Staying put until an order arrives
The author is the head of the China Instituteof the JoongAng Ilbo.
The recent flood in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, left subways and tunnels engulfed in heavy rain and killed nearly 100 people. It is criticized as a manmade disaster caused by the inflexibility of the Chinese bureaucratic society that waits only for the orders from above.
Of course, the tragedy is truly caused by climate change. Heavy rain equivalent to one year’s rainfall fell in three days, resulting in a flood of the millennium. But the tragedy of people in the subway drowning from surging water was a manmade disaster related to the political climate in China.
According to Duowei News, a Chinese language media, the Zhengzhou Meteorological Bureau issued multiple warnings before the flood. It proposed suspending classes and businesses, but no one paid attention. Why did this happen? According to a post by a Chinese subway worker, the operation manager of the Zhengzhou subway, the train dispatcher on call and the traffic management department did not take the emergency measures. They were all waiting for the order from higher agencies. Amid the chaos that left the city paralyzed, Henan TV continued to air anti-Japanese drama.
China is not responding in time because of the layers of reporting hierarchy and orders in the “pressure system.” Duowei also questioned how the tragedy of the people was not reported on the front page of the People’s Daily.
In the past few years, self-protectionism has been prevailing among Chinese bureaucrats. The South China Morning Post of Hong Kong recently reported on why. At a Central Commission for Discipline Inspection meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping criticized the bureaucracy for inflexibility and said that no one was moving without his written order. Xi was outraged that officials were not working proactively.
But why did this happen? In China, a party regulation was passed in 2019 requiring executives to seek instructions from their superiors before making a decision. Especially when an order comes from Xi personally, the process of implementation must be reported thoroughly. It was a measure to reinforce Xi’s power by dominating the bureaucratic society. As a result, Chinese bureaucrats became inflexible. Wasn’t the subway disaster caused by the regulation?