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China Clamps Down on Media Coverage Following Explosion That Killed 7, Injured Dozens

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: March 18, 2024
The blast, which took place in the early morning of March 13, was followed by thick smoke and several subsequent explosions. Eyewitnesses reported hearing "three to four explosions," which led to damaged vehicles, buildings, and injuries to bystanders from flying debris. (Image: via Weibo)

On March 13, a devastating explosion in China’s Yanjiao, Hebei Province resulted in multiple fatalities. The blast, which took place in the early morning, was followed by thick smoke and several subsequent explosions. Eyewitnesses reported hearing “three to four explosions,” which led to damaged vehicles, buildings, and injuries to bystanders from flying debris. 

Despite official reports from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) claiming seven deaths and 27 injuries, with no life-threatening conditions among the surviving injured, public skepticism has been swirling.

Though officials claimed the incident resulted from a “pipeline gas leak,” the explanations were bizarre and unconvincing — resulting in widespread criticism and discussion on Chinese social media. 

In response to the disaster, the CCP has seemingly engaged in a familiar pattern of censorship and suppression. Reports indicate that China Central Television (CCTV) reporters — typically seen as mouthpieces for the country — were turned away and “aggressively prevented” from covering the events in Yanjiao. The silencing of state media underlines the severity of the situation and the lengths to which the CCP will go to maintain control over the narrative, the reports note. 

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Accusations of truth concealment

Eyewitnesses and local shop employees near the explosion site shared their harrowing experiences as they recounted the immediate impact and confusion following the blasts. Further controversy arose from a video showing the demolition of the involved building overnight, which was similar to police action taken after the 2011 Wenzhou high-speed train collision that claimed 38 lives and injured over 200 people. The videos have prompted accusations of truth concealment.

Speculations have also arisen regarding the explosion’s real cause, with some linking it to concerns over nearby construction activities potentially compromising the safety of residents. A prior incident involved residents protesting the proximity of a subway line construction to residential buildings, and how it can impact the safety of nearby building structures. 

While official reports attributed the explosion to a gas leak resulting from underground pipelines, a local fried chicken shop, which was initially linked to the disaster, denied this claim by saying their store does not even use gas to operate. This contradiction led to further questioning of the official narrative.

The incident reflects a broader issue of media suppression in China — especially in regards to crisis management — and how the CCP wields an iron grip over the narratives that are allowed to be told. 

But this suppression of media freedom extends beyond local reporters and affects large entities like CCTV — particularly if a story contradicts the official narrative or exposes governmental shortcomings. It also illustrates the lengths to which the CCP will go to maintain its image.

Tragedy and censorship

In the aftermath of the Yanjiao explosions, netizens set Weibo ablaze (a popular social media and blogging site in China), to criticize the government for censoring its own media in order to control the narrative and minimize public scrutiny. 

Experts and locals have also pointed to possible negligence related to nearby construction projects — including questionable safety standards and excavation practices previously protested by residents. The incident has also ignited concerns over safety regulations and government accountability as a whole. 

The Yanjiao explosions and its subsequent media blackout expose a deeper crisis within China’s governance structures. The CCP’s efforts to control information not only undermine public trust, but also highlight deep systemic issues that are only worsening over time. The suppression of media coverage — particularly the interference faced by CCTV journalists — serves as a stark reminder of the challenges facing press freedom in China.

Meanwhile, China continues to grapple against a weakening economy marred by rigid deflationary pressures, a slow recovery from “zero-COVID” policies, a worsening property crisis, and weak domestic demand — all of which are hampering economic activity and investor confidence. 

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