The people of Hubei province must be wondering what they did to deserve 2020.
Not only was it first to be afflicted by the coronavirus, it has also been badly flooded after seasonal rains fell with much greater force than expected.
According to government data, 121 people have been killed or are missing in the floods and 17,000 homes have been destroyed.
For high school students sitting their college entrance exams this week, the rising waters have been an additional source of stress. The children missed much of their final year at school due to the virus lockdown, and prepared for their all-important gaokao cooped up at home and fearing they’d fall sick.
The key exam was pushed back by a month to give students more time to prepare but that also meant it has coincided with summer rains which often hit southern and central China hard.
Teenagers in Huangmei – a city on the banks of the Yangtze River – had to be collected from their homes in an assortment of bulldozers and rubber dinghies.
One photo in the Global Times shows a bulldozer ploughing through muddy water with a huddle of anxious families in its upturned scoop.
One boarding school in the town was so badly affected that all 500 students needed to be rescued from the rising waters, the newspaper added.
“Hubei gaokao candidates were not deterred by the floods,” it wrote in defiant pride. But floodwaters in the city of Huangshan in Anhui province were so high that the first day of the two-day gaokao had to be postponed.
As readers of WiC will know, the gaokao is a seminal event for millions of Chinese families. This year has been more stressful than most because of the uncertainty around global travel (and visa issuance) for Chinese students – meaning that many might have to pursue their studies at home rather than abroad. Thus the pressure to do well is even greater.
The impact of the virus has also limited some of the preparations for the seasonal rains this year. As early as mid-April the People’s Daily was warning that heavier than usual rain combined with the pandemic meant that the “flood and drought disaster prevention situation is grim”. By June 24 the country had already experienced 7% more rainfall than over the same period last year and a third more of its rivers were in flood, the Ministry of Water Resources confirmed.
Crucially the rains arrived early and they are moving north more slowly than usual, meaning that even more rain is likely to fall on central China. Weather experts even say that the rain this year could break records – potentially a poor omen ahead of the ruling Communist Party’s 100-year anniversary in 2021. Indeed, the question of flood prevention and control is one that has plagued China’s rulers for millennia (for more see our book An A-Z of Chinese History, which can be downloaded from our website). Today many Chinese wonder how a country that was able to contain the worst of the coronavirus is still struggling with this age-old problem. “The quality of our anti-flood infrastructure must be so bad if this keeps happening,” one weibo user remarked. “If the government paid more attention to this, people would suffer less,” added another.
On June 11 the deputy minister of Water Resources Ye Jianchun assured the public that the country’s anti-flood infrastructure was up to the job, and that it was only in cases of extreme weather, or a “black swan event”, that protection measures might fail.
His attempt to reassure backfired, however, with some netizens interpreting his statement as a coded message that the Three Gorges Dam was about to burst.
Some reporters also say that they have been instructed to downplay the severity of the floods in a bid to buoy public morale in a difficult year. “It seems like there is a ban in place,” said a journalist quoted by the IT Times, referring to way that the adverse weather isn’t being fully reported.
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