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China's crisis

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on February 1, 2008

Plenty of readers are angry at me for my story about the potential for social unrest in Chinese cities slammed by the weather-induced transportation chaos. According to some, I’m an ignorant, anti-Chinese bigot who should be fired. And those are the milder comments. Fine, I can handle criticism. But I do want to point out that there’s no denying how bad things are getting in China’s cities. Today’s South China Morning Post and International Herald Tribune, for instance, have photos on their front pages of sick women, apparently overcome by cold, being carried away amid the huge crowds of freezing people in front of the Guangzhou train station. “Angry men, howling women and scared babies,” is the headline in the SCMP. “Storm unmasks weak links in Chinese economy,” reports the IHT. “No going home: Millions Stranded in China cities,” is the lead headline in the Wall Street Journal Asia. Even the official China Daily can’t manage an upbeat headline. “President: step up power supply,” the paper reports. “Hu urges coal output, shipments be safeguarded to ease power crisis.” If even the China Daily, the government’s mouthpiece, is saying there’s a crisis, then the situation must be very, very bad.

Reader Comments

a reader

February 1, 2008 2:36 AM

Nature disaster coincided with the biggest holiday inevitably will cause disruption of services and even chaos but everyone in China is working hard to overcome the difficulties. Several works have sacrificed their lives in order to restore the disrupted electricity even if they know the works are inherently dangerous. Chaos is not equal to crisis. In contrary, the government gained the credit because he cares about his people. In addition, the word Crisis in Chinese has different interpretation. This crisis is not unrest.


February 1, 2008 2:50 AM

Bruce is a perfect observatpr of the obvious. It does not take a genius to figure it that the situation in China lately caused by the snowstorm to be serious. The Chinese government is doing all the possible effort the help the people and calm the population. You seem to take great comfort in other people misery and then use it bash people or institution that you don't like. You use the article to spread your own political view and passing them as business article. You hate the Chinese government, but still you have to be objective. I don't think that Chinse government to be perfect. It has fault and it has corruption but at least it try to improve itself and help the people. Didn't you learn that you have to keep your personal bias to a minimum as a journalist when you were in journalistic class during your college time? You can not treat your reader as dummy!

Katie Leung

February 1, 2008 7:04 AM

I understand what you are saying Bruce, I think what people said is not all wrong, because if you kindly take a look at the reports you write about China, almost all the them has a slight hint of insult, sarcasm.

But anyway, I would like to thank you, Bruce. You help to point out China's problems, and hence the Chinese readers here can actually identify it and somehow help to improve China.

Wouldn't it be better if you just write things more fairly, include more facts than opinions please ?

I don't think Bruce is the one that mention people's discontent, corruption. Actually on some Chinese chat forums ( .cn not .com), the Chinese posters seem to be very upset about this. There was even an article on the BBC news site about the netizen's discontent at how the government is addressing things right now.


February 1, 2008 1:49 PM

Nobody said the situation is not bad. It is a natural disaster, you know. What most readers disagree with was that your previous article suggested that people will overthrow the government because of this crisis. What will that achieve? When titanic sink, you don't stop to yell at the iceberg or overthrow the captain. You do what the captain tell you to do.

Faye Wong

February 1, 2008 2:06 PM

Try think of something new once in a while, every time there is a crisis, US media just fall into this worse than reported mode, it's boring.

noah magnuson

February 1, 2008 7:10 PM

If CCP cared about China's people, they could have saved the billions of dollars spent persecuting the Falun Gong, Tibetans, Christians, democracy activists etc, and spent it on some infrastructure. The people are angry and rightfully so. The only thing the CCP cares about is its image and control. China will only have a bright future and respect when they get rid of the CCP.


February 1, 2008 8:18 PM

No one deny the big crisis in China from the top to the bottom. The fact is that this is a natural disaster, not a political thing. It causes economical and life loses. It is very ugly for you to connect this with politics.

Some people could feel angry, but most of Chinese understand the efforts from top leaders to grassroots. No one else could handle this disaster if it could not be handled by our Chinese and our government. I guess you know it if you know a little about China and Chinese. Chinese experience big natural disasters almost every year, we had huge floodings in 2007 too. So what! We made it and recovered. Big deal?

Your mean smile faces to our Chinese lose can be feeled by readers easily.


February 3, 2008 12:15 AM

Keep in mind that this cold front happened at the worst possible time -- Chinese New Year -- when the whole country is on the move. In other countries, people will have the sense to stay at home if a heavy storm hit, but in China, the New Year Festival is such a big thing, everyone is headed out to parents' homes....which in turn makes a huge mess. Most people who have not lived in China will have tough time understanding the Chinese mentality surrounding this holiday and the stress it creates on the country's transport system even in a case when the weather is less of a problem....


February 3, 2008 10:07 PM

These are the two links of the disasters ongoing in China.

Pics of the icestorm in China

Pics of Snow In China

It has lasted for 20 days already. It is not a simple snowstorm many Americans experienced. It is ICESTORM, otherwise China's eletricity system in soutern area would not collapse. Electricity system collapse caused the collapse of the transportation system since railways in China's busiest areas are electricified.It happened unexpectedly.

Bruce, a serious question for you: Do you think your gov can handle this in the same condition?

Good news is that: Things are getting better in China with the efforts from all Chinese. We are really united before disaster because that's our own homeland for 5000 years!


February 4, 2008 12:46 AM

It's sad that Bruce doesn't bother to take a look at the voices of ordinary Chinese netizens that are posted in all major news websites, Bruce, you will disappponsted find that this natural disaster actually solidify the Chinese people and rebuild a strong tie between the government and the people. Look at the real voices of the ordinary people. Just as premeier Wen Jiabao said, the Chinese people is the greatest and most thank-deserveing people.


February 4, 2008 12:49 AM

Noah Magnuson, I don't know which country you r from, but I am pretty sure the Chinese givenment and Chinese people can conquer any disarster and crush the world under their feet.


February 4, 2008 1:04 AM

Noah Magnuson, did you get rid of your government when they persecuting the Muslim and Native Indians? I haven't seen mobs attacking White House for invading and committing the worst massacre in this early millennium in Iraq and Afghanistan. What the CCP did is much less than what your government is doing to other foreign citizens.


February 4, 2008 2:50 AM

It is quite common for you to have this kind of thinking, but it is abnormal for you to write this out. If this happened to US during Xmas time, will you open your big month again? thanks.


February 4, 2008 3:11 AM

I agree with you, the weather is very bad. I agree with you, the government is trying hard to make things goes smoothly.

However, one thing I know of you: You don't have human heart. What you have is a journalist eyeing for money and news. Can you feel how hard people waiting there in line? Can you feel how hard this migrant people earn their living to see their families?

This what I called extremely biased point of view. You just cover only from one angle.


February 4, 2008 3:12 AM

I had been not only reading, but also seeing the clips on BBC & CNN. It is very bad. Bruce, you called it right on. As one of the reader's pointed, they had shots of lines-men climibing poles and removing ice with ice-picks. If that is not dangerous, what is? Psychologists have been deployed to do counseling


February 4, 2008 4:34 PM

1. What the super-nationalistic English-Second-Language Chinese readers here have construed as an insult and incitement of protest by Bruce against the Chinese government is really just a journalist reporting on a weather crisis, with an amount of political spin and fanfare typical of those who have to fill pages of a newspaper/magazine/website every day. Maybe it's not 100% objective, but what Bruce did is nothing unusual. Understand your limitations (reading English) and open your mind (the Chinese government has been in many ways good for China, but in many ways bad as well) before spewing out bitrolic, hateful opinions.

2. Do any of you Chinese know what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989? Any clue? Do you consider those students and those who supported them to be evil, China haters? Seems like most of you do. In which case many of those protestors' lives were truly wasted...


February 4, 2008 8:56 PM

Jonathan: Tiananmen square=Operation Blue Star


February 4, 2008 9:06 PM

Bruce what do your article bring to the table? What is your research on this? Have you actually done any actual investigation in how serious is the snow storm for the Chinese people and government? Have you provided new useful information on the snowstorm in China so your reader can draw their own conclusion?

Your article just reflect other people news so you are not giving any new or meaningful information but just repeating other people work! Repeating like a parrot from what you have heard is not considered good journalistic approach. You have been very condescending to your reader by providing flame baiting articles throughout you tenure in BW


February 5, 2008 6:04 AM

Yes Jonathan, Tiananmen Square incident was full of CIA aroma like many "incidents" around the world. But what is the relationship of Tiananmen with this winter crisis?


February 5, 2008 6:14 AM

Btw, Bruce, I have to say that you're lucky to hear Chinese readers' voices. Now you, unlike your other western colleagues, know that you can't write bias things about China without alienating your Chinese readers. At least you still have chance to save your reputation among Chinese readers. I doubt your colleagues have the same chance tough.


February 5, 2008 8:56 AM

Jonathan, the people in Tiananmen square were disrupting public peace. In the 80s after just opening up, we didn't have good crowd control tech, (no shields, no rubber bullets) and we used soldier to quell it. How do you think soldiers will react when someone throw stones at them making them bleed?

If they won, you won't see todays China, we would be another India, maybe worse.


February 5, 2008 6:52 PM

Here is a link with useful information in which it describe and informs its readers about the situation in China due to snowstorm. I hope that you could learn something about being a professional journalist by reading the link that I have provide to you!
"11 electricians killed in China storms


Cold, exhausted residents stood in long lines for water and gasoline Tuesday as the central Chinese city of Chenzhou entered the 12th day of a blackout sparked by the worst winter storms in more than half a century.

Families shopped for chickens for their Lunar New Year holiday feasts and traffic was moving on city streets, lending an air of normalcy during daylight hours.

However, the city remained almost entirely without power and prices of food, candles and charcoal briquettes used for heating and cooking had shot up due to shortages, residents said.

"It is extremely cold and inconvenient. I haven't had a shower for about 10 days," said a Chenzhou travel agent who gave only her surname, Hong.

The city in Hunan province is in the center of a region roughly the size of Western Europe that has been pummeled by freak blizzards and ice storms beginning Jan. 10.

With the weather improving, about 130,000 workers have fanned out to restore power ahead of Thursday's start to the Lunar New Year holiday, although officials said the job remained daunting.

Traffic snarls continued to ease as highways were cleared of ice and train service was restored, allowing tens of millions of migrant workers to complete holiday journeys home for the only chance many have to see their families all year."


February 5, 2008 11:12 PM

Bad news for Bruce and good news for Chinese and China's friends: The snowstorm almost ended and the traffic is getting back to normal fast. No big protests were caused for the weather.


February 6, 2008 12:17 PM

It is one thing to report how bad things went in this unexpected natural disaster and how people were not happy about how this was handled by authorities. It is quite another thing to stretch it to imply that this could be the begining of a massive social unrest against commie ruling.

When disaster strikes, you can see good, bad and terrible things from all sorts of people. Maybe reporting nagatives is what helps to sell the store,

What I fail to see is the balanced story in this article. When the author is biased it appears naturally to the readers that the author has his own agenda. I think this author caused damage to the credibility of this magzine.

Ranjan Nair

February 7, 2008 12:38 AM

LowSK, you're in denial. So the "liberation" army rolled in with tanks to avoid thrown stones? They obviously came in with the intent purpose to shut down attempts at democracy or losing grip on government control.

And if you guys didn't attack the protesters, you would be another India?
Wow, way to be racist.

I would never want to live in such a stuck-up, communist, and government controlled country like yours. At least in India, we have our rights and we are not in fear of government bulldozers bringing our houses down or being blown up every time someday retaliates or that journalists actually can write their OWN stories.


February 7, 2008 1:28 AM

Here is more good news. It seems that life going back to normal in China and right on time to celebrate Chinese new year!
More work ahead to fix the damage done by the snowstorm so not political upheaval as Bruce Einhorn was expecting or praying!
Thursday February 7, 02:25 PM
China getting back on its feet as weather improves
Enlarge image
CHENZHOU, China (Reuters) - The thunder of firecrackers ushered in the Year of the Rat on Thursday, but millions of Chinese were spending a cold holiday as repair teams battled to restore power knocked out by the worst snow storms in a century.

China's leaders spent the eve of the Lunar New Year holiday in some of the worst-hit parts of south-central China offering consolation to residents and encouragement to relief workers.

Premier Wen Jiabao was in the provinces of Jiangxi and Guizhou on his third tour of disaster areas in nine days. He visited one city that has been without electricity for three weeks.

As well as mobilizing more than a million soldiers and reservists to combat the snow and ice, the state has cranked up its propaganda machine to lift spirits for the most important day in the calendar.

"We lost much in the weather disaster...but we also got many things, such as courage, will and the ability to overcome difficulties. Amid the disaster, relations between officials and the masses strengthened and people became more united," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Wen as saying.

In Chenzhou, a city in the central province of Hunan that has been one of the most badly affected areas, state media said homes were getting power back after being blacked out for 11 days.

But most of the city was pitch dark on Wednesday night. The only light came from the occasional hotel or shop with a diesel generator or from the incessant explosion of fireworks.

About 1,000 electricity pylons and poles have collapsed around Chenzhou under the weight of ice and snow, effectively destroying the local power grid.


State media reported that power had been restored partly or fully to 164 of 169 counties battered by blizzards across vast swathes of central, southern and eastern China -- parts of the country simply not prepared for severe winter weather.

Scores died in snow-related accidents in the run-up to the holiday, but the weather improved in time to enable tens of millions to make it home by road and rail in what is the biggest annual migration on Earth.

On Wednesday alone, as a severe-weather alert was lifted, the rail network carried 2.54 million passengers, the government said. Highways were back to normal and only one airport, in Guizhou, was closed.

But the break in the weather came too late for millions of poor migrant workers who had no choice but to spend the holiday at the factories that have made China the workshop of the world.

The economic planning agency said nearly 2,300 mines were working through the holidays to rebuild coal stocks that were depleted as snow and ice snarled the railways. As of Tuesday, state-owned power stations had 10 days' supply, it said.

President Hu Jintao visited the autonomous region of Guangxi in the south where state television showed him helping soldiers load food and other aid on to a helicopter.

"If we are united as one, working in strength, we can overcome the current difficulties and ensure victory all round," he said.

The sound of firecrackers will reverberate across China for much of the next 10 days. The Beijing Times reported that one farmer was killed near the capital by homemade fireworks.

(Writing by Alan Wheatley)


February 7, 2008 10:57 AM

You can tell whether a country is on its way up or down by watching its people, not the system of government. When the people are concerned about practical matters and measure success by concrete, measurable results, you know the country is rising. On the other hand, when the people are throwing empty slogans and rhetorics around like candies, you know that country is going down.

These days, Chinese people are all about demanding measurable achievements for their country, not empty words like "freedom", "values", and "democracy". Einhorn can trash China everyday, but we Chinese people, having been through 100 years of foreign aggression and internal turmoil, have nothing but scorn for him and his kind.

So trash away if it makes him feel better, because it won't change a darn thing for China. We kind of like it this way, you know, rapid improvement of quality of life and all. For entertainment, we are watching Americans chanting their values while their home values get obliviated.


February 17, 2008 8:13 PM

Bruce, you need to travel to China witness the real situation yourself. If every journalist can just open the web and read IHT and SMC and write an article as if it were his own account, I can do your job.

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