China’s Underpants On Fire in an Inauspicious Start to the New Year

Fireworks bounce off highrise apartment buidings during Lantern Festival celebrations in central Haerbin, Heilongjiang Province, China.

The first I learned about the tragic CCTV fire in Beijing was reading about it here in Matt’s post, despite being an 8 or 10 hour train ride from Beijing. That’s because, with only a few exceptions, the news was absent from China’s television and newspapers. News media and online forums and blogs were issued a gag order of sorts by the government, prompting one internet forum to cull it’s 2000 message thread down to 9. That night and the next morning, I saw nothing on Chinese television or in the newsstands about the fire.  The New York Times describes the Chinese domestic media blackout, which drew much anger from the public online and led many to snark that CCTV (China’s notoriously controlled and ironically named state media) created the biggest story of the new year and then failed to cover it.  The title of this post, by the way, comes from some Beijingers’ nickname for the iconic CCTV towers (which didn’t burn): Big Underpants.

I was in Haerbin that night, a bit to the north of Beijing, where Lantern Festival celebrations were in full swing. The fireworks were shooting up between the buildings, as in the picture above, but it was nothing like the view from an apartment building in Beijing:


The Big Picture has a few shots of the blaze and aftermath in their Lantern Festival post, and there are also numerous firsthand accounts with pictures and video that have made their way online. Some of the other heavy-hitting China blogs have their own analysis: Black and White Cat compares CCTV coverage early in the night with picture-less coverage after midnight, Danwei aggregates links and translates some reports, Chinasmack has additional pictures and more information on the censorship, and Shanghaiist has even more pictures.  The Architect’s Newspaper Blog also has extensive coverage of the fire and its aftermath.

CCTV eventually came clean and acknowledged responsibility for the fire, which killed 1 firefighter and injured others.  The television company hired a company to set off several hundred large fireworks to mark the holiday, but did so without a permit, which has now resulted in 12 people being arrested (the BBC has more details) including the chief of CCTV’s building construction.

And for good measure, here’s a post from Alex Pasternack in 2007 about the significance of the building and the process of its construction.

One Response to “China’s Underpants On Fire in an Inauspicious Start to the New Year”

  1. Matt Lutton

    Now that is a post! Thanks for all the updates

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