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China flooding: Death tally rises, Beijing credibility plummets

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Bad storm

Officials pointed out that the storm on Saturday night was historically bad. It brought more rain than Beijing had seen in 60-plus years and slammed parts of Fangshan with more than 18 inches, the highest amount ever recorded, state media said. Rivers were sent bursting their banks, and about a half-mile of the G4 highway was swamped.

In one small village in the hills to the northwest of Fangshan, initially feared to have been savaged during the flood, locals surveying the aftermath this week said that no one died. In fact, they said, a warning from government offices to evacuate to higher ground doubtless saved many lives.

Still, a weibo posting from the southern province of Guangdong on Monday afternoon used the phrase “government’s shameless ‘37 died.’”

Another entry on Monday invoked the name of Yu the Great, or Da Yu, who’s enshrined in ancient Chinese mythology for mastering floods.

“The descendents of Da Yu spend so much money to go abroad to observe and study water control,” said the item, a sarcastic jab at the nation’s bureaucrats and their reputation for corruption.

Several people drew parallels to the July 2011 high-speed train crash in the eastern city of Wenzhou, which killed at least 40 people and created a national uproar over the quality of the nation’s development and, to some extent, criticism of those at the helm.

The long-term implications for the legitimacy of Beijing’s authoritarian government, and, by extension, the Communist Party, from such regular and widely broadcast criticism are not yet obvious.

So far, China’s leadership has kept its version of balance. Officials at times address instances of corruption or environmental degradation, acknowledge popular outcry with sympathetic statements, and fire sacrificial bureaucrats, usually of low rank. There’s been a parallel enforcement of stricter requirements for social media registration, aggressive censorship campaigns and intimidation of those deemed to have made particularly dangerous online remarks.

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