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A view of a stampede is seen during the New Year's celebration on the Bund, a waterfront area in central Shangha
Reuters/Stringer
A view of a stampede is seen during the New Year’s celebration on the Bund, a waterfront area in central Shanghai on Dec. 31st.

Shanghai residents blame a deadly New Year’s Eve stampede on a city crowded with migrants

By Lily Kuo

Some Shanghai residents are blaming a New Year’s Eve stampede—which left 36 dead and dozens of others injured—on the city’s millions of migrants, and the government officials who allowed them to move from China’s rural villages.

A crowd gathered for the annual celebration by the city’s glitzy waterfront turned into a stampede about half an hour before midnight on New Year’s. Panicked revelers began pushing in all directions, crushing people and stepping on those who fell. Many of those who died were young women; the youngest victim was 12 years old.

Reuters
The red star by Chen Yi Square marks where the stampede on New Year’s Eve took place.

In the aftermath, many residents are blaming police and city officials for not preparing adequate crowd control. Officials have admitted that they underestimated the amount of people that would flock to the river front, and Chinese president Xi Jinping has called for an investigation.

A subset of critics are specifiically blaming Shanghai’s migrant residents, many of them workers from rural areas or smaller cities. ”Blame the silly officials who don’t control the population of the migrants,”one blogger on the Chinese microblog Weibo wrote (registration required), who claimed that those crowding the Bund were mostly non-Shanghainese.

Reuters/Stringer
The scene at the Bund on Shanghai’s waterfront on New Year’s Eve before the stampede took place.
Reuter/Aly Song
A friend of a victim covers his face as he waits outside a hospital where injured people of a stampede incident are treated in Shanghai.
Reuters/Aly Song
Shanghai policemen stand guard on the location where people were killed in a stampede incident during a New Year’s celebration.

Another wrote, “This incident is a lesson for those uncivilized outsiders… Please give Shanghai back its freedom. We just want to celebrate New Year’s quietly. Don’t come to Shanghai from your hometown in the country, okay?” One user wrote, partly in Shanghainese, a local dialect, “You only know to squeeze toward the Bund. Now you squeeze into troubles…your brains are broken!”

Resentment against “outsiders”—wailairen or waidiren as they are commonly called by locals—is surging in Shanghai, which prides itself on being China’s most international and metropolitan city. The number of migrants in Shanghai, part of what is more broadly known as China’s “floating population” reached 9.6 million as of the end of 2012, accounting for as much as 40% of the population. Locals blame them for dirtying the city, crowding public transportation, and exhibiting poor manners by cutting in line or talking too loudly.

Reuters/Stringer
People clash with police at a hospital in Shanghai on New Year’s day as they try to visit relatives injured in a stampede the night before.
Reuters/Aly Song
Relatives of a victim hug as they wait at a hospital where injured people of a stampede incident are being treated.

Others criticized the rush to blame outsiders. “Disputes [between outsiders and Shanghainese] are inevitable, but it’s not necessary,” said Jin Lang, 20, a senior at Shanghai International Studies University who was across the road when the stampede took place. “We should blame ourselves, not each other. We should re-examine our ability to save ourselves,” Lang told Quartz.

Several of the 36 crushed victims were migrant workers (paywall) themselves, including 17-year Chen Changsheng, who had moved to Shanghai from Shandong province only days before to look for work. Bloggers have been reposting what they believe is his last message, on a BBS forum on Dec. 31st: “2014 is coming to an end. Thanks for your care and help throughout the year. Bless all of my friends and your families to have a happy new year!”