Police Stop Mourners Laying Wreaths Near Flood-Hit Zhengzhou Metro Tunnel

State media have been told to focus on heart-warming rescue efforts by the People's Liberation Army.
By Xiaoshan Huang and Qiao Long
2021-07-27
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Police Stop Mourners Laying Wreaths Near Flood-Hit Zhengzhou Metro Tunnel Flower offerings are shown at barriers set up at the Shakou Road Station of the Zhengzhou Metro, where city residents died in July 20, 2021 flooding.
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Authorities in the flood-hit Chinese province of Henan are preventing relatives and supporters from laying public wreaths for those who died in the Zhengzhou flood disaster of July 20, RFA has learned.

Officials set up barriers at an entrance to the Shakou Road station on Zhengzhou's No. 5 Metro Line, as mourners got ready to mark the seventh day after the deaths of people trapped in trains, stations, and tunnels as the waters swept through the city.

At least 69 people have died in the Henan floods so far, with five reported missing, government officials said.

Some of the floral offerings for the dead were inside the barrier, and people arriving later grew annoyed and pushed the barrier aside, saying it was preventing the souls of the dead from finding their way home.

Further barriers were set up by Tuesday lunchtime -- seven days after the tragedy -- by construction workers guarded by police.

An employee who answered the phone at the Zhengzhou Metro said the two-meter barriers were there for reasons of "traffic safety."

"Floral offerings are allowed," the employee said. "The barriers mean that people need to place their flowers within a certain area, so it doesn't affect passing traffic."

"The concern is that they will walk along the edges of the road, but it's not a huge issue."

A Zhengzhou resident surnamed Zhou said the authorities had acted inappropriately.

"Offering flowers is a comfort to the victims' families," Zhou said. "We did this spontaneously, and it didn't affect the traffic or the cleanliness of the city."

Zhou said he believed that the death toll was being played down, amid growing public anger of the lack of action to protect city residents following meteorological warnings, and reports that the floods were caused by a discharge of waters from a failing dam upstream, with warnings to local officials arriving hours after the floods had descended on the city.

Local journalist Hong Tao said state-run media had been ordered to focus on the People's Liberation Army (PLA)'s role in the province-wide rescue effort, after the floods left millions cut off from road supplies, or with limited supplies of food and water.

'Public opinion management'

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s propaganda department has an ongoing program of directives and "public opinion management" strategies aimed at ensuring that the government's view is the only one available during breaking news stories.

Around half a million people have been evacuated after tens of thousands of homes were destroyed in the floods, which came after unprecedented rainfall in mid-July.

"The government is doing public opinion management ... all we can see [on state-run media] is 'nothing to see here, move on'," Hong said. "They won't let us see what is going on, and they stifle the voices who should be heard."

Much of the relief effort is being financed by private donors, rather than through official relief recipients like the Red Cross, an official said.

"Organizations like the Red Cross don't have a good reputation," a Red Cross employee surnamed Yang said.

But he said the government was countering private fund-raising by requiring people install an "anti-fraud" app on their phones, to track the source of funding.

A resident of Henan's Jun county said the danger from further flooding is still ongoing.

"The floods are quite bad right now," the resident, who gave only a surname, Wu, told RFA. "There are places where the water is overflowing from the ... Wei river, and the water levels in our village are high, which is a bit dangerous."

"One person was washed away," she said. "There is water on all sides now, so it's bad."

"None of the villages near us have been evacuated, and we have been told by the army not to evacuate, but to stay home," Wu said. "If nothing happens, that's fine, but it'll be pretty major if something does happen [here]."

Repeated calls to the Henan provincial flood control headquarters rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.

Foreign journalists harassed

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) hit out on Tuesday at the harassment of foreign journalists covering the aftermath of the floods in Zhengzhou.

"In one particularly alarming incident, Henan’s Communist Youth League asked its 1.6 million followers on Chinese social media site Weibo to report the whereabouts of BBC Shanghai reporter Robin Brant, after he became the target of viral online harassment," the club said via its Twitter account.

"Rhetoric from organizations affiliated with China’s ruling Communist Party directly endangers the physical safety of foreign journalists in China and hinders free reporting," it said.

It accused the CCP of encouraging a climate of "growing hostility" against foreign journalists, warning that Chinese journalists working for foreign news organizations often bore the brunt of official persecution and online harassment.

At least 20 foreign journalists have been expelled or forced to flee China in the past year or so, while Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei and Bloomberg journalist Haze Fan are currently detained on unspecified national security charges.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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