Fangshan, a district of Beijing, was severely hit by flooding after torrential rain fell on July 21. Angered by the lack of facts in media coverage about the degree of death and damage, residents posted public letters online, heckling the media.
They also volunteered to provide information about the true situation of the disaster. In interviews with Radio Free Asia, villagers revealed that no cameras or mobile phones were allowed where corpses were being counted, and the site was intensively guarded.
On July 25, a resident of Fangshan District posted a message titled “A Letter to Beijing TV and China Central Television (CCTV)” on the Internet. The author questioned the validity and source of the death toll, which was officially reported as 37. He also asked why Beijing TV and CCTV did not come to the flood-stricken areas to take live footage.
He wrote, “Many thanks for ‘showing your thoughtfulness’ to Fangshan District! Your ‘truthful’ report about the disaster of Fangshan District is highly appreciated. According to your report, the death toll of the entire city was 37. I really would like to understand how you came up with that number!”
“If this number is correct, can any of you explain why scenes of numerous corpses were observed all around Fangshan District?”
“You devoted so much time to reporting a Hyundai Tucson trapped in the flood, so why couldn’t you provide coverage of Fangshan District showing the destroyed buildings, collapsed bridge, mud-rock flows, and flood victims in deep distress? I am keen to know whether, in your eyes, the value of Fangshan District residents’ lives can’t compete with a Tucson, which costs merely 200,000 yuan (US$31,000)?”
The author urged the media to “uphold conscience,” saying, “We no longer care about the death toll you claimed in your reports. We just want to remind you that media staff must have a conscience. Never trade your humanity or conscience for pleasing the authorities.”
On July 26, the state mouthpiece Xinhua updated the official death toll to 77. According to the report, the disaster area has been searched and the number of victims is not expected to increase much further.
A netizen commented: “In a country with the second-largest economy in the world, because of a long rainstorm, 77 people died. It’s really unheard of!”
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