Chinese leaders respond to anger over shoddy buildings and lack of help - World Socialist Web Site Dishes CCP!

Chinese leaders respond to anger over shoddy buildings and lack of

By John Chan
23 May 2008

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Eleven days after the deadly earthquake hit Sichuan province on May
12, the Chinese government is turning from rescue to relief and
reconstruction. Yesterday it revised the number of dead and missing to
80,000. The confirmed death toll is 51,151 and another 300,000 people
have been injured. As the official three-day period of national
mourning ended, the biggest issue confronting Beijing is how to cope
with some 5 million homeless people and to rebuild the many flattened
towns and villages.

The search for buried survivors is being scaled back. Most of the
rescue teams and troops have begun to leave the affected areas,
despite the danger of new disasters. Landslides and quake debris have
blocked rivers and streams, creating 34 unstable “barrier lakes”.
These lakes could burst, unleashing devastating floods on downstream
communities in the upcoming rainy season. Yun Xiao, vice minister of
land and resources, told reporters that residents at risk had been

The Chinese government is clearly worried about the potential for
political unrest. On Wednesday, Premier Wen Jiabao announced the
establishment of a 70 billion yuan ($US10.14 billion) reconstruction
fund for Sichuan this year. Sensitive to the growing resentment in
poor rural areas hardest hit by the quake, Wen declared that the plan
would seek “to strike a balance between urban and rural areas,
industrial and agricultural production.”

At the same time, Beijing is also concerned about the broader economic
and political impact. Sichuan is one of China’s largest producers of
grains and pork, as well as substantial energy and minerals. The
disruption to the production by the quake may well further fuel
inflation, which rose 8.5 percent in April—the highest in 11 years.
Promising action, Wen declared: “We will prevent prices rising too
fast, strengthen supervision of the prices of key commodities and
punish unscrupulous merchants making profits through hoarding and

However, the most immediate source of resentment has been the fact
that luxury government buildings in Sichuan are still standing, while
the homes of the poor and the schools for their children were
devastated by the earthquake. To placate rising anger, Wen has
temporarily halted new construction projects for government and
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) offices. He also ordered cutbacks to
other obvious privileges enjoyed by CCP leaders, including expensive
official meetings, new cars and overseas trips.

There are obvious signs that the relief effort is completely
inadequate. Thousands of people from throughout the area have been
gathering at the train station and airport in Chengdu, Sichuan’s
provincial capital, over recent days. Some simply want to leave
because of the risk of aftershocks and landslides. Many more, however,
have lost their homes and are leaving to try to find work in other
provinces, as the government provided only minimal, short-term
financial support.

After the initial shock, grievances have begun to emerge. Many
survivors lack shelter as there is a serious lack of tents for the
homeless. The government has appealed for more than three million tents
—but only 400,000 have been delivered so far. President Hu Jintao has
visited factories in Huzhou city in eastern Zhejiang province
yesterday in order to publicly appeal for workers to produce more
tents for Sichuan.

The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that 70 farmers in the
mountain town of Xinhua pressed against the gate of the local
government building, demanding tents. A farmer Zhou explained: “The
government said they would deliver more tents last night. But we never
got them. It rained last night and it looks like it will again
tonight.” The protestors were surrounded by a dozen soldiers who were
guarding the compound.

The resentment is not just about tents. Li Bai, a shopkeeper, alleged
that local officials needed to be bribed to get things done. “After Hu
Jintao came here, they finally started taking this disaster seriously.
The central government just doesn’t know how corrupt the officials are
here. They just need to come more often to see it for themselves,” Li
told the Associated Press.

Despite the Chinese government’s promise to punish corrupt officials
and businessmen responsible for substandard construction, protests
have begun to take place especially over the shoddy building of
schools in which thousands of children died. Reuters reported on
Wednesday that hundreds of relatives had placed wreaths along the road
leading to Fuxing primary school in Wufu, where 127 children were
killed. They hoisted a banner that read: “The children did not die of
a natural disaster but of an unsafe building.”

In the town of Yinhua, where 200 students were killed, Luo Zaihong, a
mother who lost her daughter, told Reuters that the school building
had only two levels in 1993, but two more were later added illegally.
“When it collapsed it was just fragments, not blocks. That shows how
badly built it was,” she said. In Juyuan, where more than 500 students
died in a collapsed middle school, 100 parents signed a petition that
has been circulating in the town to demand the punishment of local
education officials.

The most explosive protest occurred yesterday in Dujiangyan, where 200
parents who lost their children at Xin Jian Primary School, thronged
into the tents set up by the local education bureau, smashing
computers and knocking down three tents. The parents had earlier
submitted a petition demanding an explanation as to whether government
officials had been bribed to cut construction costs. Some 300 police
officers were sent to break up the demonstration, but it is unclear
what happened as reporters were barred from the area.

The CCP’s propaganda authorities have tightened their grip over
coverage. The country’s Internet police have been increasingly active
against any “rumour” that might create panic and chaos. A notice on
the web site of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television
demanded that all media outlets must “gather their minds and resources
around the directives from the central government and... cover the
disaster rescue and relief efforts with a high sense of political

Nevertheless the fact that the CCP has been compelled to carry out an
unprecedented PR campaign points to profound changes in Chinese
society. The television has been flooded with images of “Grandpa Wen
Jiabao” among the quake survivors, particularly children. Never before
has a three-day period of national mourning been held for ordinary
people—previously such events were held to mark the death of prominent

The CCP leaders are well aware of the threat to their rule posed by
the emergence of any opposition as well as the inadequacy of the
police state methods. Despite state censorship, the explosion of
Internet and cell phone use in China has meant that hundreds of
millions of people are able to communicate relatively freely. The CCP
was compelled to respond to the outpouring of sympathy and support
across China for the quake survivors in order to try to prevent it
becoming a source of criticism and political opposition.

In 1976, the massive Tangshan earthquake coincided with the death of
Mao Zedong. The news of that disaster, which killed a quarter million
people, took weeks to be made public. The regime ruled over a sea of
isolated rural towns and villages amid a few major industrial centres
and was able to maintain almost total control over the media and all
forms of communication.

This is no longer possible today. Not only have the means of
communication changed, but the opening up of China to foreign
investment that accelerated after Mao’s death, has created huge new
battalions of workers who are concentrated in the rapidly expanding
cities. Far from a newfound openness on the part of the CCP leaders,
the latest PR campaign points to the fragility of the regime as it
attempts to supplement its police state methods with media spin and
appeals for national unity.