Strangest thing. China Daily, Shanghai Daily and Xinhua (to name the first ones I’ve checked) seem to have minimized mention of the Mandarin Oriental’s destruction. Go to their home pages now and see. China Daily only has a reference to the story on its list of recent articles if you look hard enough, and the story it takes you to has no photo. Xinhua had one of the earliest articles out about the fire, with photos, and that, too, has been 100 percent scrubbed from the home page, though it’s still up on their site (which is of little use if you don’t know the link).
Similarly, the CCTV-9 home page only references the fire, with no mention of the hotel name, in the list of breaking stories; no story or photo on the home page, just photos of the moon and pretty red lanterns. The link takes you to a very brief story, with photo, that does admit the fire was caused by illegal fireworks.
A spokesman for the Beijing Municipal government says initial investigations showed the fire had been caused by illegal launch of fireworks. Firefighters found remnants of fireworks on the southern roof of the burning building.
China Smack says it didn’t take long for China’s
propagandistsmedia specialists to start censoring reports, locking online threads and removing photos.
Really disappointing. You’d think this would lead everywhere, and it’s ironic there’s more coverage in the international papers. As usual, this approach has to backfire, making the world wonder why the government would downplay the story and censor photos of a hotel fire. Which seems to me like an excellent question.
Update: From the hotel’s web site:
Statement in response to the fire at the development site of Mandarin Oriental, Beijing
Mandarin Oriental, Beijing was scheduled to open in the summer of 2009. The property currently employs 60 staff, all of whom work in pre-opening offices near to the hotel, which were empty at the time of the fire. Mandarin Oriental has signed a long-term contract to manage the hotel and has no ownership interest in the building. Our local management team are doing all they can to help the authorities to ensure the safety and security of everyone involved. It is too early at the present stage to assess the damage, but we will make further updates as soon as we have more information.
Update 2: Fireman dies from breathing in toxic chemical fumes while fighting the blaze.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.