Severe rainstorm questions Guangzhou City’s drainage system


How to decide whether a country is a developed country or a developing one? Taiwanese essayist and cultural critic Lung Ying-tai proposed a simple way: when there is a rainstorm that last for 3 hours or so, take a walk, if you find the legs of your trousers are wet but not muddy, the traffic is slow but not jammed, the streets are slippery but not waterlogged, this is probably a developed country; on the other hand if you find that standing water is everywhere, that teapot and comb are floating out of shops to the middle of the street,that children are net fishing over the crossroad, you are probably looking at a developing country. Developing countries may have the money to build sky scrapers, but they care less to develop their drainage system; you can see sky scrapers but not the underground sewer, a good rain storm can lift the veil.

According to this criterion, Guangzhou City is not so mush a cosmopolis as it claims itself to be after all. An exceptionally severe rainstorm struck the whole Guangzhou city during midnight on May 6th, and last 3 to 4 hours, resulting 118 waterlogging points 89 of which are new, and 44 of them are heavily flooded.The average rainfall of the city is 107.7 mm with downtown average at 128.45 mm. The heaviest rain fell in a reservoir in Baiyun District with 232 mm fall. (From gzdaily)


Open air parking lot of Yellow Stone Community. (btw, this is just a few minutes away from my campus)


Car owners are waiting at the entrance of a underground parking lot, hoping their Audi, Volvo, BMW etc could float themselves out.


A parking lot in Jinan University.



The parking lot where airport shuttles park. It’s said that only 4 of them could still perform their everyday task.


A woman caught by the rainstorm.


Not a river, an overpass in Tianhe District.





You can see sky scrapers but not the underground sewer, a good rain storm can lift the veil.

  1. Like Lung’s standard to judge a country’s degree of development. Very special and makes a lot of senses. BTW, he wrote some good books!

      1. thanks for the correction. It looks like my typing from an iPad is both slow and full of typos.

  2. lung ying tai is completely wrong. I live in western europe and we sometimes have these flash floods which are often as bad as those china pics. If the weather conditions are unpredictable and severe, theres not much you can do regardless if its developed or developing.

    1. I agree – this is not a good criterion.
      How about another one to judge about developed vs. developing countries – the state of public toilets?

      1. Public toilets on one hand, storm sewers on the other. It could be that we were observing a male/female divide on a very similar issue. There’s no doubt that the infrastructure in the PRC is barely adequate under normal operating conditions. Nobody furthermore seems to have pointed out that the more one builds skyscrapers, the more taxed the drainage systems become. What worked moderately well ten years back cannot keep up with 10 additional years of record construction and impermeable surfacing.

      2. I further suggest a comparison of fast food restaurant toilets. As far as comfort goes, the Western toilet is easier on the legs, but a large number of fast food restaurants have pretty untidy toilets. Chinese fast food restaurant toilets are the painful squatters, but they’re usually pretty clean. Hmmm….

      3. crystal, where didyou learn english so fluently? did you live in u.s.?
        i see your name is a link to your own chinahush blog, cool!

    2. Obviously the conditions to cause a flood are different in China. Apparently Guangzhou is located in a sub-tropical zone. Therefore it experiences abundant rainfall; the annual precipitation being around 1,624-1,900 millimeters – most of it between april and september. Even in Holland it doesn’t rain half that much all year.

    3. Maybe what she wanted to say was infrastructure that can’t show a glossy image is far down on the list which I guess is true although China is somewhere in the middle. The official China seems to have quite a lot of money to spend on roads, rails and metro lines and if I may add,, it’s about time.

  3. I’ve lived in 4 years in Beijing, 2 years in Boston, and 12 years in LA, and out of all the cities I’ve visted around the world, Chinese cities are ALWAYS the worst when it comes to drainage. In Beijing I’d see flash storms that sometimes is a fraction of what LA or Boston encounters, but still, there’d be massive flooding in major streets, around the ring road, around universities, you name it. It is not due to severe weather conditions, instead it’s due to short sighted, unsustainable, cosmetically driven city planning.

    1. Beijing is supposed to have an arid climate, although there may have been changes lately due to global warming. It’s like having crappy sewer systems in Phoenix in the United States or Urumqi in Xinjiang; you simply don’t expect the government to pay the necessary outlay for heavy storm sewers.

      Flooding in Guangzhou, on the other hand, is unforgivable, since it’s on the coast in a region given over to monsoons.

    2. If you guys ever watched Terminator II, I remember there are many scenes are shown on the LA’s storm drain system. Very innovative and can handle many rain storms. Cities like Boston has no problems because it is close to the Ocean already. Yes, I think many cities in Southern China needs storm drain systems, but people there are used to floods.

      1. Does that last bit (“but people there are used to floods”) mean the Chinese will use this as a reason not to develop proper ways of dealing with things? I ask because when I lived in China I pointed out many small problems to people and they all just said “Oh well, we’re used to it” and dismissed the idea of improving their situation even a little bit.

  4. I think a better gague is that in a developed country, you can drink the water from the tap without boiling it. Exceptions are when there is a flood (we have them in the US too) or some other sort of situation (i.e., electricity out for days due to heavy snow or the like).

    However, the storm sewer thing is also a good one. Proper design of stormwater systems help to protect property such as shops, dwellings and CARS. All of those that were underwater are effectively destroyed. When enough people get upset at a government that cost them serious money because they could not control flood waters due to a little rain, then you may see some changes.

    1. In many so-called developed countries I would not drink from the tap either.
      I suppose one can, but it doen’t always taste very good. One of the devices that are demonstrated in the Dutch pavilion on the World Expo is a water purifying system that uses the river right next to it as its only source. Visitors are invited to drink it. I guess the dutch assume there’s a market for water management technology in China.
      Storm sewers are only part of the solution since the overflow would only be transferred. In some urban areas it might be hard to find a suitable place that could serve as a bassin to collect the excess of water.

  5. I agree with Lung xiaojie that the state of a city’s/country’s storm drainage is a good barometer of development. Like Dr. K, I also agree that potable tap water is also another sign of development.

    I grew up and lived for many years in the Pacific Northwest in the US. I currently live in Taipei. I have lived in Phnom Penh and Hanoi. The pictures of Guangzhou remind me of Phnom Penh after similar rains. I have experienced such rains in Hanoi and Hanoi fared much better than Guangzhou. I remember 2 typhoons hitting Taipei in September of 2008 during a two week period of time. Collectively, the typhoons dumped nearly 2000 mm of rain during those 2 weeks. Taipei and the Taiwanese fared very well. Flood systems perform very well here.

    Unfortunately, I don’t trust the drinking water in Asia. At least in Taipei, I trust filtered water from the tap which has been boiled. Most of the time I rely on bottled water. I don’t trust the drinking water systems in HK (where I have visited), Hanoi or Phnom Penh, even if it is filtered and boiled. I have never been to the PRC. But my guess is that I would not trust drinking water systems in China in any manner whatsoever. And for sure I would not trust the air and its horrendous pollution.

  6. I notice that many roads in Beijing were not designed with the idea of water run-off in mind. They just make the road surface flat. It should be slightly raised in the middle so that the rain runs off to the side. Same for the ‘block’ sidewalks they put down. Everytime it rains there are more places full of water then places that are not. Those blocks are put down and just ‘hammered’ until they appear flat, there is NO cement or concrete of any sort holding them in place and they are not put down with the idea that it might rain. After a few months they become lose and many just pop out then it rains and the ones that have been pushed deeper due to cars driving over fill with water. It is a mess.

  7. I think that Ms Lung’s suggestion is very reasonable. It is true that some western cities have it bad, too, but that’s merely a sign that parts of the West are slowly reverting to Third World status; that is just so (I am a westerner, by the way). It is well-known for instance that the state of much US infrastructure is horrendous.

    I also think that it probably boils down to corruption, at least to a certain extent. As Potomacker pointed out, the infrastructure below ground must keep up with what’s above ground; failing that, development above ground must be restricted or slowed down but when the permitting process is inadequate, e.g., because of corruption, that tends not to happen. And again this is the situation in much of the US, too: freshly built or recently overbuilt suburbs or exurbs with radically inadequate amenities are not uncommon there.

  8. I live in Los Angeles, and it’s a common scene that we see how flash floods destroy homes fairly regularly. I don’t think anyone would not forget Hurricane Katrina. What about the floodings that been haunting various areas of the United States in the past few months.

    When mother nature comes, man has limited power against the act of God. I don’t think we are reverting back to the third world status — technology just gets better and yes, we can do better, but I don’t think we will ever have a system that’s disaster proof.

    One of the better indications would be the aftermath. U.S. has a great insurance and emergency response system. People are generally more insured and the country has more aid system.

    I think Lung Ying-tai’s comment is more politically motivated.

  9. Yingtai’s comments are right on time.

    Shanghai makes a big deal about its outer image but its inner image is a sham.

    Shanghai is like a beautifully dressed prostitute who has a sex disease.

    1. Did you really say that? That is no really standing in he middle. Is this the real Kai Pan or an poser? Any who well said my friend.

    2. Kai. Correct terminology please. STDs. Sexually transmitted diseases. And then there is the big guy HIV, plus the new top of the pops, a totally untreatable new variant of gnorrhea. They ain’t eastern, they aint western, but they are in all our neighbourhoods. My former turf. Wan’t links, will send.

  10. While one measure of development is the ability of a country / city to deal with inclement weather specific to its region (I think this is the key point people above are trying to make – that flooding is not the only phenomenon by which to gauge a country’s development, desert cities would be useless at dealing with floods for example), I think a much more common measurement that has been noted in the past is the amount of above-ground cable (electric, phone, etc) that can be seen. In developing countries it tends to be much more prevalent, since the time / technology required to move cables underground is secondary to the need of having the cables there in the first place.

    Just my 2p 🙂

  11. I like how in Beijing when they are making the roads wider they neglect to recede the storm drains. The water just flows around them and collects at lower ground. Or the drains in the middle of road that doesn’t drain too well. Or the clogged run off from the mud seeping from behind the temporary tiles that were used just for the Olympics. Lack of thought for tomorrow just build whats good for today.

    China is a re-developing nation, they just need to take bigger steps. As for the for the west and by west I mean U.S.A. They need to start putting my tax money to work on them costly Gov buildings. Knock them old ugly money pits down and build new cost effective ones so my money can go back to paying for bombs and fences to keep the Canadians and Mexicans out (I don’t like illegals, they don’t pay taxes).

    1. you dont like illegals? that is not so nice to say….is your parents LEGAL because they immigrated here on a boeing vs. someone that walked across the border? the mexicans dont pay taxes?? the recent mexican that won the 266 million from mega millions………does he not pay taxes too? you big goof ball….how much taxes are you paying? im sure you are paying a lot with your minimum wage job and the student loans you took out for an incomplete educmacation (thats right)…how about the chinese restaurant you work at? are you paying taxes? i bet your pay a LOT OF taxes bringing cash home every night……..damm egg roll. also you mentioned start to put tax money to work huh???
      just like the way california put it to work all these years and now the public school system is as stable as buildings in GZ…….
      anyways, i was living in guangzhou most of 2009, just chilling….they are far from developed…..but its still a nice place if you can stand the pollution that makes your cloths stinky from going out into the streets.

      1. Any way, I think im African American can’t really trace my roots but my skin says so my parents parents and so on were shipped over and bred way before there was any such thing as an airplane let alone Boeing (im an agent for them). I pay plenty of taxes and you took my comment offensive, I feel sorry you. I didn’t say mexicans don’t pay taxes. I said “ILLEGALS” don’t pay taxes. So lets go back over this again. Put more of my uneducated upper middle class wage earning taxes into border patrol for Canada (which last time I checked are not mexicans and hey blend in with the rest so no one really can profile them as tax evaders or illegals) and Mexico because well Mexicans love crossing the border illegally. I mean that’s a fact.

        The public school is exactly what im talking about buddy. They fall into the government building category. Knock them old mold infested built in the 50s structures down.

  12. This is the best post I have seen on this site, and one which which also says a lot about urban planning infra/substructure. Congratulations. And the responses are pretty good also. Lost 2 electronic scooters and some nice bespoke trousers in flash floods, so I can empathise.

  13. One issue I see in China (I lived there 2005-06 and visited many time) is a lack of basic civil engineering understanding. They are getting better, as the superhighway network is conforming more and more to EU/US standards (the US interstate system was initially based on the German Autobahns), but basic rainwater management is an issue.

    I am not a Civil Engineer (I am a Chem E), but if I were to design a road, I would base the rainwater management on something like a 50 or 100 year storm to ensure most really big storms are handled. Face it, it’s impractical to design for hurricanes, typhoons and monsoons because the frequency would drive the cost far too high.

    Oh, and just about the only place in Asia I trust the tap water is Japan. Bottled water everywhere else.

    1. dr k. the problem with china is everything they do, there is no quality assurance to check on what they do….the u.s. spends $$$$ to have agencies that audit schools/restaurants/buildings/etc. to give them accreditation, to certify it is safe, it is reliable etc. something china should do. not just build something and says it looks good…..i was in GZ and had the opportunity to visit some newly built mansions that are worth over 5 million USD, it had a night club/elevator in the house….however I saw numerous flaws that shouldnt be there for a house that expenive…..they claim italian/german designers designed it…..that may be true, but it was still chinese craftmanship……..half azz…….

      1. ok b-fake you are money on this one. I was almost about to point you out as troll but I have to agree with the craftmanship is very half assed. 1 example is Beijing airport Terminal 3. I fly every 2 months in and out of China and I can’t help but notice the paint job of the supporting structures are mixed matched. Airport grounds are already cracking, where the train goes under the underpass. If you look up at the ceiling the lights are already burned out or not equal distance in some parts where its obviously fucked. The escalator glass walls are flimsy, just asking for someone with a heavier ass than myself to break them.

        Another example my newly built and bought apartment for allot of money if It wasn’t for my wife I would have never bought . Don’t get wrong its a bad ass arrangement, 4 floors, 900 square meters 5 rooms kind of den space 3 baths hell of a big kitchen for me. We just decorated last year but for some reason all of our buildings seem to have some serious cracking issues. Come to find out by placing a marble on my tile flooring the fucking house is leaning to the north. Needless to say we can’t rent this house out because its would be too expensive and no one is really going to buy it for what we got it for if they know its leaning to its death short of its 70 years.

          1. Dude its fucking huge I wish I can post pix. Its good for both our families to live in. Its supposed to be Beijings finest outside of downtown. It really remind of my old house I grew up in LA. My mother really loved it. Im loathing it now.

  14. Didn’t something like this just happened in the US? The flooding was expected and people are rowing around in boats because its higher than normal.

    1. they got fucked. Love metro cities Like LA. Only the rich fuckers who live in the hills get fucked by landslides, and fires meanwhile city dwellers enjoy leaky ceilings and poor satellite reception during rainy seasons.

      1. Nashville, incidentally, is a state capital.

        That said, it’s inexcusable for either Nashville or Guangzhou to be flooded under; both cities need renovation in their drainage systems. In the case of Guangzhou, the issue might have been litter clogging up the sewage, as which happened in ’08.

  15. Let’s not kid ourselves folks – most of us here have been to most parts of the globe – so we all know that human engineering can do only so much versus Mother Nature (i.e. record rainfalls, earthquakes, fire/ice storms, etc.). However, when it comes to the mark of human civilization, good hard investments towards basic utilities is a must.

    What happened in Guangzhou is a wake up call for the powers to be in Beijing – much like the rest of the natural diasters of the last 10 years – improve existing structures and build better the new, lest disharmony be the word on everyone’s lips.

  16. Hong Kong gets just as much rain as Guangzhou, maybe even more, since we’re a tad bit further south and more exposed to the sea. And we don’t flood.
    (Not trying to sound like a HK snob. Just saying that this is a problem with infrastructure, not Mother Nature).
    By the way, does anyone know if GZ is still waterlogged? I’m heading there tomorrow.

  17. I live in the USA, and I would call the USA developing based on the criteria you mentioned for that, especially if judging by the state of NOLA during hurricane Katrina.

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