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The Role of Twitter in the Earthquake of China’s Qinghai

Published 20th May 2010 - 6 comments - 4655 views -

In April, an earthquake hit the Yushu county, a Tibetan area of Qinghai in China's far West, leaving more than 2,000 people dead and ruining the county capital Gyegu. The reconstruction plan for Yushu would take three years and cost 9 billion yuan, China announced this month.

Tibetans view Qinghai as part of their historic territories. The earthquake was an opportunity for the Chinese government to show goodwiils towards ethnic minorities. But there are mutual suspicions, as monks wanting to make contributions to the rescue were denied access to the county by officals.

The earthquake also exposed the problem of poorly built schools in Yushu, as reports of school building collapses appeared. This echoed with China's Sichuan earthquake in 2008, when thousands of students died as shoddy school buildings, linked to corruption scandals, collapsed.

Setting aside these complications, however, the earthquake has showcast the power of twitter (called "microblogging" in China) during the rescue effort. According to a report in the Chinese media, during the relief effort, there were over 500,000 tweets related to the earthquake, and over 150,000 users had shown their concerns through the microblogging platform.

These tweets played an important role in exchanging intelligence, relaying requests for help, and describing on-the-ground situations. A few example tweets would explain:

急需棉衣、棉被、帐篷、药品和食物。请直接寄往灾区! 地址: 玉树州人民政府救灾物资办邮编815000。黄立明( 青海玉树州人 民政府副秘书长) 电话:15352985890。
Urgent requests for clothes, blankets, tents, medicines and food. Please send directly to the disaster area. Address: Relief Resources Management Office, Yushu People's Government, Post Code 815000. Huang Liming (Deputy Secretary, Yushu People's Government). Phone: 15352985890.

现在飞西宁的大部分普通航班都被拦下来了, 想告诉没能跟上 救援队班机的记者, 兰州离西宁只有3-4 小时车程, 搭普通航班飞兰州然后包辆车经西宁开往玉树也是个办法, 还便宜( 现在从西宁开往玉树的车已经 叫价6 元/ 公里)。
Flights to Xining has been suspended. Nanzhou is only 3-4 hours away from Xining by car. I suggest journalists to take flights to Nanzhou first, then travel to Yushu via Xining by car. This is a cheap method (cars from Xining to Yushu now costs 6 yuan per km)

玉树地震灾区再靠西100 公里有个叫隆宝镇的地方受灾严重, 目前尚无救援队伍抵达,请大家 转发相关部门知晓。
To 100km west of Yushu, there is a town called Long Bao which is heavily damaged. Apparently no rescue team has arrived there yet. Please notify the relevant authorities.

Experts remind rescue teams to bring medicines for high-attitude sickness and cold, and also vitamins.

Through microblogging, each and everyone individual in a community can act as a "publisher, sharer and participant" in information exchanges, arousing public attention in a short period of time. It is a great example of how social networking, which can sometimes be time-consuming and meaningless, can actually be used as a force for good - if everybody makes a concerted effort to participate constructively with these new tools.


  • Andrius Rudeiciukas on 20th May 2010:

    That is one more example of web 2.0 advantages but i;m a little bit afraid of internete situation in china. How do you think is there any posibilities that twitter may be banned in China, if he will turn against the goverment?

  • Andrea Arzaba on 20th May 2010:

    Great example on how new media can be very helpful, or at least informative and lead to action!

    As a personal example, when H1N1 problem started in Mexico…I got to know FIRST OF ALL from some tweets, and then I turned on the TV and got to know more about the chaos!

  • Andy Yee on 20th May 2010:

    I should have made clear that twitter is blocked in China (though a number of users got over the GFW and access it regularly). In China, the equivalent of twitter is called microblog, and you can sign up for an account with large internet portals like Sina. Functionally, twitter and microblog are the same, but of course the latter falls under the domain of censorship.

  • Iwona Frydryszak on 21st May 2010:

    One of the organisation I’m the member of - ROKPA INTERNATIONAL was building schools there. I wonder if their school where not well estabilsed as well. For one of this school there was a charity concert in my hometown in Poland. Thanks for the post I will check it out.

  • Helena Goldon on 21st May 2010:

    Recently humanitarian workers have been looking at social networking sites as tools of mapping the areas of disasters ( Personally, during the trainings I realised the most interesting issue was the one of privacy of the people in need in such open platforms and the potential use of mobiles during e.g. the earthquake in Haiti.

    Well done, Andy, for the interesting topic raised!

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