The Jilin Floods and Web 2.0 Video as Journalism

If you, like I, have been reading about the flooding that’s been happening this summer, but have been fortunate enough not to have to witness it firsthand, you may not be aware of just how devastating it’s been. Have a look for yourself at this video of the flooding in Jilin:
Link to video

If you can’t understand the Chinese, that’s OK, its pretty much what you’d expect. As the first person in the river grabs onto the pole, the camera operator shouts “Grab it, grab it Beautifully done, come on! Come on, come on!” etc. And then, as the first man makes it into the window and the second person approaches, “There’s another one! Grab it, grab it! Good! Uh oh, he didn’t grab it. Fuck. He didn’t grab it. He’s done.”

In this video, also from Jilin, a man attempts to pull himself out of the swift current and only a pile of debris that is growing in size rather rapidly. If you’re wondering why it takes him so long, you probably haven’t been swimming in a powerful one-way current like this one. The force of the water, esppecially below the surface, is extremely strong, and it’s simultaneously pushing his body against the trash pile and also sucking it downwards with tremendous force ((In river sports, this kind of hazard is referred to as a “strainer”, and there is not much that’s more dangerous. Having coached a whitewater kayaking team for a season, I have limited experience, but enough to be quite sure that being in this guy’s position is not at all fun.)).
Link to video

This video, which features what appears to be children being swept away in the same flood, has also appeared:

In fact, Youku is full of videos from the front lines. There’s the rescue of a pig from the bloated Songhua River to reports on the color of drinking water in Jilin (brown!). It’s compelling, if terrifying, viewing that really brings home what flooding really means to those of us who’ve never lived through one.

Additionally, though, these videos might also be symbolic of something larger. As the Global Times pointed out yesterday, Chinese video sites have been cracking down on IP theft, and many video sites are going to be left with the question of what new content they can bring in to replace pirated stuff. One wonders if homemade video isn’t the answer in China, just as it was for Youtube.

Of course, there’s more at stake in a country where the official media doesn’t always report the truth. In a nation full of people with cell phones — which, increasingly, have photo and video capabilities — the number of Chinese people capable of recording footage like this is going up by the day. Imagine how much more we would know about what really happened on June 4th, for example, if just every 10th person in Beijing had had a cell phone that could shoot video.

These are not new revelations, of course, but what has changed is the sheer number and speed with which videos like these appear online. Of course, these videos, too, are subject to censorship (apparently searching for chengguan, for example, isn’t allowed). But if Chinese censors are already getting headaches trying to censor tweets, one can only imagine the kind of headache they’re going to develop as the influx of homemade videos increases. Tweets, after all, can be scanned by computers for sensitive terms. But videos? To censor them properly, every single second of every video uploaded would need to be watched. At the moment, I suspect that would be extremely difficult. If it isn’t already, I’m certain that within a few years it will be utterly impossible.

What are the implications for that for freedom of information and accurate journalism within the infrastructure of an authoritarian state? It’s hard to say, as it’s difficult to predict how the government will react. But if nothing else, China’s censors are in for a gigantic challenge.

As a sidenote, I’d like to apologize for the recent lack of updates. Unfortunately for you, dear readers, I am a geek in many way, and occasionally I discover something else that demands an unfair portion of my leisure time.

0 thoughts on “The Jilin Floods and Web 2.0 Video as Journalism”

  1. I am pretty sure the first youku video here was seen on CCTV news yesterday, that somehow signals official approval, even encouragement.

    BTW, China also has a large and living SC2 community, it will be quite interesting if you blog something about that. Since SC2’s release, I have been following this forum( and BN’s taiwan forum, some of the post there are very revealing not just about the game itself but Chinese politics, censorship at large.

    Like this post( is about a player who bought a legal vision and complaint he is bullied by these who did not.

    And this post, ( A mainland player complaint he is being bullied by taiwanese player, since right now mainland players have to log on to taiwan server.


  2. @A Chinese: Yeah, the folks at Youku told me footage from their users had appeared on a number of channels.

    As for the SC@ stuff…I think you’ll be seeing some of that in a post soon. Thanks!


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