Beijing's deadly floods cast doubt on China's building boom

(CBS News) Parts of China have suffered unusually heavy rains. Beijing got the equivalent of six months' rain in one day. Then came deadly flooding, and now, say critics, comes a torrent of propaganda.

It was the worst flooding in 60 years, but a lot of Chinese think officials at first downplayed the death toll to minimize the bad news. Originally reported at 37, it suddenly changed after questions on the internet and was raised to 77, and some don't believe that number either.

There were other questions too: Did city officials do a bad job planning the drainage system in a high-end part of town with a lot of new skyscrapers?

Instead of an answer, officials quashed the criticism.

When one blogger said: "they only know how to turn on the tap of positive propaganda," the post was quickly deleted by authorities.

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There are other questions about Beijing's building boom beyond faults in the drainage system, mostly focused on the quality of so much going up so fast.

"Even when people buy luxury condos in China, they joke that it's not going to last very long because they haven't been built to last," said Patrick Chovanec, a professor at Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management in Beijing.

The one area that had no flooding was ancient Beijing, around the Forbidden City, once home to emperors. Its drainage system was designed six centuries ago.

That makes it all the more embarrassing that an area with new buildings and new drainage technology couldn't deal with something as old as man: a rainstorm.

  • Barry Petersen

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