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The Gansu Marathon Tragedy: Chinese Netizens Are Looking for Answers

The Gansu ultramarathon tragedy has sent shock waves on social media: “The organization needs to be held accountable.”

Manya Koetse

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What was supposed to be an exciting ultramarathon race turned into a terrible tragedy. In Gansu’s Baiyin, 21 runners died this weekend in the mountainous high-altitude track under extreme weather conditions. On Chinese social media, people are shocked and are left with many unanswered questions.

Twenty-one people participating in a mountain marathon race have died in Gansu, China, after extreme weather hit the high-altitude track. The 100-kilometer race, which started on May 22, took place at the Yellow River Stone Forest tourist site in Baiyin city.

In the morning of Sunday, May 23, a total of 151 participants were rescued in a major rescue operation. Eight people had minor injuries and were sent to the hospital. Twenty-one people were already lifeless when they were found. Among those killed were top cross-country runner Liang Jing (梁晶) and the Paralympic champion Huang Guanjun (黄关军).

On Weibo, the hashtag “21 People Killed in Gansu Mountain Marathon Accident” (#甘肃山地马拉松事故21人遇难#) received over 930 million views by Sunday afternoon. Another hashtag “Is the Gansu Marathon Accident is a Natural Disaster or Man-made Disaster?” (#甘肃马拉松事故是天灾还是人祸#) became top trending on Sunday afternoon, with netizens wondering if the organization of the race was up to standard and if the necessary safety guarantees were taken.

The daughter of a participant who was killed during the ultramarathon wanted to know why her family was only informed of his death on the morning of May 23 and why the organizing committee did not make sure the participants were better prepared following the local weather forecasts.

The Gansu provincial government has set up an incident investigation team to further investigate the cause of the incident. On the morning of May 23, the mayor of Baiyin Zhang Xuchen (张旭晨) spoke at a local press conference, where he called the incident a “public safety incident” due to sudden changes in local weather conditions.

The Huanghe Shilin Mountain Marathon (黄河石林山地马拉松) was first held in 2018, and this was its fourth edition. The event, hosted by Jingtai County, was sponsored by the Baiyin Municipal Party Committee and the municipal government. The ultramarathon was organized by a local company, Gansu Shengjing Sports, which had also organized the previous marathons.

According to The Paper, participants must be between the ages of 18-60 and must submit proof that they have completed a similar level race within the last year. The long-distance ultramarathon race is known as a difficult one, with its steep tracks, high altitudes, and a great part of the route being in no man’s land.

The race started at 9.00 in the morning on Saturday the 22nd, with many of the 172 participating runners wearing shorts and short-sleeve running shirts. The extreme weather – including local hail, freezing rain, and strong wind – hit the mountain race in the afternoon. One participant shared their story of what happened during the marathon in a blog article.

The participant describes the weather conditions at the start of the race as “breezy and sunny,” but that soon changed as the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped.

When it started to rain and hail, various runners who had been going up the mountains already withdrew from the race and returned as the conditions became harsher. The runner describes how the gloves and insulation blanket that they carried were insufficient to protect them from the cold, and that he finally decided to withdraw from the race when his hands were frozen and his body temperature dropped.

The runners ran into extreme weather and many became hypothermic.

By that time, according to the account, there were already approximately fifty runners who had withdrawn from the race and had gathered in a hut to warm up and wait for rescue. As more participants came down from the mountain to the hut, there were already some who had seen people lying motionless on the ground. The rescue team could not reach the area by car. The first group of people, including the person writing the account, came down and were able to get on a bus and get back to the race finish line around 16:00 on Saturday afternoon.

In a video shared by Fengmian News, several runners can be seen sharing their experiences as they go on the bus returning from the scene, with some saying they had already seen various people lying on the ground shivering. Others called the drop of body temperature “terrible,” saying that even experiencing the cold for a few minutes was already unbearable.

Photo of participating runners shared on social media.

The race was stopped immediately and local forces organized to search and rescue the runners who were left behind. People’s Daily shared photos of rescue operations continuing in the mountainous area at night. More than 700 people were involved in the rescue.

On Sunday, the news that multiple runners had been rescued by local villagers and shepherds who offered them shelter and warmth also went trending on social media.

Runners rescued by local shepherds warm up by the fire on the 22nd.

Another runner who participated in the ultramarathon shared his story on Weibo, writing that he was among the six top runners when the extreme weather conditions started, and the only one of the top runners who survived because he was rescued by local villagers after falling and passing out.

The rescue operation was concluded at 12:00 in the afternoon on Sunday. Xinhua News reported that the remains of all 21 victims were recovered from the marathon site.

“Is this a natural disaster or a human-made one?” many netizens on Weibo ask, with a majority saying that although the weather conditions were particularly bad, the tragedy was mostly caused by human errors.

Why were the runners not required to carry better equipment and warmer clothes with them? Why was there no security along the track of this off-the-beaten-path race? Why were there no logistics and rescue teams set up along the tracks? Why was there no detailed security and rescue plan in place for emergency situations? These questions and many more are circulating on social media.

“The organization needs to be held accountable,” many people say, while official investigations into the incident are still ongoing. “I can’t believe the organization would make these kinds of errors in 2021,” one person wrote.

“This is unbelievable, 21 people died,” another commenter wrote: “So many families have been broken.”

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 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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    Bill Clinton

    May 25, 2021 at 5:08 am

    CCP killed more people that hamas killed when it baraged rocket into Israel

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China History

Mourning Jiang Zemin, Weibo Turns Black and White

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang Zemin became a recurring part of Chinese memes.

Manya Koetse

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Following the announcement that Jiang Zemin (江泽民), the former president of the PRC, has passed away, various Chinese online platforms have turned into ‘grey’ mode as a sign of mourning. Jiang Zemin died due to leukemia and organ failure. He was 96 years old.

Besides Weibo, the home page of major Chinese websites such as Baidu, Sogou, Taobao, Alipay, Xinhua, People’s Daily, The Paper, and many others all turned into black-and-white mourning mode on Wednesday.

Bilibili turns into grey mode on November 30.

Search engine Sogou also in black and white mode.

On Weibo, one post about Jiang Zemin’s passing received a staggering one million reposts and over two million ‘likes.’ The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin Passed Away at the Age of 96 in Shanghai” (#江泽民同志在上海逝世享年96岁#) had received over 2,5 billion clicks by Wednesday night.

Jiang Zemin was appointed as President of the People’s Republic of China in 1993. In the years before, the former Shanghai Party chief already held official positions as the chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission and general secretary of the Party. In 2003, Jiang Zemin retired and was replaced by Hu Jintao (Sullivan 2012).

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang became a recurring part of Chinese memes. Jiang had created a wide group of online fans, who are commonly referred to as ‘toad worshippers’ as the online phenomenon of ‘worshipping’ Jiang Zemin is called mo ha (膜蛤), ‘toad worship’ (Fang 2020, 38). The entire phenomenon has become its own subculture that is called ‘mo ha culture’ (móhá wénhuà, 膜蛤文化).

What started as a joke – nicknaming Jiang a ‘toad’ due to his big glasses, signature pants, and wide smile, – became an actual online movement of people who were appreciative of Jiang Zemin.

They loved him, not only because the former leader spoke many languages and other talents, and because of his unique appearance, but mainly because he was not scared to show his emotions, was very expressive, and good at telling stories.

One famous example of this, is when Jiang Zemin got upset with a Hong Kong journalist in 2000 and told them off using three languages (link to video, also here). The much-repeated quote “too young, too simple, sometimes naive” comes from this noteworthy moment as Jiang told journalists that they still had a lot to learn, whereas he had gone through “hundred of battles,” saying “I’ve seen it all.” This also led to Jiang later being called ‘the Elder’ (长者) by netizens.

Another popular Jiang Zemin video is when he met with American journalist Mike Wallace in August of 2000 in Beidaihe. During the interview, the two discussed sensitive topics including the Falun Gong and Tiananmen protests. The interview reportedly was one of the longest ever between an American journalist and a Chinese head of state (watch here).

A study by Kecheng Fang (2020) about ‘China’s toad worship culture’ suggests that for many online fans of Jiang, the cult around him is apolitical, playful, and part of a shared digital cultural tradition.

For some, however, it does hold some political meaning to ‘worship’ Jiang, who only became a popular online meme around 2014, after Xi Jinping took power as a conservative strongman who is not as emotionally expressive. Fang describes how one meme creator said: “We couldn’t express our criticism through normal channels, so we turned to other indrect ways, including lauding Jiang’s personality and characteristics in various ways” (2020, 45).

Although Jiang became popular among younger Chinese on online platforms over the past decade, he was not necessarily that popular at the time of his leadership, and opinions vary on the legacy he leaves behind. Jiang continuously pushed for reform and opening-up after Deng Xiaoping’s rule.

As summarized by Foreign Policy, Jiang oversaw two crucial transitions that shaped and improved the lives of the people of China: “First, he peacefully guided his country out of the shadow of China’s founding revolutionaries, who had spent decades purging one another and at times caused great pain and sorrow for everyone else. Second, although hesitant at first, Jiang came to embrace the market economy.”

As various places across China have seen unrest and protests over the past few days, the announcement of Jiang’s death comes at a sensitive time.

Many on Chinese social media are burning virtual candles in memory of Jiang Zemin today. “I will fondly recall your style and manners,” some say.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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References:

Fang, Kecheng. 2020. “Turning a communist party leader into an internet meme: the political and apolitical aspects of China’s toad worship culture.” Information, Communication & Society, 23 (1): 38-58.

Sullivan, Lawrence R. 2012. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. See page: 3-43, 208.

 

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China and Covid19

The ‘Blank White Paper Protest’ in Beijing and Online Discussions on “Outside Forces”

As people in Beijing, Shanghai, and other places take to the streets holding up white papers, some have dubbed this the “A4 Revolution.”

Manya Koetse

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A majority of social media commenters support those who have recently taken to the streets, using blank sheets as a sign of protest against censorship and stringent Covid measures. But there are also online voices warning Chinese young people not to be influenced by ‘external forces.’

Over the past few days, there have been scenes of unrest and protest movements in various places across China.

While there were protests in Shanghai for the second night in a row, Beijing also saw crowds gathering around the Liangmahe area in the city’s Chaoyang District on Sunday night.

Some videos showed crowds softly singing the song “Farewell” (送别) in commemoration of those who lost their lives during the deadly inferno in Urumqi.

Later, people protested against stringent Covid measures.

“The crowds at Liangmahe are amazing,” some people on Weibo commented.

Photos and videos coming from the area showed how people were holding up blank sheets of white paper.

Earlier this weekend, students in Nanjing and Xi’an also held up blank paper sheets in protest of censorship and as the only ‘safe’ way to say what could otherwise not be said. This form of protest also popped up during the Hong Kong protests, as also described in the recent book by Louisa Lim (Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong).

The recurring use of blank paper sheets led to some dubbing the protests an “A4 Revolution.”

“When can we have freedom of speech? Maybe it can start at Beijng’s Liangmahe,” one person on Weibo wrote on Sunday night.

Another Beijing-based netizen wrote: “Before going to sleep I saw what was happening in Liangmahe on my WeChat Moments and then I looked at Weibo and saw that the Xicheng area had added 279 new Covid cases. I started thinking about my own everyday life and the things I am doing. I can’t help but feel a sense of isolation, because I can’t fight and do not dare to raise my voice.”

“I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in 2022. I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in Beijing. I do not dare to believe that again it will all have been useless tomorrow morning,” one Weibo user commented.

During the night, various people at the scene shouted out things such as “we want to go out and work,” and other hopes they have. One person yelled: “I want to go out and see a movie!”

“I want to go and see a movie.”

The phrase “I wanna go watch a movie” (“我要看电影”) was also picked up on social media, with some people commenting : “I am not interested in political regimes, I just want to be able to freely see a movie.” “I want to see a movie! I want to sit in a cinema and watch a movie! I want to watch a movie that is uncensored!”

Despite social media users showing a lot of support for students and locals standing up and making their voices heard, not everyone was supportive of this gathering in Beijing. Some suggested that since Liangmahe is near Beijing’s foreign embassy district, there must be some evil “foreign forces” meddling and creating unrest.

Others expressed that people were starting to demand too many different things instead of solely focusing on China’s zero Covid policies, losing the momentum of the original intention of the protest.

Political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also posted about the recent unrest on his Weibo account on Sunday night:

The people have the right to express their opinions, and you may have good and honest aspirations and have the intention to express legitimate demands. But I want to remind you that many things have their own rules, and when everyone participates in the movement, its direction might become very difficult for ordinary participants to continue to control, and it can easily to be used or even hijacked by separate forces, which may eventually turn into a flood that destroys all of our lives.”

Hu also called on people to keep striving to solve existing problems, but to stay clear-headed, suggesting that it is important for the people and the government to maintain unity in this challenging time.

The term “outside forces” or “external forces” (外部势力) increasingly popped up in social media discussions on late Sunday night.

“I worry a lot of meddling by external forces. Let’s be vigilant of a color revolution. I just hope things will get better,” one netizen from Hubei wrote.

“Young people should not be incited by a few phrases and blindly follow. Everyone will approve of people rationally defending their rights, but stay far away from color revolutions.”

The idea that foreign forces meddle in Chinese affairs for their own agenda has come up various times over the past years, during the Hong Kong protests but also during small-scale protests, such as a local student protest in Chengdu in 2021.

The term “color revolution” is recurring in these kind of discussions, with some netizens suggesting that foreign forces, such as the CIA, are trying to get local people to cause unrest through riots or demonstrations to undermine the stability of the government.

“It’s not always external forces, it can also just be opposition,” one person on Weibo replied: “In every country you’ll have different opinions.”

“What outside forces?” another commenter said: “I’m not an external force! I am just completely fed up with the Covid measures!”

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

 

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

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