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Apr 19, 2023, 2:42pm EDT
mediaEast Asia

China’s censorship of deadly hospital fire angers one of CCP’s fiercest supporters

Beijing hospital fire
REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
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The News

One of China’s most prominent and ultranationalistic commentators is criticizing state media for censoring and delaying their coverage of a Beijing hospital fire that killed at least 29 people on Tuesday.

Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief of state tabloid The Global Times and one of the original ”wolf warrior" figures on Chinese social media, first noted on Weibo that there were no photos or videos about the fire, adding, “I don’t think it should be like this,” before deleting his original comment, Voice of America reports.

But he later returned to Weibo with a lengthy post about the media’s responsibility in covering such disasters.

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Hu Xijin on Fire
胡锡进/Weibo

“The most important thing to do is to inform the public of the incident as soon as possible,” Hu wrote. “Of course, those responsible for the accident would like to delay and suppress the reporting, but the government and the media have no reason to satisfy their wish.”

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Know More

Hu conceded that reporting on fires like this might temporarily anger the public about issues like safety codes, but that people need quick updates in the “fast-paced operation of modern society.”

Hu also said that journalists are responsible for digging up facts and that the country’s “habit” of relying on the government to provide updates delays the reporting process.

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However, he said people have noticed that the government has become better at preventing disasters in recent years, so the public outcry against the censorship of the fire would be limited.

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The View From Weibo

Chinese social media was where news first broke out about the hospital fire, but censors quickly took down videos and hashtags like #北京火火# (#BeijingFire). It was not until about eight hours after the fire broke that state media finally reported on the disaster.

Weibo users expressed their frustration with censorship.

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“21 people died but they couldn’t even get that on the hot search,” wrote one user, referring to Weibo’s trending topic list.

Weibo comment on fire
非也2022/Weibo

“21 dead in U.S. Beijing fire (test),” wrote another user, appearing to mock the possibility of censors deleting his post if he referenced the United States.

“I am not a journalism major, but I still remember that one of the principles of news is not timeliness?” posted another person, referring to news outlets delaying their coverage of the fire.

Weibo fire reaction
炖盅y/Weibo
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Step Back

The fire broke out at the Beijing Changfeng Hospital around 1 p.m. local time on Tuesday, with officials later saying it was caused by flammable paint ignited by sparks during renovations inside the building.

Authorities said that of the 29 people killed, 26 were patients, two were nurses, and one was a patient’s family member. At least 71 people were injured.

Twelve people, including the hospital’s president and director of the construction company, were held responsible for the disaster and have been detained, officials said.

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Notable

  • James Griffiths of the Atlantic uncovered how Weibo users deconstructed the government’s narrative about a 2011 train crash that killed 40 people, which was what prompted Chinese censors to adopt new strategies to prevent social commentary for future disasters.
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