After observing the Chinese regime’s rescue efforts for a week following a deadly industrial accident in northern China, an outspoken Chinese property tycoon, social media celebrity, and member of the Party’s own political advisory body decided that he could no longer keep his anger bottled up.
“In an era defined by big data, the government is still acting like a blind man groping in the dark,” wrote Ren Zhiqiang in an Aug. 18 blog post on popular Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo.
The Chinese authorities are “not more stupid than pigs, but their incompetence and deficiencies are on full display,” he continued.
Ren, apart from his profile as a prominent real estate developer in Beijing, has gained notoriety in China for his brusque public comments on the property market, economy, social issues, and politics.
He titled his recent post Testing the Government’s Capability.
Within 24 hours of its being published, it garnered more than 2 million unique views, over 30,000 likes and 15,000 reposts.
On Aug. 12, two huge fireballs lit up the night sky after a state-owned chemical company in the port city of Tianjin exploded, sending shockwaves that could be felt in surrounding residential areas. At least 114 people were killed, over 600 hospitalized, and 64 others remain missing, while more than 17,000 homes have been damaged, according to Chinese state-run media. The explosion created a massive crater.
The Chinese authorities have taken plenty of flak for their management of the disaster. The media and many Internet users have angrily pointed out that the first wave of firefighters, who lost their lives combating the blaze, were found to be untrained; the cleanup operations carried out by various government agencies moved slowly and appeared uncoordinated; and official information about the blast was limited while social media coverage was heavily censored.
When an official was asked who was in charge of the cleanup at a nationally televised press conference in Tianjin, he had no answer. As reporters’ questions began to get edgier, propaganda authorities pulled the plug on the broadcast.
These were some of the complaints Ren aired in his first Weibo post, but said that his “Party boss” demanded that he take it down, while others cautioned him not to write anymore. Ren is a member of Beijing’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a political body that purports to give advice to the Chinese Communist Party and its rubber stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress. Such quasi-official positions are often handed to businessmen who adhere closely to the Party line.
Ren decided to go ahead with his tirade, despite what is expected to be the pushback from propaganda officials for the criticism. Given that the posts have not been deleted despite reaching such a wide audience, however, it is unclear if others in the propaganda system have allowed him to air frustration at local officials so as to deflect negative attention from the Communist Party as a whole.
Ren identified the lack of cooperation and coordination between the many administrative departments and agencies as the key problem plaguing the cleanup operations. The departments are more concerned with their own opinions, and there are “conflicts of interest between different departments,” Ren said.
“As a result, when a major disaster happens, each [agency] cannot do its own job well, but instead, just stands by and watches,” he wrote.
He listed eight suggestions for how disaster response work could function better next time, including clearer lines of communication, coordination between the various bureaucracies and local stakeholders, and, of course, a relaxation of the Party’s ubiquitous media controls.
“Every time there is an incident, what’s lost is not only innocent lives, but at the same time the trust of the public,” Ren wrote, in the conclusion of his first post. “If the public cannot be given a complete and satisfactory answer to these questions, then perhaps what will be lost is the legitimacy of the rulers.”