The death toll and identity details of school children victims in the May 12 Wenchuan earthquake last year has been sealed in a black box by Chinese government officials, like a state secret. Last December, Ai Wei-wei, a most respectable intellectual and blogger, decided to compile the names of school children who died in the earthquake with a voluntary working team. Up till now, they have collected 2,735 children's names with their parent's contact details. All the information has been uploaded to bulloger.com, an exile website hosted in overseas server, as the online discussion of this civil initiative has been harmonized in China.
Why are Ai Wei wei and the team of volunteers so determined to collect all these names? Or why does the Chinese government want to hide the figures and names? While there is no explanation from the government, Ai Wei wei tells his part of the story:
Today, we still don't know who have left us in the earthquake, why the children have to leave, how they have left us. Or what they were thinking when they were trapped in the ruin.
I had not given much help in the disaster, I felt so weak and helpless then.
They said, the death of school children had nothing to do with their existence. They said this is inevitable and experts backed up the argument. They didn't utter a word on corruption and avoid addressing the issue “bean dregs project” (poorly structured school buildings). They covered up the facts. And under the name of “stability first”, threatened, detained and prosecuted parents who are looking for the truth and for an answer. They tread on the constitution and people's basic human rights.
The children who died in the earthquake, they are not numbers, nor a performance of “stability first” principle.
All these children, they have parent, have their own dreams, laughters and names. The names belong to them, the names will become memory of them, even though the memoru may not last forever – 3 years, 5 years, 18 years, 19 years, the names is a mark that reminds the world about them in the future.
We have to hold on to our memory and reject lies.
We start “citizen investigation” to remember those who passed away, to care about those who still survive. We take up our responsibility to search for the school children's names, so that they can be remembered.
For those who don't believe in citizen's effort, please remember this: the children won't be gone if we continue to hold on. This is part of our lives’ raison'd etre and we cannot give that up.
According to Xinhua's report back in December 2008, in the 5.12 earthquake, among the 159 counties, 14,000 schools have been destroyed and 91% of them are public schools. However, officially, the collapse of school buildings is mainly the result of the magnitude of the earthquake, rather than human error in the construction of school buildings.
Whether or not there are human errors in the “bean dregs project” is up to further investigation and debate, however, it won't be easy for Chinese netizens to further discuss the matter as Ai Wei-wei's hard work has been harmonized in Chinese internet. According to Zhang3's blogpost and explanation, on 19 of March, a post titled as “Qing-ming festival is approaching, Let's commemorate the children victim together” was put up in a forum in Tianya. Within 4 days, the post has more than 100 thousand hits and 3000 comments, and the forum planned to organize a live chat with Ai Wei Wei. But all the related posts were deleted in the afternoon of 23 of March. The explanation is:
The interview is now published in bullogger.com in two parts: One and Two. In the interview, Ai explained that he wanted to finish the compilation in the anniversary of Wenchuan earthquake in coming May.
Information concerning Ai Wei wei's list have been circulated via twitters, a number of bloggers and netizens still managed to join in and pass on the discussion. Bai Yu-ji from my1510 gives high respect to Ai's initiation and criticizes the government for burying the dead without proper investigation and explanation:
Why there is no effort to sort out the poor children victim's name list, why there is no announcement? For the sake of our nation? What kind of nation will do that? For the sake of people? What kind of people want that to happen? I can't think of any reason. How could such absurd and non-sense thing have happened…