Chinese authorities have punished a woman for claiming online the Sichuan province was facing floods because authorities relocated a protective rhino statue that had installed about 2300 years ago. The idea found massive support among the citizens of the ancient citizens of Chengdu, in southwestern China.
Authorities have not released the name of the woman who has been punished, or what sort of punishment she has been handed. They only said she had been punished for 'spreading rumours'. Her claim had gone viral and then spilt over into the real world, with thousands of Chengdu residents approaching the city's mayor with demands that the ancient statue be reinstated to its original location.
And the hysteria over the apparent affront caused by the removal of the rhino statue is tied in deep in the region's history. The Sichuan region has been among the most agriculturally productive regions of China for about 2000 years. And that began only because of something called the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, which was built in the 3rd century BC by irrigation engineer Li Bing.
Li is a revered figure in the region, since the Dujiangyan is still to irrigate about 6.7 lakh hectares of farm land, and was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Li had come up with the system that helped slow down and turn the Min River, which used to cause flooding every year on the Sichuan Plains.
The belief, handed down through tradition, is that Li also installed five rhino statues across the region as a protective measure, and that the region hasn't flooded because of the Min River since. In local tradition, rhinos are considered divine beasts whose benevolence can help stop flooding.
The rhino statue was first discovered in 1973 when the site was excavated for a building project. But it was buried and left at the same spot since the builders couldn't move it. It was rediscovered in 2013 when construction began on the Sichuan Grand Theatre. Locals flocked to the site to catch a glimpse of the statue they believed was installed by Li Bing. It was 3.3 meters long, 1.7 meters tall, weighed 8.5 tonnes and had decorative carvings all over. It was moved by authorities to the local museum.
Sichuan has seen a fair amount of flooding this year thanks to heavier-than-usual rain, which has led to the deaths of three people and the evacuation of close to 95,000. This has sparked the speculation that moving Li Bing's rhino removed the protection that the region had.
Chinese government authorities have tried to debunk the belief. "In 1947 and 1981, Chengdu saw two big floods, and at that time the statue was in its original place and had not been discovered," an official posted online.
"There is no scientific evidence suggesting that the sculpture has caused the heavy rain and floods in the past few weeks. It's the rainy season in southern China now," a staff member at Chengdu Museum told a Chinese newspaper.
Given the way the Chinese government functions, it is unlikely that Li Bing's rhino will be brought back to its original location. But it is anyone's guess how long the discontent will fester among the people of the region.