When Disaster Strikes, Chinese Officials Are Ready With Jargon
In February, a truck in Henan Province transporting fireworks along an elevated highway suddenly exploded, ripping a hole through the bottom of the road and causing a large portion of it to collapse. The concrete and steel rebar was ripped apart, and cars fell to the ground 30 meters below, being mangled as they smashed against one another. In total 13 people were killed and 11 injured.
But in the first report about the incident in Dahe Daily, an official newspaper in Henan, little of the casualty information was mentioned. Instead, 94.5 percent of the story was comprised of “leadership talk,” while the names of Party cadres who were involved in disaster response (or not), and their corresponding state agencies, were cited 44 times, according to an analysis by a Chinese news aggregation website QQ.
Of those injured and killed, mention was made only twice.
Chinese people are by now used to the repetitive cadences of official propaganda, which are trotted out on just about every big occasion in China — and especially after “major incidents,” such as natural disasters, bridge and building collapses, fires, and vehicle pile-ups.
Now, data analysts at news portal QQ have pulled back the veil on the content and composition of these notices, closely examining their structure and diction, with surprising results.
Their analysis of 10 major incidents over the past 6 months shows that on average, there are 3.6 mentions of the deaths or injuries in initial response reports by local government websites and local media, while there are nearly 4 times that many—an average of 14.3—mentions of the names of Communist Party cadres, or their work units. On average, 71.6 percent of the initial notices is spent on describing state officials and their rescue efforts, which QQ calls “leadership talk.”
Frequent phrases include “launching the tasks right now in an intense and orderly manner,” “vigorously setting out various tasks to deal with the aftermath” or “not sparing any costs to reduce the number of casualties.” These have appeared in recent reports on the Xiamen City, Fujian Province bus fire, and the Jilin Province granary fire by the state news agency Xinhua and others.
After the granary fire, for example, Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping “immediately gave important directives” to local authorities, “requesting the organization of rescue efforts with all our strength.” Premier Li Keqiang and the Politburo, State Council, and Ministry of Public Security were somehow involved in rescue and medical treatment efforts after the bus fire in Xiamen, when a disaffected retiree who had been denied social security benefits burned himself and 47 others to death.
QQ provided a “fill in the blanks” paragraph for users to create their own monotonous news report, after the official style. “Let’s play the ‘write an official circular’ game,” it said.
“After the incident occurred, _______ paid much attention, and _______ gave out an important directive requiring that _______ not spare any cost. Right away, _______ arrived at the scene, directing _______ to _______ in order to speedily _______ and organize _______. The _______ worked intensively and in an orderly manner. _______ is currently in the beginning stages of an investigation.”