18 August 2011

Unforeseen Costs of Breakneck Development

As most have probably heard by now, there was a serious rail crash several weeks ago involving two high speed trains in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province.  The incident aroused remarkable levels of vocal opposition to the government, particularly on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent to Twitter).

Even though the posts and comments on the issue were being deleted by the 五毛党 (wu mao dang, government censors) almost as fast as people could post them, much of the commentary did get through.

Some of the more extreme stuff has been completely deleted.  One particularly disturbing post was one that identified the driver of the second train, saying that maybe he was sleeping or not alert because he was quite old, and calling him a murderer.  It reported that the conductor’s body was dismembered but still hanging from the cockpit of the train, and that survivors and bystanders at the scene were throwing dirty water on his corpse and blocking rescuers from removing the body.  All the commenters were viciously cursing the driver.

Most of the posts identifying and cursing the railways ministry boss (Zhang Shuguang) are also now deleted, but there was yesterday a big one going around with a picture of his face with a big X across it.

Here are some highlights..........notice the numbers at the bottom, these posts have all been retweeted by tens or hundreds of thousands of people!!

At the top are the 4 biggest party newspapers in the country, and their headline was on some military meeting, with no mention of Wenzhou.  Below are all the other smaller newspapers in the country which all had Wenzhou on the front page.

Here the Shanghai subway line 2 company posted yesterday about a 1986 rail tragedy in Germany, which killed 101 people.  All the reposts cursed the subway company, basically saying “what’s your fucking point?  it happened in germany, and more people were killed to boot, so we shouldn’t be upset and we shouldn’t ask any questions?”

Here is a report that the gov’t had already changed priorities by late afternoon yesterday, from searching and recovering survivors to cleaning up the mess and restoring service on the line.  They were clearing the wreckage with backhoes and burying the trains and rubble at the site below the viaduct.  A woman was able to escape, and when she got out she beat the workers, saying “my god there are still people alive why are you trying to clean it up so fast when you can still save people?”  The top poster says “People are doing, God is watching.”

Here is one response yesterday to the censors which got forwarded by 40,000 people.  “Delete it!  You delete it again, I’ll post it again!  Fuck your mother!  Are you not afraid of the people angrily rising?”  Since so many posts were being deleted by censors, people were using the screen capture function on their iPhone's to repost.

Here is a post about railway accidents in other countries where the victims were paid huge settlements, while the victims of another Chinese rail accident only got RMB170,000.  At the same time it identifies the former Rail Minister Zhang Shuguang who was sacked recently and was found to have 2.8 billion dollars in foreign bank accounts.

Here is a post about how by midday yesterday (only about 15 hours after the crash) the rescue workers were already resting on the tracks and the government leader of the rescue effort was sitting in an air conditioned vehicle.  Meanwhile local Wenzhou people were lining up to donate blood for the victims.  The post calls it a “landscape painting with Chinese characteristics” and recounts a conversation between a Chinese and a Japanese....the Japanese asks, Chinese people are really good, how can the Chinese government be like this?  The Chinese person has no answer.

Here is a post of a picture taken on the day of the accident at the Shangri-La, the best hotel in Wenzhou.  It’s directing the Beijing, Zhejiang Province, and Wenzhou City government officials to the second floor restaurant for a meeting.  The poster basically says how dare they are still eating and drinking like fat cats at the Shangri-La while not far away in Wenzhou is the tragedy.  Forwarded by 141,368 people.

Here is a post cursing the railways minister, but you can see that the original post which this guy was forwarding has already been deleted by censors.  The text on the bottom says basically, "Sorry, due to the relevant regulations, this post has already been deleted."

The overwhelming sentiment was anger and disgust not about the accident but about the way that the government and the Railways Ministry was handling the aftermath.  With so many people now using Weibo, news travels extremely fast and lots of people have access to information in a way that was unthinkable only a couple years ago.

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