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China: Clearer answers and investigation into quake response needed

Last month the Chinese government said that the process of obtaining complete information as to why so many school buildings collapsed in last month's earthquake is underway. This week it began reigning in media which have been asking too many questions, even barring grieving parents from protesting. The first attempt at providing answers came this week from the Sichuan Ministry of Education in the form of five key reasons for the number of school-related deaths, which haven't gone over well with many [zh] bloggers.

Well-known blogger-journalist and author Ran Yunfei, who lives in Chendgu, had this to say about these five points in his May 29 post, ‘How are the children wrongfully dead to be allowed to rest in peace?

当初地震部门将地震震级从7.8级修正为8级后,有位朋友说政府正在向实事求是的方向挺进。我对朋友说,你未免太轻看这个政府集体为恶的智商了,也许他们正在“科学”而有效地利用灾难找脱辞呢。我并不是个怀疑一切的人,我对活在中国的个体有相当同情之理解,但对政府却很少放弃怀疑的态度,这是几十年来频发的人祸加诸于身的惨痛教训。不轻易相信乃至质疑政府是一个现代公民的基本素质,何况一个权力大到令人惊骇的地步,视人命如草芥,根本没有真正监督的政府?你要是轻信这样的政府,那你所遭遇的一切悲惨生活,就是它对你活生生的恩赐。它这样置你于死地的“恩赐”,你不仅只有接受,你用血汗钱养活了它,反而还要你对着镜头说“感谢党,感谢政府”,它进而戴上“伟光正”的光环,使一切恶政变得不仅自然而且高尚。六十年无一例外,这次发生地震灾难后,政府不少部门的表现就是他们一惯嗜血本能的展现,其中最不能容忍就是中国教育部和四川省教育厅为他们错误的无耻辩解。

After the earthquake which was initially cast as a 7.8 was changed to an 8.0, a friend of mine said that the government is now pushing towards working with facts to seek the truth. I said to my friend, you're not giving this government enough credit for its collective IQ when it comes to being wicked, they might just now be “scientifically” and effectively using this catastrophe as a way get away with it. I'm not the kind of person who suspects everything, I have considerable sympathy and understanding for people living in China, but for the government, I rarely let go of my skeptical attitude. The repeated occurrence of man-made disasters over the past several decades have been a painful lesson personally. To not easily trust the government and to even distrust it is the basic character of modern citizenry, not to mention a power so great as to frighten those in this government which sees human life as worthless, and is subject no real supervision whatsoever. When you buy into a government like this, all misery that befalls you in life is just a favor that it's doing for you. This “favor” of putting you in such a death trap, you not only have to accept it, but you have to support it too with your sweat-and-blood-earned money, and then you still have to face the camera and say “Thank the Party, thank the government”, as it puts on the halo of “Greatness, Openness and Righteousness” to make all bad governance look not just natural but also noble. During the sixties, there wasn't a single exception to this, and now following this earthquake, the display from more than a few government departments just showed their habitual bloodthirsty instinct, the most unbearable part of which is the mistaken and shameless defense made by them for by the Chinese and Sichuan ministries of Education.

许多人看到了昨天四川省教育厅五点所谓对灾区学校倒塌的查处意见,至为愤慨。其实前天教育部新闻发言人王旭明就公开提前定下了四川省教育厅查处学校倒塌的基调。对这个政府运作方式不陌生的人,都应该从逻辑上揣度到,即四川省教育厅这样的查处基调,在震后很短时间内他们早就在内部达成了共识。而且这共识还不只是来源于教育部,应该来源于更高层对去人祸而认天灾的政治把戏。

我认为中央政府应该重建教育部,令部长周济辞职以谢国人;整顿四川省教育厅相关的官员,并对直接责任人绳之以法。不然,恐怕中央政府的公信力,将会越来越低。

Many people saw the Sichuan Ministry of Education's five points of the so-called views on the investigation into the collapsing of schools in the disaster area, and are utterly resentful of them. People who are no strangers to the way this government operates should be able to logically determine that for the Sichuan Ministry of Education to have investigated results like these, they quickly came to a common understanding in the short time following the earthquake. And this common understanding doesn't only come from the Ministry of Education, but most likely from a much higher level for which going to a human-made disaster and calling it natural is a political game.
[snip]
I feel the central government ought to rebuild the Ministry of Education, make Minister Zhou Ji resign as an apology to the nation; rectify the relevant Sichuan Education Ministry officials, and bring those directly responsible to justice. Otherwise, I'm afraid that the central government will continue to lose the public's trust.

Here are the Sichuan Education Ministry's five concluding points as they've been getting spread around online and as posted by Ran Yunfei, slightly shorter than the official version as they've stripped of bureaucratese and rephrased clearly:

  一、这次地震首先是超过了预计强度,学校校舍抗震难以抵御如此强烈的地震。

  二、灾情发生在上课期间,集体伤亡人数比较多。

  三、学生上课时集中在教室,楼面负荷大,疏散时又集中在楼梯间,这些走廊、楼梯相对来说是建筑比较薄弱的,所以造成了一定的损害。

  四、根据四川省教育行政部门提交的材料,四川省倒塌的相当多的校舍建筑时间比较长,校舍陈旧落后,这也是导致部分校舍垮塌的重要原因。

  五、学校的建筑在抗震方面本身就存在着设计方面的先天性缺陷。

1. This earthquake, first of all, surpassed the forecasted intensity, so it was hard for the schools to withstand so strong an earthquake.

2. The disaster struck during class time, so the numbers of collective casualties was quite high.

3. During class time, students were gathered inside classrooms, so there was a large burden on the floors, and during evacuation again they were gathered within the stairwell, and these corridors and stairwells were relatively weak parts of the buildings, so this created definite harm.

4. According to information supplied by Sichuan Education Ministry administrators, quite a few of the school buildings which collapsed in Sichuan province were built quite a long time ago, so the schools were old and unmaintained, and this is a major factor leading to the collapse of some schools.

5. Inherent defects existed in the designs of the school buildings themselves with respect to earthquake resistance.

The transcript of a talk given on May 31st by legal scholar and active blogger He Weifang has been posted to message board website Paowang. In it He focuses on the role of the Procuratorate, the Chinese version of the American Attorney General's Office, should be playing in the legal and administrative aftermath of the earthquake, seeing it as the most suitable body to provide that degree of oversight.

He makes several points to that effect, starting off with calling for the need for the Procuratorate to be ensured independence as it carries out its work in, among many things, overseeing compensation given to parents to children lost in the earthquake, transparency as those responsible for things like the ‘tofu dregs’ construction of school buildings are sought out, seeing that the practice doesn't continue as new houses and buildings are constructed, and at the same time, ensuring those eventually brought to trial are guaranteed a fair trial and not one aimed at placating an angry public.

The key suggestion He makes however, is the activation now of article 71 of China's constitution, which he says has never been put into effect:

第四点,我回应一下,我觉得目前是不是也应该启动一下特别调查制度。我们国家没有一个超然的、中立的、公开的机构,来对这样一个大事进行调查,我觉得四川的大地震应当马上由全国人大设立特别调查委员会,宪法第71条明确规定人大可以设立这样的委员会,因为它是一个非常综合性的问题,包括地震预报,到底预报没预报,如果已经有了这样一个确定的结论,最后不公开,谁的责任?包括房子的质量问题,包括其他的赈灾过程中出现的问题,我觉得需要有一个委员会来进行一种非常公开、透明、权威、超然的调查。但是我们的宪法第71条存在20多年了,到现在一次都没有启动过。2003年孙志刚事件的时候,许志永他们提出违宪审查制度,但到现在26年时间过去了,我们这个特别调查委员会从来就没有启动过,所以我们说它是一个“睡美人”。

The fourth point, coming back to what I mentioned earlier, is wondering whether at present a special investigation system need be set up. Our country has no detached, neutral or open institution to carry out an investigation into such a large matter as this, and I feel that the National People's Congress ought to immediately establish a special investigation committee for the Sichuan Great Earthquake. Article 71 of the Constitution clearly stipulates that the NPC can set up these kinds of committees, and because this is an extremely comprehensives problem, including earthquake predictions, whether or not one was made, and if a definite conclusion on this has already been made, but not made public, who will be responsible? This includes the problem of housing quality and includes other problems which have appeared in the process of the relief effort, so I think there needs to be a committee to carry out a sort of extremely open, transparent, authoritative and independent investigation. But article 71 of our Constitution has existed already for more than 20 years, but until now has never once been activated. In 2003 during the Sun Zhigang incident, Xu Zhiyong and others brought up the unconstitutionality of the censorship system, but 26 years have now gone by and a special investigation committee has yet to have ever been set up, which is why we call it a “sleeping beauty.”

25 comments

  • […] was ever much doubt. And for that, I can never forgive them, even if their own people can. I see what they are doing today, stopping parents who lost children to the Sichuan earthquake from demonstrating, and I remind […]

  • Eric hu

    Also, a little bit more investigation is needed for the author of this post. The whole article keeps tell people like “chinese government is habitual bloodthirsty”, “There are no real supervision”, “People are banned from protesting” etc…. This kind of reports have been repeated repeated and repeated, however Can we have some further work on some details? for example, talk to those who lose their children in this damned earthquake or builders of the “tofu dregs” what you refering to?
    When everythings’ answer had been fixed and organized beforehand like this one. Well, I must say, in this damned earthqueake, some people care about human life, some others just like political animals.

  • liang

    hi:
    John Kennedy !

    U R son of bitch!!!

    I read two title about u!

    I am chinese!
    I not work for chinese gov.

    I am a programmer for mobile game!

    I can’t understand that u r mischief-maker!

    I want to ask u : how many students study in class at a class room?
    I kown that there is 50-60 students in a class room at china ‘s school.
    china is development country!and the earthquake place, many country people ,this place ,is poor ! can’t endure so big earthquake!

    if U doubt that chinese gov. hide the 8.0 earthquake to 7.8!
    so ,I want tell you the USA said the earthquake is 7.6
    u can get this data for the :
    http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/recenteqsww/Maps/10/105_30.php

    so,u r son of bitch!
    if u r a writer.you should justness criticism sthing!

    sorry my english is poor!!

  • my_mother

    Hey Kennedy,

    You really are a son of a biscuit!

    I don’t know if that could even be considered as an insult. Well, I wasn’t try to insult you anyway.

    Anyhow, although you do tend to gravitate toward the more negative and sensationalistic stuff (for whatever reason is beyond me), I do like this post.

    Sadly, improvements in safety standards are often spurred by tragedy. The Kansas City Hyatt Regency hotel walkway collapse, Mulholland’s famous St. Francis Dam, New Orleans, not to mention some of the more notable aviation disasters (I am sure that people can easily rattle out a few more), all stand as grim testaments to the fact that progress is often paved by the blood of the unfortunate.

    The tragedy of the Sichuan earthquake, of course, shouldn’t be an exception. Yeah, the questions raised now and in the days or years to come are going to be hard. But, isn’t awareness of one’s deficiencies the first step toward improvement? Right?

    Isn’t this the angle you are shooting for? That is, bringing awareness to the deficiencies that scream of redress, rather than just plain faulting finding or, even worse, rubbing salt and stirring up crap.

    If it is one of the later, you really are a son of a bitch. But you are not, right? That is, a son of bitch or stirring up crap.

    Ahh, it really doesn’t matter what your intentions are. This earthquake is a hard cookie to swallow; a lesson paid in blood. We’ll take that to heart.

    So, my appreciations for the post.

    Best
    Kain

  • Hi Kain, thanks for the thoughtful response. Judging from the kind of sentiment that you, Eric and Liang have all expressed, I think a discussion on what my intentions are in blogging at GVO might be useful at some point, but I don’t feel comfortable using this post for that. How about Twitter? I’m feng37 there as well.

  • Knights

    I think John Kennedy is a younger version of Jack Cafferty of mini CNN, JK can take it as a compliment or insult. Then again he’s got to answer to his big big boss, and that might be CIA org funding Dalai et al. Anyway, I am NOT defending nor attacking JK, but he’s got a job to do. That is to get the most controversial topics so that there are many people jumping on his forums all at once. I notice some grow to 500+ comments on some topics wrote by JK. jk is just used as a mini pawn just like Dalai is used as a big pawn. . . .[sigh] Very interesting

  • liang

    June :
    fuck U!!!

    u should come to tibet ,u should look the truth!

    u doubt the chinese people? u should come to China and look the truth!

    u r son of bitch!!!

  • debo

    John Kennedy,go away!!!

  • Greg

    John,

    I think that you are providing a wonderful service by translating and summarizing these blogs out of China. Please do keep up the good work and do not get discouraged by negative comments.

    Regards,
    Greg
    (A laowai in Shanghai)

  • Yes, I think he is quite biased! After all, the government gave The 5 Reasons, so that is all we need to report and that is all we need to know. I doubt there could possibly be other points of view for this situation, and anyone who points out that there are many people, including Chinese, who don’t agree with the government is certainly somewhere between a son-of-a-biscuit and a son-of-an-English-muffin.
    All Chinese should move on, go back to working hard, buying consumer goods and keeping up with the Joneses, stop protesting, etc. The 20,000+ grieving parents should do the same, and maybe put more effort into making another little emperor to replace the one that got crushed in this horrible tragedy.
    About the intensity of the earthquake: I think we should take a vote on it, come up with a compromise. How about 7.7? (that way there are no ‘8’s!)
    And Liang: I am unsure about the point of your post, you mean it is okay to have to many students in a classroom? Or it’s not so bad they were killed because they were poor? Or you mean it is okay that only the schools for the children from poor families were destroyed while the ones for the government officials were not because the rich children will be the vanguard to lead China into the future, so it’s more important to protect them?

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