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China: Q&A with Premier Wen

While the Chinese internet moved out of its three-day mourning period earlier this week following the 5.12 earthquake, many questions remain to be answered.

And the questions are being answered. Phoenix TV reporter and editor Rose Luqiu had a chance to ask Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao a few while he visited earthquake victims living in tents in Sichuan's Pengzhou city this week, and was nice enough to post them and his answers in full on her My1510 blog in a May 24 post, ‘Q&A with Premier Wen’:


1. Can you tell us in the ways in which the post-disaster reconstruction is being carried out?




The most urgent task we face right now, first off, is the looking after of the earthquake victims. In looking after the disaster victims, there are three prominent issues. The first issue is the problem of housing, because the problems of providing food and clean water, these we are able to resolve. But housing, to tell the truth, we're finding rather difficult. Because there are over sixteen million buildings that have collapsed, we need large numbers of tents, and looking at the long-term of this, simply relying on tents isn't going to work, because there are entire counties that need to be relocated. And because of earthquakes, these townships and villages can't be rebuilt here, entire counties even, like Beichuan, which you've been to. So we need to be given time for this, and people need time to settle down, so this is why we're building portable homes, you saw the blueprints for them, a lot of thought has been put into their design, consideration of all life's needs. Take for example what everybody is paying close attention to, that for every thousand portable homes a primary school will be built too, schools built of portable units designed as classrooms. For every thousand portable homes, a high school will be built; for every fifty portable homes, a toilet will be built, and a trash station, and every portable home will have electricity. This should be enough for residents to live here a year, two years, even three years. We've made the most difficult preparations, gathering all sorts of forces to come build portables, and for the preliminary plan three years have been alloted. Of the million units that will be sent to the disaster area, the first shipment of six thousand has already arrived, and more are being produced every day. If during this time production capability can at all be expanded, we'll then increase output. This is the first issue; the second is in ensuring that no epidemics appear now. This isn't just something we're concerned with, this concerns the world. In preventing the outbreak of post-disaster epidemics, there are two areas in which work must be done: one area is in deploying sufficient numbers of epidemic prevention personnel, and not just standard epidemic prevention personnel to keep spraying disinfectant; by that I mean that most important right now are technical and monitoring workers. Of those there have already been 3,500 dispatched, so we'll see, and if that's not enough, we can send more. This is firstly, and secondly, is medicine. Medicine, you know, is short, particularly sterilization medicines, the quantity needed is too large.

The third issue, and the project of the greatest difficulty, is cutting off the sources of pollution. Cutting off sources of pollution will be done in accordance with law, so we'll be clearing up those areas which are creating the pollution. Beichuan now has already begun being sprayed down with the chemicals, so people cannot go in. While this is just standard international practice, it's also for people's safety. If the pollution is not cleaned up, and water trickles down, it could be carrying with it harmful bacteria. This third area of work, you might not be so familiar with, but it was in studying this that kept us up very late last night, that being, the greatest secondary disaster created by this earthquake, barrier lakes. Not that all barrier lakes present a threat now, but there are some which are presenting a threat. The largest of those is at Tangjia Mtn., just to the north of Beichuan. The water yield from this lake has already exceeded 100 million cubes, and the breach in the stone dam, or what can be called a natural dam, that has formed there, is relatively big. How big? Six hundred meters multiplied by eight hundred meters, that's 3.2 million 320,000 cubic meters of stone. For this reason, we've had to come up with two plans: one is to have the people downriver moved out of danger, which will then allow us to let the hundred million cubic meters of runoff flow out. These three work projects are the ones we are up against in our work in looking after the residents here.

This period, it ought to be said, is the most difficult. If the tasks of the preceding phase were enormous and urgent, then those of this coming period will be more numerous and difficult and the time needed will not be short. Many conflicting problems will appear, and as time goes on, people's feelings will change. So as a journalist, you have to give the government understanding, sympathy, and at the same time, time.


2. Well then how are you ensuring that no instances of corruption occur with the donation funds or goods?


Yes, I noticed this quite early on. Now, though, I estimate that both foreign and domestic donations have reached 16 billion RMB, those are yesterday's figures, but actual figure of what's in place is not that high. We must ensure that all funds are used entirely for disaster relief. This matter cannot wait until rescue is over to be investigated, it must be kept at the forefront, and that said, the Central Disciplinary and Inspection Committee, the Supervision Ministry, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the National Audit Office these five bureaus have issued a set of guidelines for management of donated funds and goods. We haven't just sent down a notice, we've dispatched numerous audit inspection teams, have begun examining goods, the details on how money is being released and used; this is also an extremely important test for us government, at all levels.


3. With all the civil society groups and individuals that can be seen actively taking part now, what is the government's attitude with regard to their compassion? Particularly since while the government has required that only specified institutions be doing this, some individuals within civil society don't feel so assured as to where the money's going. What is the government doing to reassure everyone?


Right, we are extremely grateful for people from civil society's caring contributions and organizing of donation drives. This just demonstrates the notion that ‘catastrophes maybe be pitiless, but people aren't.’ At the same time that we're thankful, we must make sure that their donations are used properly. In some cases, we have to pay special attention to their wishes, for example some large-sum donations are intended for the building of schools, and then for example there are other large-sum donations that are intended for use in purchasing wheelchairs for the disabled, and we are doing our best to attend to these. Furthermore, in the future, we'll have to look at how each and every sum was spent, and show donors what purpose their money served. This task is also a test of our administrative ability, as well as our ability to win the public's trust.


4. What's being done to prevent the recurrence of “tofu buildings“?


Now this problem, we still need to give it a sincere conclusion, but that also needs time. Say, for example, here in Beichuan. At present we're still in rescuing people, disinfecting, but Beichuan for the future still has to consider how it will be cleaned up. We've been extremely careful in considering the process of how it will be cleaned up, and that in the future this will need to be done through legislation and government statutes, or else National People's Congress statutes and local legislation. As for working through legislation, just thinking simply, I see a few things that must be done. The first is that this is the only Qiang ethnic minority autonomous county in the country, so with regard to the Qiang cultural ruins, they need to preserved as best as can be done. That's first. Second, this is also the county which had the highest number of earthquake deaths, so important earthquake science data, that of value to earthquake science, including physical data, needs to be preserved. Third, is what you're concerned with, and we have already been working through the Ministry of Construction to meet with their local departmental counterparts to determine all that there is that can be determined with regards to the buildings that have collapsed, as well as obtaining complete information.
  • subjectivelistener

    Good Job, John.

    By the way, 豆腐渣 should not be translated as Tofu, in my opinion.

    Any suggestion from others on how to translate the word?

  • Bob Chen

    Shoddy works? But that’s somewhat losing the figurative touch. “Tofu” could be understandable for its softness and fragility, and see if it could be a borrowed word into English.
    Hope it won’t be a representative word of China……

  • Andy

    The phrase is spread all over the Internet:

    May 23 (Bloomberg) — “Tofu buildings.” That’s what rural Chinese have long called structures thrown up with remarkable speed. They look fine on the outside, but aren’t much sturdier than the bean curd on last night’s dinner table.

    It seems to work so I dug alittle further and found the following.

    Although the origins of this word remain shrouded in mystery it’s place in early texts spell out a remarkably familiar tale.

    Whether derived from the Mandarin word doufu, Taiwanese: dauhu or Hakka: teofu, it literally meant “rotten beans” and dates from atleast 950 CE when it was affectionately referred to as the ‘vice mayor’s mutton.’ In other words a meat substitute; a meal for officials too poor to buy the real thing. (according to the American Chamber of Chamber in Taipei)

    How apt that today it is used to discribe buildings made of little substance and built by people who were at first short of cash. It seems this common meat substitute has stood the test of time far outliving those tofu buildings we now see in rubble.

  • Knights

    I think the local officials and business people who colluded in cutting corners should be punished by PRC.

  • Andy

    As mentioned above there seems to have lived a vice mayor (named Jishu) too poor to afford real mutton. I doubt that the ancient Chinese went around using the phrase “vice mayor’s mutton” simply to refer to Tofu without there being a broader use of the phrase. The English idiom “Mutton dressed as Lamb” wont be found on any British menu and I’d think the “vice mayor’s mutton” would be the same.

    Could it be that schools in the Sichuan province where the ‘vice mayor’s mutton’ along with any other unfortunate Tofu structures?

  • subjectivelistener

    dofu pulp?

  • Sonagi

    By the way, 豆腐渣 should not be translated as Tofu, in my opinion.

    Any suggestion from others on how to translate the word?

    豆腐渣 could be translated more precisely as “tofu residue,” but English speakers unfamiliar with Asian cuisine wouldn’t really understand what it is anyway, so I think simply “tofu” works.

    Shoddy works? But that’s somewhat losing the figurative touch. “Tofu” could be understandable for its softness and fragility, and see if it could be a borrowed word into English.
    Hope it won’t be a representative word of China……

    Agreed, Bob. A more literal translation is better. Media addressing a foreign audience unfamiliar with China might follow up with a brief explanation the first time the term is used.

  • Andy

    yes, Pulp Fiction!

  • Brendan

    I’m fond of the translation “tofu suds” for 豆腐渣, but something like “gimcrack construction” could work as well.

  • justname

    豆腐渣constructions or buildings
    is sugguested to be translated as
    “quality-cheated”, “quality-taken-away”
    buildings or constructions

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