Typhoon Doksuri caused record flooding in northern China in July and early August 2023, pushing reservoirs beyond their capacity, killing at least 60 people and displacing more than 1.5 million, according to news reports.
The devastating flooding washed away cars, bridges, homes and livelihoods. Many residents contend that provincial Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities worsened the damage by diverting floodwaters into densely populated areas in several low-lying flood control zones, stoking widespread anger. About 1 million of those displaced are from Hebei province, which borders Beijing on three sides, according to The Guardian newspaper.
During previous floods, targeted flood management areas were largely unpopulated. But in 2017, CCP Secretary General Xi Jinping promoted developing marshland around Beijing into the Xiong’an New Area to provide another bureaucratic capital for his regime. Xi intended the state-level area to be larger than New York City, according to The Diplomat magazine.
The recent floods devasted areas in central Hebei around Xiong’an, including Zhuozhou, a city of 600,000 about 80 kilometers south of Beijing. Meanwhile, Xiong’an’s major urban areas, which Xi designated to house state-owned entities and offices, were not flooded.
The disparate outcomes have raised questions about how CCP officials decided to open floodgates and spillways to discharge water into the so-called flood storage zones, apparently keeping Beijing and Xiong’an safe at the expense of other areas, according to CNN.
The storm was the most severe to hit the region since Xiong’an was built, Reuters reported.
In early August, Hebei’s CCP secretary Ni Yuefeng said that Zhuozhou and other flooded areas would “serve as a moat for the capital.” His comments were later removed from Zhuozhou’s official WeChat messaging channel, according to The Guardian. The flooding affected more than 134,000 people in Zhuozhou.
CCP officials also censored discussions of the flood on the Weibo social media platform, so posters used coded language. “The secretary’s words are … really shameless,” one user wrote, according to The Guardian. Some censored posts can still be seen on Free Zhihu, a website that tracks deleted content. One read: “This is the helplessness of a small place … The whole world is paying attention to what’s going on in Beijing,” The Guardian reported.
Protecting large cities by sacrificing rural areas has long been a practice in China and elsewhere, experts said.
Hongzhang Xu, an Australian National University postdoctoral research fellow, told CNN it was “possible that authorities released water in Zhuozhou to preemptively ease pressures on Xiong’an, considering its new flood control infrastructure.”
Not only did the CCP divert floodwaters to populated areas but local and national governments failed to provide immediate assistance or disaster relief to Zhuozhou.
“In other places you see leaders rushing to the front line and coordinating rescue efforts, but in Zhuozhou they disappeared,” one resident told Reuters, adding that he was stranded in his apartment for three days without electricity.
Survivors said there was no coordination of civilian rescue groups because government workers didn’t show up.
“At the time there was no phone signal, and we couldn’t contact any local officials. We could only save ourselves,” resident Wu Chunlei, whose home and factory were destroyed, told Reuters.
Flood victims also protested in Bazhou, a city 130 kilometers southeast of Zhuozhou, with banners demanding compensation for damage. Videos of the protests were posted on social media, Reuters reported.
Many survivors also said they were not adequately warned that floodwaters would be released into their areas, according to The New York Times.
“No one ever informed us of the flood discharge or told us to prepare to evacuate — if we had known this information, we would not have left so many things behind,” one villager told the newspaper. “Everything is soaked in water. I can barely calculate my loss.”
Many residents, especially in Hebei, are skeptical of the government’s promises to rebuild, according to news reports. Under Chinese law, residents whose property is damaged by flood diversion are entitled to compensation. Beijing officials said it could take a year before victims can return home, Reuters reported.