TAIZHOU, China- Two crashing booms rattled windows and shook the ground through central Jiangsu province last Wednesday. I heard them but was not alarmed, as random loud noises are common in China. I figured that it was just the sound of rampant progress or maybe a factory exploded or something — nothing too out of [...]
TAIZHOU, China- Two crashing booms rattled windows and shook the ground through central Jiangsu province last Wednesday. I heard them but was not alarmed, as random loud noises are common in China. I figured that it was just the sound of rampant progress or maybe a factory exploded or something — nothing too out of the ordinary. It was not until today, five days later, that my curiosity was tweaked, as the source of the explosions still remain a mystery, albeit thousands of people attempting to figure out what had happened.
At first, the people of Taizhou did not seem to be overtly concerned by the booms, and contending rumors popped up that a nearby chemical plant blew up, a water tower burst, or it was an earthquake (either natural or man made). But upon further investigation it became clear that neither of these things happened. Turning to social media it was soon discovered that the explosions were not only heard and felt in Taizhou, but in Yangzhou, Gaogang, Jiangdu, Xinghua, and Gaoyou as well. The explosions’ impact diameter was roughly 80km north to south and east to west.
What can create a boom that rattles windows and shakes the ground across an area greater than 80 square kilometers? Or, more pertinently, what can create such a great explosion without the public immediately discovering its origin?
The sound had the hallmark signature of a sonic boom:
The sound of a sonic boom depends largely on the distance between the observer and the aircraft shape producing the sonic boom. A sonic boom is usually heard as a deep double “boom” as the aircraft is usually some distance away. However, as those who have witnessed landings of space shuttles have heard, when the aircraft is nearby the sonic boom is a sharper “bang” or “crack”. It is a common misconception that only “one” boom is generated during the subsonic to supersonic transition, rather, the boom is continuous along the boom carpet for the entire supersonic flight. –Wikipedia, Sonic Boom
More than likely, a supersonic jet flew over this part of Jiangsu province. No big deal. But this argument was ruled out by netizens as they dove into the case. “We didn’t see or hear a plane,” they said. Though I have to add that last Wednesday was so overcast and rainy that it was hardly possible to see the sky, let alone anything in it. But this did not stop the social media communities from trying to figure out what had happened. So far, they’ve come up with nothing. The official position from the government is that they don’t know what caused the loud noises.
The biggest confirmation of an event by the Chinese government often comes in the from of a denial, and the people of this country are masters at reading between the lines of news reports as they navigate the seas of politics and current events. But an official position of “We don’t know” leaves far fewer way-points to guide the path and grants further authority to netizens to concoct explanations.
As of now, what is interesting about this story is not that there were a couple of loud booms whose sources have yet to be confirmed, but the fact that this incident shows how the Chinese have become accustom to gathering and disseminating information in the face of a government controlled media. The Chinese do not only turn to the news for information, they also turn to their social media networks.
An opaque government gives power to conspiracy theorist (i.e. netizens) to feed bullshit to a society that knows it is out of the loop and is perpetually on edge because of it. This is a society that doesn’t seem to know what or who to believe. In this climate Wang Dong on Wiebo (Chinese twitter) is nearly as reputable of a source of information as China’s Central Television Network. When people feel that they need to turn to social media gossip rather than the news to find out what’s going on, fertile ground for hysteria is created.
Like the strange smog/ fog/ smoke cloud that engulfed the east-central region of the country for a couple of weeks in June, mysteries are a part of living in modern China. Usually, there are quick and easy explanations, but whether or not they are believed is the issue. The government here acts as if keeping their population in the dark will keep it happily ignorant, ambivalent, and well behaved. This may have worked ten years ago, but today this method is prone to incessant backfire:
What the government does not reveal, the people make up for themselves.
In a China where virtually everyone is connected to the social media networks 24/7, this means that information and misinformation alike can be spread like wildfire. This is a country of 1.3 billion people that can literally be mobilized in a matter of moments. In a climate where internet gossip and half-baked theories are created, shared, and consumed as normal work-arounds to a secretive government even something as benign as a sonic boom can cause hysteria.
Government doesn’t know the source of air explosions (poorly or auto translated article on the incident, the only English language story available)
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