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China: Clearer answers and investigation into quake response needed

Categories: East Asia, China, Development, Disaster, Governance, Law, Youth

Last month the Chinese government said [1] that the process of obtaining complete information [2] as to why so many school buildings collapsed [3] in last month's earthquake is underway. This week it began reigning in [4] media which have been asking too many questions, even barring grieving parents [5] from protesting. The first attempt at providing answers came this week from the Sichuan Ministry of Education in the form of five key reasons [6] for the number of school-related deaths, which haven't gone over well with many [7] [zh] bloggers.

Well-known blogger-journalist and author Ran Yunfei, who lives in Chendgu [8], had this to say about these five points in his May 29 post [9], ‘How are the children wrongfully dead to be allowed to rest in peace?


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.



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.
I feel the central government ought to rebuild the Ministry of Education, make Minister Zhou Ji [10] 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:






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 [11] message board website Paowang. In it He focuses on the role of the Procuratorate [12], 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 [13] of China's constitution, which he says has never been put into effect:


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 [14] 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 [15], Xu Zhiyong [16] 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.”