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Li Chengpeng: Beijing Rainstorm Reveals Humanity and Truth

The heaviest rainstorm in 61 years flooded Beijing in July 2012.

The heaviest rainstorm in 61 years flooded Beijing in July 2012.

Li Chengpeng

Li Chengpeng is often described as a famous Chinese social commentator, opinion-leader, essayist, best-selling author, and popular Chinese blogger. He was also formerly known for being a famous football [soccer] journalist and is nicknamed “Li Big Eyes”. The following blog post on his popular Sina-hosted blog has already been deleted and is no longer accessible…

From Sina Blog:

Totem

When the largest rainstorm in 61 years fell upon Beijing, I was a thousand kilometers away writing an article about how central government ministries and commissions spent 6 billion yuan buying cars for official use last year. It’s so sad that the emperor’s city became a swamp, and yet only private cars were seen taking to the streets rescuing those trapped, while the 6 billion performed no heroic deeds.

Just as another round of crackdowns on rumor mongering on weibo is happening, weibo begins saving people, providing information that is accurate, regular and thorough, specialized and with division of labor. The people on their own decided that every rescuing car would turn on its emergency flashers, with all the lights throughout the city a beating heart. At this moment, “Character Theory” [discussions about the quality of Chinese people’s characters] seems so ridiculous. From Wenchuan to Yushu to the train accident to yesterday’s worst-in-61-years, compared to the chaos of the hurricane in New Orleans [Hurricane Katrina] several years ago, the characters of Chinese people are not actually low/poor. But here comes the problem——why do Chinese people only temporarily reveal such high characters when disasters occur? Normally, just squeezing onto a crowded bus requires people throwing curses at each other while just lining up to buy Spring Festival Chun Yun tickets results in fighting and brawling, yet at this moment, they vaguely possess the gentlemanly chivalry seen right before the Titanic sank. When my friends joined the rescue at Guangqumen Bridge, the moment their cars arrived, people all yelled “let the women and children go first”.

Chinese people’s characters are ordinarily suppressed by a certain power. When a nation is only keen on purchasing cars for officials instead of building up public transportation, when the Ministry of Railways only cares for major construction projects instead of doing a better job on public service, people have to have low characters simply for self-protection. But the humanity is there, like a luminous pearl, normally ordinary and unremarkable like a rock, but in the key moment shining brightly. Everybody knows——that old man in the water clearing the clogged drains and sewers, those sanitation workers who stood in front of the open sewer manholes [to prevent others from falling in], those men carrying bottled water and bread who rushed into the rainy night to search for trapped people, those city residents who normally would be paranoid by by a crossed line at this moment bravely publicizing their own addresses and cell phone numbers to provide food, shelter, and a hot bath… I don’t actually want to use the stirring “we are all Chinese” view here, because what I really want to say is that this is Chinese people’s civic awareness growing. Which is to say, when you participate in community self-government and self-management, you’ll feel a strong sense of existence and security.

This is what being civilized is, all for one, and one for all, we are all citizens. I appreciate what Mr. Zhao Chu wrote about the spirit of new Beijing citizens, and I don’t believe there are two different Beijings before and after the rainstorm. There has always been one Beijing, it’s just that a certain power artificially caused people’s isolation/division. About two years ago, Beijing’s real estate purchase limitation for waidiren [outsiders, non-native Beijingers] erupted in a battle of war of words between the locals and the outsiders, with Beijingers saying “outsiders should get the fuck out of the capital” while the outsiders said “what makes Beijingers so great? The Real Beijingers are in Zhoukoudian [where Peking Man was found]”. Graduatlly, everyone learned that in this country, those who don’t have money are all outsiders, while the real “locals” live in Zhongnanhai [the seat of government]. When modern civilization cast a light through the window, when the entire city turns into an ocean, outsiders/locals becomes a very false/meaningless concept. Last night, my friend Yang Fei, a typical rich second generation spent the whole night driving his Hummer around to help people get home. Last night, 五岳散人 [a well-known freelance writer] provided shelter for trapped people. Last night, many locals post on their microblogs drawing attention to all of those beipiao migrants and petitioners living underground in Beijing’s subterranean housing. Last night, a police director named Li Fanghong died in the line of duty while relocating others… The isolation/division of people broke down and the reason people reunited so reasonably and fair is because this is humanity.

But isolation/division still remains. Just as ordinary city residents were opening the doors to their homes, just as private car owners risked hydrolock to lend a hand to those trapped on the streets… the public buses that the government manages still stopped service at their designated times, highway toll stations continued to collect fare from the cars providing rescue and assistance, while the chengguan who normally would charge like wild beasts whenever they spot a street peddler were nowhere to be seen. The government completely failed to realize that this was a good opportunity to put on a show/pull a publicity stunt [do something that earns the good will of the public], even if it were booking hourly rate rooms at chain hotels near those trapped [by the rain/flooded and unable to get home]. It never crossed their minds, just as it never crossed their minds that in addition to dressing up the city and making it pretty, they should’ve also built a functional drainage system. They only know how to turn on the faucet of positive propaganda, not knowing that public opinion is the most important drainage system… This is essentially a totem, only as good as water, but never accepting good counsel. It’s not the city that is insufficient, it’s the work done that is insufficient, a single drainage pipe that divides you and me.

For the 2008 Beijing Olympics Liu Huan sang “You and Me” [the Beijing Olympic theme song], and it is indeed one world, but it isn’t one dream. Government officials only know to go abroad to “observe and study” [how other countries do things], without ever being seen on the streets inspecting [actual conditions in the country]; owning 6 billion yuan worth of new cars, but not driving seen driving them out to rescue people on the streets. The latest joke I’ve heard is that this city’s city management department [chengguan] said they began organizing a 100,000-strong army of people as a preventative contingency plan to deal with the rainstorm two days ago. A 100,000-strong army of people to respond to the rainstorm and still ten lives have been lost. This just goes to show just how this city built according to a “grand narrative” is so very fragile.

Just like in the past, the story will have to develop along the narratives of how love knows no boundaries, of singing praises for great deeds, and of how disasters bring us together. If my guess is correct, headlines like “Rainstorm Washes out True Love Between the People” will yet again appear. These kind of headlines make me sick, because it isn’t that a rainstorm washed out the love between the people, but rather that a rainstorm has washed out the truth, and the truth is: a city that can’t even build a working drainage system can never be ranked an international city, and when the entire nation can’t build a working drainage systems, it should know why the nation is always waterlogged with public opinion.

Alright, I’ll stop here, on my way to the airport, flying south. I won’t say a word, won’t write a thing, I’ll only light a memorial candle.

The Beijing rainstorm.

Comments from Sina Weibo:

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李承鹏:

Sina’s chief editor contacted me and said that Beijing city leaders strongly insisted that this article be deleted. I have a question, why must my articles be deleted every time? Am I fixed for deletion? Please save it to your hard disk.

Silent_Hero: (responding to above)

The leaders are so busy. Instead of rushing to drain the water and repair pipes, they’re busy staring at Big Eyes’ blog. Such die-hard fans~~~

决不说话: (responding to 李承鹏)

Although it’s relevant, it’s useless. What you see is only the surface/appearance, you can’t see inside. To only dwell on the negative side of complaining, of course it was deleted. But of course, if you wrote about the inside, you might be inside [jail] now.

文慧轩:

Governance without sincerity risks the truth being exposed at any time, maybe in an earthquake, a rainstorm, a torrential flood, a frost, or even a fight between street vendors and chengguan. That the sewers aren’t built well is because they’re underground.

帅帅的爸_wayne:

Every time the government uses the people’s self-organization and initiative to conceal the government’s failure to do their jobs!!! Is it right?

童瞳子:

The Beijing rainstorm truly was terrible, ai ya.

李松龙微博:

When I saw the private cars in Beijing flashing their emergency flashers, I was truly moved to tears. In the crucial moment, we ordinary common people can still be trusted, can still be depended on!

淼-博纳:

Up to date, fast, original, analytical, deep, and done. Praises!

布林鸟之阿布:

I feel that there’s already no one we can rely on.

北大校友肥浩:

The sewers have to have an outlet, and there area around Beijing simply doesn’t have a place for water to drain. Blaming the government for this is indeed not very reasonable. You’d be better off making sure one is prepared and figuring out what to do when this happens again in the future.

jj笑眯眯:

Learn from foreign countries, the sewer systems were built in the 17th century, and are still in use today. We may not want to worship foreign thing and fawn on foreign countries, but for some things, you’ve got to admit [we should learn from abroad].

大姐夫-贾尼斯基基:

So fucking ridiculous. It was just a super heavy rainstorm. If it happened in any city in the US, they may not necessarily come out of it better than Beijing [in terms of devastation and civic action].

晓望淑:

Don’t have brains, if you’re stupid, just learn from/copy Obama, who halted his election campaign because of the shooting, though ultimately precisely for his election campaign.

文明一大步2012:

After a disaster, there will definitely be praises for good deeds, and shameless clowns will soon come on stage.

What do you think? Is Chinese civic awareness growing?

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The largest rainstorm in 61 years flooded Beijing in July 2012.

Written by Peter Barefoot

Peter is a born and raised Chengdunese who enjoys drinking with all his friends.

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