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Zhengzhou!

From the series Cities of China


For tragic reasons, the world has become familiar with the Chinese city of Zhengzhou this week. Torrential rain dropped a year’s worth of rain in four days, causing devastating floods that have killed dozens and left millions homeless.

I have paid particularly close attention since Zhengzhou was my first “Chinese hometown.” I’ll never forget the phone call I received from my teaching organization in the spring of 1984 informing me that I was being assigned to a new teaching team that was to be placed in the city of Zhengzhou, the capital city of Henan province. I knew nothing about the city, including how to pronounce it.

Since I have heard it mangled so badly by newscasters this week, let’s start off with a quick pronunciation lesson. Zheng is pronounced like the first syllable of the word jungle. Zhou is pronounced like Joe. Just say Jungle Joe (dropping the le) and you’re as close you’ll probably get. I might as well help with the name of the province of Henan while I’m at it. He is pronounced like huh; nan is pronounced like the prefix non (as in non-conformist).

When I lived there (1984–1986), it was a gritty socialist industrial city of two million people; today it is a gleaming metropolis with over 10 million people and the source of most of the world’s smart phones.  When I see the images coming out of the city, or look at videos like this one, there is absolutely nothing that I recognize from the time that I lived there.

Here is a roundup of some of the coverage of the flooding in Zhengzhou, and throughout the province.

Some of the most terrifying reports and images coming out of Zhengzhou have been of water pouring into the subway system. The Guardian writes about people calling their loved ones from the rapidly flooding subway cars to warn them they might not make it out.

CNN also had an excellent report, with some terrifying footage.

China Media Project published a translation of a China Youth Daily’s first-person account of being trapped in a flooded subway car.

China’s state-run Global Times reported on the statement from the company that operates the subway and notes that residents are angry that service had not been stopped during the storm.

The Christian Science Monitor gives an excellent overview of the disaster, not just in the city, but in the province as a whole.

The Singapore-based Straits Times has an extensive gallery of photos, as does the German outlet DW.

The Beijing-based site What’s on Weibo has two pieces about the role that social media is playing in getting out the news and helping to speed up rescue efforts.

Please keep the people of Henan province in your prayers.

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio


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