26 September 2023
Fact checkMisleading

A series of misleading claims about recent natural disasters in China

Annie Lab found inaccurate news reports, irrelevant images, and a manipulated video about flooding and landslides in China

In May, China encountered various natural disasters that affected over nine million people.

Annie Lab looked into misleading claims, news articles and social media posts about different incidents such as flooding and landslides that were shared widely. This article presents three results of our fact-checking investigation.

False: Flooding and rain in Eastern China did not result in the death of 10,000 people

An article posted on the Indian news website Republicworld.com reported that “at least 10,000 people were reported dead” following the rains and flooding in Jiangxi province and other parts of eastern China in May. Republicworld.com is part of Republic TV, which describes itself as India’s “most-watched English news channel.”

An Indian news aggregator, Daily Hunt, which has over one million followers on Facebook alone, also posted the same article verbatim and also used the same photo as Republicworld.com did.

However, this report is not accurate. Government data shows no more than six deaths, not 10,000, were recorded due to the flooding in Jiangxi and other parts of China at the time.

According to the Ministry of Emergency Management, at least six people died in the flooding in Jiangxi, Fujian, Anhui, and Hubei, while 10 others perished and disappeared due to the wind and hail disasters in Northwest, Southwest, North China, grassland fire in Inner Mongolia and Yunnan and other disasters, which all occurred in May.

Both Republicworld.com and Daily Hunt referenced a Hong Kong news media outlet, the South China Morning Post in their articles as the source of the 10,000 figure.

However, the SCMP only reported on May 7 that “More than 10,000 people have been forced to leave their homes,” due to the rains.

Comparison of the figure in question from the article in Republicworld.com and SCMP

The articles from the Indian websites both used a photo credited to the Associated Press, but Annie Lab found that it is an irrelevant, old image.

The caption of the original photo found in the AP news website says the photo shows vehicles stranded due to the flooding in Zhengzhou city on July 20, 2021.

To make sure, we checked the name of the shops, bridges, and a cinema in the photo and geolocated the exact area, which is Guancheng Hui District, Zhangzhou in Zhengzhou, Henan province.

We checked the location of “Zhongying Xinganxian Film Center (中影新干线影城)” on Baidu Maps to confirm its location. There is also a McDonald’s logo near the building that can be verified with Baidu maps.

Chinese characters seen in the building match those of the structure seen in the Baidu map.

We also found a time-lapse photography video shot on Zijingshan Road, which is taken from almost the same angle as the photo of AP News.

Misleading: This Yellow River video shows a common geological phenomenon, not a manmade disaster

A video posted on Twitter on May 7 showed what looks like a collapsing riverbank (also here), claiming ”the collapse” was caused by deforestation and reclamation of fields.

The tweets have been shared over 140 times and the video viewed over 45,000 times at the time of this writing.

The claim, however, is misleading.

Through reverse image search, Annie lab found a video posted on Douyin on Dec. 11, 2022, by an account named “山野村夫”, whose IP address is in Henan province of China.

Annie Lab reached out to the account owner and he confirmed with us on June 7 that he shot the video himself.

Screenshot of the Douyin account whose owner shot and posted the video

He said the video was taken in Zhengzhou Yellow River Scenic Spot (鄭州黃河風景名勝區), a site of a water conservancy project.

Professor Shiyong Yu from the School of Geography, Geomatics, and Planning at the Jiangsu Normal University told Annie Lab that the claim is misleading because what the video appears to show is not a riverbank collapsing due to reclamation but is a “typical geological phenomenon called ‘escarpment retreat.’”

According to National Geographic, an escarpment refers to an area of the Earth where “elevation changes suddenly,” such as a “steep slope or the bottom of a cliff.”

Yu said an escarpment retreat is not at all surprising at the Yellow River and “is mainly controlled by natural climate changes and tectonic movement.”

“On a shorter time scale, it is driven by water table changes of the river; on a longer time scale, it is driven by the tectonic uplift to the west of Zhengzhou. These processes collectively drive the long-term evolution of the river valley,” he told Annie Lab in an email on June 9.

The Yellow River is the second largest river in China and is a source of water for domestic and industrial use as well as irrigation.

Misleading: This manipulated video shows a landslide in Indonesia, not floods in China

A video posted on Twitter showed what appears to be rice terraces eroding, with soil carried away by raging water.

The Japanese tweet, when translated to English, says, “The Chinese government brought rice fields up to the mountain. Flooding is bringing it down.”

The video also has a voice-over in a Chinese dialect which implies it shows rice terraces in Yunnan.

The tweet garnered 171 likes and nearly 100 retweets. It was a repost from another account, where some comments believed it was a landslide related to the current Chinese agricultural policy of “rice on the mountain.” The video got over 343,000 views from the two posts.

However, these tweets are misleading.

Through reverse image search, Annie Lab found this video posted on May 4, on the official YouTube channel of iNews, an Indonesian news program.

The text overlay on the video, which was written in Indonesian, indicates that the rice field is in Ponorogo, a regency located in the East Java province of Indonesia.

A Twitter account called Volcaholic also posted the same video and said it was a landslide in a rice field in the Ponorogo region.

Screenshots of the same video posted by iNews (left) and another Twitter account (right) saying it is a landslide in Ponorogo, Indonesia.

Annie Lab found the Instagram account of the Regional Disaster Management Agency (Badan Penanggulangan Bencana Daerah in Bahasa) in Ponorogo.

It said on May 4 that the BPBD Ponorogo Regency has received a report about a landslide that happened in Jabag, Tumpak Pelem village, Sawoo District and a team has been deployed to conduct an assessment.

The IG account also posted the same video seen in the misleading tweet.

Screenshot of the video on the Instagram account of the Regional Disaster Management Agency of Ponorogo

Annie Lab also found that the Chinese voice-over was taken from a Bilibili video posted on Oct. 16, 2022.

This video shows Zhu Youyong, a representative of the Communist Party of China, talking about the revitalization of the rural sector. The particular audio that was lifted could be heard starting from the 1:21 mark.

There was no landslide recorded in Yunnan in the report released by the Chinese Ministry of Emergency Management about disasters that occurred in May.