For Mainland Chinese, Taiwan's Earthquake Relief Efforts Stand in Stark Contrast to Their Own

A 17-storey building collapsed during the 6.4 magnitude earthquake in Tainan on February 6. Photo from Apple Daily non-commercial use.

A 17-storey building collapsed during the 6.4 magnitude earthquake in Tainan on February 6. Photo from Apple Daily. Non-commercial use.

A 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck southern Taiwan on February 6, just ahead of the Lunar Chinese New Year, the most important festival among Chinese. International and domestic rescue teams have continuously been searching for survivors in the ruins for two days. Hundreds have been rescued, but at least 38 people have been confirmed dead and more than 100 people remained missing on the first day of the Lunar New Year.

Most of the victims were from a 17-storey apartment complex in Tainan city. The building collapsed during the earthquake, and hundreds of residents were buried in the ruins. Below is a local TV footage of the major earthquake damage:

While the rescue work continues non-stop, the Tainan city government has started an investigation into the quality of construction materials of the building.

The news of the Tainan temblor quickly traveled across the strait to mainland China, where Web users pointed out the difference they perceived between Chinese relief work and what they were seeing in action on the ground in Taiwan.

In such a tightly controlled environment as China, mainland Chinese media must stay positive and avoid criticizing their country's authorities when reporting on local disasters, such as last year's Tianjin explosions. In the case of the Tainan earthquake, readers noticed that Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times highlighted the possible poor construction problem of the 17-storey building that had collapsed. While some echoed the media outlets in criticizing the Taiwanese authorities and the supposed failure in governance, others mocked the double standard of state- and party-affiliated media.

Given the strict censorship measures that China has put in place on social media, mainland Chinese netizens could not openly compare disaster relief work in China and Taiwan. Instead, they shared one of the Tainan city government's progress reports on earthquake relief work on social media to show how democracy makes a difference in recovering from a disaster. The progress report presented detailed updates on the calamity, the locations of newly set-up relief centers and the number of relief team members in each affected district. The reports are released to the public a few times a day.

In mainland China, disaster reporting typically spotlights the country's leaders coordinating the rescue work in the affected area and doesn't mention any of the concrete details of the relief measures. Mainland Chinese netizens spotted the difference when reading the Tainan progress report. Below are some of the comments on the report:

这才是干实事的 不需要谁下达指示 不需要谁高度重视 不需要谁慰问关怀 赶紧救人才是最有效的

The first time I've seen such a clear report, all this information is wanted by the public.
This is the advantage of democracy.
All departments have their own role. They do not need the president to coordinate. To be frank, the president is not an earthquake expert, his coordination will only mess up the relief work.
So concrete, transparent and efficient.
This is substantial work. There is no need for anyone to give orders, no need for anyone to pay special attention, no need for anyone to express concern or care, all the focus is on rescue work.
Detailed, concrete, no bureaucratic speech.
No special attention from leaders – no long list of officials visiting the affected areas – this is the difference between the two governments in social governance.

Patriotism to the unsympathetic extreme

Meanwhile, the day after the quake, Chinese President Xi Jinping conveyed his condolences to the families of the victims, stressed the blood ties between Chinese in Taiwan and in China and offered assistance for the disaster relief work.

While some Chinese observers anticipated the relationship between Taiwan and China would be tense after Tsai Ingwen, the leader of the opposition party, won the Taiwanese presidential election last month, Xi's comments on the blood ties linking Chinese across the strait was viewed as a show of good will. Though Taiwan has had de-facto sovereignty for decades, the Chinese government insists it is an inseparable part of China.

But the friendly gesture was sullied by overly zealous mainland Chinese Web users who were eager to defend their country against “separatists”.

Twitter user @wildwong displayed a screen capture image of the aggressive comments from popular social media platform Weibo:

在台中國人平安 只希望台獨都能被震死!
解放軍此時不救更待何時? 把航母開過去趕快開展救援工作, 大陸人民會在第一時間捐款祈福.
我只想告訴大家, 這個表情不是 ‘祈禱’, 而是 ‘gimme five’ 擊掌慶祝的意思.
常聽老年人說: 女人當家房倒屋塌. 蔡英文該下台了吧?

Hoping that all Chinese in Taiwan are safe, and all the Taiwan independence advocates are shaken to death!
This is the right time for the People's Liberation Army to act and rescue. Send the navy aircraft carrier to rescue them. People from mainland China will donate and pray for you. [The comment implies that China should take advantage of the moment to take control of Taiwan with military force.]
I want to clarify, this emoji [placing two palms together] is not praying, but ‘give me five’, a celebratory gesture.
Old people are saying: with a woman in control, the house will collapse. Tsai Ingwen should step down.


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  • Eric Pickett

    “Xi’s comments on the blood ties linking Chinese across the strait was viewed as a show of good will.”

    The writer’s unfortunate use of the passive voice begs the question: who exactly views Xi’s comments as a show of good will? The people of China? Perhaps so. The people of Taiwan? The answer would have to be a definite “no”!!! Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s former president who leaves office with 10% of public support, repeatedly used this absurd, antiquated, and racist language about “blood ties” to support his efforts to annex Taiwan to China, and these ideas have been resoundingly rejected by Taiwanese voters. Iowan Lam, the journalist behind this article, should be more accurate in the way she writes about Taiwan/ China relations and use the active voice to accurately assign agency to such intent.

    She then goes on to assert that Xi’s remarks were “friendly.” While they did lack any overt mention of violence, reasserting China’s help as being due to supposed “blood ties’ reminds Taiwanese people of similar use of this language that China’s military regularly uses to threaten Taiwan with violence and destruction in its efforts to annex Taiwan, all in defense of the “blood ties” argument that has been rejected by the majority of Taiwanese. The use of the words “blood ties” are, in fact, a knife wrapped under a silk cloth; they will not resonate as “friendly” to most Taiwanese, but comically as a veiled threat.

  • Sami Abid

    One tweeter woted in thé article on Tianjin blasts is suspended. @nzxws

  • […] writer and photographer Enbion Micah Aan captured Japanese volunteers helping in the aftermath of Tainan earthquake. The original post, titled “Japanese Volunteers at the Tainan Earthquake Site”, was […]

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