David Wertime

Chinese Social Media Abuzz After Deadly Southwest China Mudslide

Chinese media–both of the mainstream and the social variety–are abuzz with discussion of a horrific mudslide which has struck a hydropower station in Jinping in Liangshan prefecture, Sichuan province. China’s official state media, Xinhua, has tersely reported in English that ten people have died and fourteen have gone missing from the August 30 disaster.

A earlier subsequent Chinese-language report by Sina explained that fierce rains caused three different mudslides to occur in close succession late on the 29th and early on the 30th.

@记者唐波 tweeted the following on the early morning of Friday, August 31 on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter: 

“A friend gave me a desperate call on the morning of the 30th saying that a mudslide occurred at Jinping #3 electric power station in Mianning County, Liangshan Prefecture, Sichuan province. It’s been said that there are tens of thousands of workers there, with several hundred buried. Over one hundred have already died; there are no concrete statistics. At present, internal organizations have not been able to help; it’s as if there are no rescuers and they can only depend on outsiders. They climbed up top a hill in order to get a cell phone signal, and are asking everyone to help save them.” {{1}}[[1]]朋友打来求救电话,30号凌晨,四川凉山州冕宁县锦屏水电站3号营地发生泥石流,据他称,当地数万施工人员,数百人被埋,已经有上百人死亡,具体无统计。目前,内部组织救援不到位,几乎无营救,只能靠外部了。他们爬上山顶才找到手机信号,求大家救救他们。(联系人张新源18781580749)[[1]]

The user then left a contact number for the man he says called him with the news. Although the reference to “internal organizations” is ambiguous, it seems to suggest on-site or nearby emergency preparations were insufficient, or at least overwhelmed by the mudslide(s). The writer’s handle translates as “reporter Tang Bo,” although the user account does not provide information about what organization Tang Bo works for. The tweet accompanied a picture, shown below.

Tang’s tweet promptly spread like wildfire, with over 54,000 retweets and 7,000 comments on Sina Weibo since its posting. The hashtag “Jinping mudslide” (锦屏泥石流) has received over 150,000 comments on Sina Weibo. 

Other users purporting to be from Liangshan have posted a variety of pictures from other parts of Liangshan, including towns called Xichang (西昌) and Xide (喜德县). Those images are also below.

For their part, netizens overwhelmingly wrote to express their sorrow and wish the victims well. At the same time, many netizens commenting on the news seemed unsure whether to trust the news. @Michaelsue asked, “Real or fake?” Many others did not believe Tang’s numbers. @安静如我们 wrote, “If it’s so serious, where is the official information?”

So far, the official tally appears to remain at ten dead. That is a tragedy by itself, but some netizens are insisting that things are worse. In more recent tweets, Tang Bo has claimed to hear that outsiders remain unable to reach the disaster site, while survivors have only approximately one days’ worth of food remaining. Tang also criticized authorities for being “tight-lipped” about the death toll and deleting Weibo posts from victims’ family members. He ended by requesting that authorities “first give everything to save people; we can play the numbers game [regarding the death toll] later.” {{2}}[[2]]先动员一切力量救人,数字游戏后面再说.[[2]]

Tang Bo retweeted this image, which quickly went viral

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David Wertime

David is the co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation. He first encountered China as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2001 and has lived and worked in Fuling, Chongqing, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He is a ChinaFile fellow at the Asia Society and an associate fellow at the Truman National Security Project.