Villages Buried in Mudslides – The China Angle with Simone Gao

July 22, 2020 Updated: July 22, 2020

Welcome to Zooming In, I’m Simone Gao. China is experiencing one of its worst floods in a century, and the end hasn’t yet arrived. As buildings and villages are washed away, how are the locals responding? How are government officials handling the crisis? Is this purely a natural disaster, Have human factors made things worse? Today we’ll look at both sides in this episode of the China Angle.

More bizarre weather is striking China. Snow has China’s southernmost province, the tropical island of Hainan. A magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck the city of Tangshan on July 12. This was one of six earthquakes inside China in a two day period. The last earthquake in Tangshan city, in 1976, killed over 240,000 people. Further, current flooding in China is the worst in 100 year’s time.

Flooding is not new to China, let’s take a quick look at how these disasters have shaped China.

According to Chinese history, a disastrous flood was the birth of the first Chinese dynasty, known as the Xia dynasty. 4000 years ago, one man, named Yu the Great, managed the consistent and destructive flooding of the Yellow River, turning the land around it into an agricultural powerhouse. That is, the birth of the first Chinese dynasty was through flooding. Fast forward to the 20th century, and we find that the 3rd worst flood in human history happened during China’s communist revolution. Soviet engineering and low design standards were to blame. Today, what sort of historical impact will today’s flooding have on China?

Time will tell for that question, but for right now, the ones bearing the brunt of the disaster are the average Chinese citizens.

Monsoon rains usually fall in China during the months of july and august. This year, the rains started in June, and have not relented. Most of the flooding so far has been restricted to the southern half of China. The vice minister of water resource said that the rainfall along the Yangtze river was between 1.5 and 2.6 times more than the previous year. Officials are expected to evacuate affected locals. The locals tell another story.

Phone interviews with the Chinese division of Epoch Times came from people in several provinces down the Yangtze river, including Hubei, Anhui, and Jiangxi. These three provinces are downstream of China’s three gorges dam. It is one of the largest dams in the world, and has come under scrutiny in the wake of the floods.

A consistent claim was that officials did not offer assistance to people. Further, locals claim that, because of embankment breaches, authorities are discharging flood water from lakes and rivers. One man, surnamed Wang, said that officials were abandoning reinforcements on smaller dikes to protect large ones. Wang and 12,000 others from the city of Tongling have retreated to shelters. He said that the shelters lack basic flood-time necessities, like drinking water, tents, raincoats, and insect repellent. He said food was also limited. Wang said all he and the others can do is to nervously wait, wondering if their property will be swept away.

And there are disasters upstream too. The first major city before the three gorges dam is Chongqing. Rain began falling on July 1st, and water filled into the first floors of buildings by the next day. This area, though affected, is not as severe as the cities downstream of the three gorges dam.

This disaster was predicted by one Chinese hydrologist, who opposed the three gorges dam since the idea was first presented. Huang Wanli consistently warned the CCP about the disasters that would follow building such a dam, yet was imprisoned and disgraced from his work position. Now his children are pointing out the warnings and predictions their father made years ago.

On July 12, one of Huang’s sons, named Huang Guanhong, told NTD news that whether the dam releases the water or not, there will be massive flooding. “If the Three Gorges Dam doesn’t release its waters, Chongqing city [on the upper stream] will be submerged. If the dam discharges water, Wuhan [on the downstream] would be inundated. The latter is the current situation.”

Statements from the dam management said all of the power facilities within are operating at maximum capacity, implying that the maximum amount of water is passing through it. One expert hydrologist named Wang Weiluo said that releasing water from the three gorges at this time is making the destruction up to 25 times worse. That is, it is not just the volume of water, but the flow speed of the water is being increased. The flow is 25 times more than a normal flood, making for a much more destructive flood.

A Chinese online content source called Net Ease (Wangyi) worked to turn focus away from the Three Gorges Dam. The report was titled “The Three Gorges Dam is already sparing no efforts, please do not blame it further”. One of the initial arguments for building the dam was to help with flood control. As for the effect the dam is having on preventing flooding, the same report said there was “nothing more that could be done”. The report has since been removed from NetEase, but shared across other Chinese news websites.

Chinese citizens have told the Chinese Epoch Times that flooding is being amplified due to the extra water from the three gorges drainage. One example was a mudslide that hit in the early hours of July 8th in China’s southern Guizhou Province. Officials in Tongren city said the mudslide destroyed 133 houses, bringing 507 people to homelessness. Local residents tell a different story.

One man contacted by the Chinese Epoch Times said the mudslide leveled much of the village. “Almost the whole village was buried. Only three or four houses are still standing. They [the rescue team] dug out many fellow villagers from the mud, but they had already died.”

The village is far away from the city center in Tongren. The rescue team arrived after 10 a.m., more than five hours after the mudslides occurred. He went on to describe that the flood waters washed away many villagers, submerged over one thousand acres of land, and destroyed roads connecting neighboring villages outside the city.

Another individual interviewed in a neighboring village said that officials blocked off the city from outsiders. The officials also forbade locals from using their phones outside. It is likely because of the footage that they were capturing.

There is also opposition to that footage from the media. The host of one state-run media channel claimed that all the talk of flooding was fake news. She said that all of the flooding is an illusion, caused by people carelessly spreading rumors on the internet.

“Why, after building so many dams, is there more and more flooding? That’s because the internet is getting better, and this disaster information continuously is coming into your smartphone. It is giving people the false impression that the flood is becoming worse.”

No CCP officials have visited the regions affected by the flood. So far, the floods have affected nearly 40 million people, and caused billions of dollars in damages. The waters, along with mudslides, have washed away houses, bridges, and even dams. In the month’s time since the flooding began, no senior CCP officials have visited the seriously affected areas. On july 6th, China’s number 2 in charge, Li Keqiang, travelled to the southern province of Guizhou. The area he visited suffered much less damage than areas along the Yangtze river. Further, the Yangtze does not cross through Guizhou. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has not made an appearance in any of the flooded areas.

On July 13, the CCP declared a disaster funding effort in response to the floods. They said the government will provide 309 million yuan in disaster relief funds. That may sound like a lot, but with 40 million people, that comes out to about 10 yuan per person, or 1-point-5 dollars. The money won’t be directly provided to disaster-stricken citizens. It will be supplied for restoration projects.

New humanitarian crises may be on the horizon for China. On july 14th, the WHO issued a warning on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. The WHO urged flooding victims to drink boiled or chlorinated water. It advised against using clothes or other materials that had contact with floodwaters but have not been washed with bleach. Also, they should not eat food that they found in floodwaters, nor any food items that had contact with floodwaters.

Speaking of food, the massive floods may significantly influence farm yields for this year. Prices have already started climbing on food inside China. At the same time, a video circulated on Chinese social media allegedly showing the quality of China’s grain supplies. At a corn storage facility in northeastern Heilongjiang province was allegedly full of moldy kernels. Chinese social media platforms censored the video.

We’ve seen what the locals are dealing with, and we’ve seen how the officials are responding. Right now, all we can do is hope for the best for the people of China. This has been the China Angle on Zooming In, I’m Simone Gao, thanks for watching.