Gansu Earthquake.

Image published on Weibo via Red Cross Society of China (@中国红十字会总会).

The procurement list raised controversy due to the high prices of the common items listed, and because of a supposed “management fee” (管理费) of 1.6 million yuan ($224k).

In response, the Red Cross refuted these claims, asserting that they had not issued any such list (#甘肃红十字称没发布任何物资清单#). On December 24, the Gansu Red Cross took to Weibo (@甘肃省红十字会) to clarify that the circulating information was “grossly inaccurate.” They assured the public that all donations would directly aid earthquake relief efforts, without incurring management fees.

The Red Cross statement on Weibo.

Even though the procurement list might be false, the public concerns surrounding charity efforts are real.

“Why does the Red Cross end up in the top trending lists every time?” one commenter wondered: “Their information should be more transparent and timely.”

Others also suggested that merely denying the rumors was not enough, and that they hoped that the Red Cross would provide more details and information to show netizens, of whom many donated money, how their charity money is being spent to help relief efforts in the affected areas in Gansu and Qinghai.

The fact that the Red Cross Weibo post did not allow any commenting did not help: “Why are you afraid to let us openly discuss this?”

 
Red Cross Society of China: Tainted by Suspicion
 

The Red Cross of China, the nation’s largest charitable organization, continues to grapple with a tarnished reputation that partly stems from the 2011 “Guo Meimei Incident.”

Guo Meimei (郭美美), whose real name is Guo Meiling, became an infamous internet celebrity in the summer of 2011 after flaunting her excessive wealth online whilst claiming to work as a “commercial general manager” for the Red Cross Society of China.

The issue severely eroded the society’s credibility, which has been designated by the government as the central public donation organization during times of disasters (Cheng 2016). From luxury handbags to sports cars, the 19-year-old Guo showed off her money on Weibo, and quickly went viral on various message boards as people were angered over corruption and potential misuse of charity money.

Guo Meimei

Despite efforts by the Red Cross Society to debunk these rumors and distance itself from Guo, speculations persisted. Many speculated about Guo’s potential ties to the organization, even if she did not officially work there. As highlighted by Cheng (2016), the public’s negative sentiment toward the Red Cross triggered “a chain of credibility crises” and even spread to other charitable groups in China.

During the 2020 Wuhan Covid outbreak, the Red Cross faced scrutiny for allegedly stockpiling public donations of medical supplies in warehouses rather than promptly distributing them to frontline medical personnel facing shortages.

The current allegations against the Red Cross of China in the aftermath of the Gansu Earthquake also echo other past controversies, such as the one they dealt with after the 2008 Sichuan quake. Red Cross officials were then also accused of misusing donations by purchasing needlessly expensive tents and vehicles.

 
Donations for the ‘Underdog’: The Han Hong Foundation
 

The growing public distrust towards the Red Cross has arguably paved the way for other Chinese charities to gain prominence. A prime example is the Han Hong Love Charity Foundation (韩红爱心慈善基金会), established in 2012 by renowned Chinese folk singer Han Hong (韩红, 1971).

Although Han Hong has been engaged in charity for many years, during which she invested a lot of her own money, the charity she established became more known after the Han Hong Love Charity Foundation was committed to aid efforts during the Wuhan Covid outbreak in 2020 and the Henan floods in 2021.

Han Hong (center), picture via Xiaohongshu fan of Han Hong.

After the earthquake in Gansu on December 18th, Han Hong’s organization immediately organized rescue teams and provided people in the affected areas with clothes and (medical) supplies. Hang Hong was able to rake in millions thanks to her reputation of being compassionate and altruistic, as well as through her strong network in China’s entertainment industry, leading numerous Chinese celebrities to support her relief efforts.

But Han Hong’s organization is also affected by the public distrust surrounding charity in China. On December 23, it was rumored that her Charity Foundation was officially asked to leave the disaster area as well as to hand over a portion of their donations.

The foundation refuted these claims by issuing a statement on December 25 (#韩红基金会辟谣#).

Statement by Han Hong Love Charity Foundation refuting rumors that their charity work was hindered by officials.

In the public view, there seems to be a big difference between perceptions of large entities like the Red Cross and other ‘official’ charitable organizations versus smaller, more independent initiatives like the Han Hong foundation, which operates as a private charitable entity.

Reflecting on the rumors surrounding both the Red Cross and Han Hong’s foundation, one Weibo commenter noted: “These rumors come into existence because so many of these so-called charitable foundations actually treat charity as their business. And so, they become ‘competitors.’”

Meanwhile, Han Hong’s organization stresses that it operates under the guidance and oversight of the party and government, and only provide emergency support through their support.

In online discussions on the power of the Red Cross versus Han Hong’s organization, some commenters suggest that it is time for the government and authorities to reflect on why a private organization would be more trusted than the Red Cross, a government organized NGO.

One Weibo commenter wrote: “What Han Hong does is true charity instead of business.” Another person replied: “The biggest disaster here is actually the erosion of public trust.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Cheng, Yang. 2016. “Social Media Keep Buzzing! A Test of Contingency Theory in China’s Red Cross Credibility Crisis.” International Journal of Communication, June 2016: pp. 3241+.

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