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Still searching for answers

James Reynolds | 00:01 UK time, Tuesday, 12 May 2009

I've just been down to Sichuan to see what things are like a year after the earthquake which killed more than 85,000 people....

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At 2.30pm on 12 May 2008, pupils at the Xinjian primary school in Dujiangyan would have been outside in the playground. But the Sichuan earthquake came two minutes earlier - at 2.28pm - while the children were still inside their classrooms.

Their school buildings collapsed on top of them, killing more than 400 pupils.

Xinjian primary schoolBut every other building nearby stayed standing. The parents believe their children were killed by bad building work - by negligence not natural disaster.

Fu Xuezhong lost his 12-year-old son Fu Tian - his only child. At a ceremony held at the ruins of the school three weeks after the earthquake, he carried a framed picture of his son and laid a single flower in the rubble.

"We want justice for our children," he said. "We won't rest till we get justice."

But, a year later, you won't find news of the parents' campaign. The official legend of the Sichuan earthquake does not have any inconvenient chapters.

National Story

China is, famously, a state without a God. But over the last 60 years, the Communist Party has created its own kind of religion - a national story or mythology in which everyone here can have faith.

In this story, the Party united the country against foreign enemies. Its leaders are benevolent, even god-like, figures. Natural disasters are trials to be overcome.

Hilltop in Beichuan
The Sichuan earthquake has now taken a prominent place in this national story. The government's response was portrayed as quick and compassionate. The Premier, Wen Jiabao, was cast as the noble hero - the leader who cried with the bereaved and who promised that fallen towns would one day rise again.

This is the official legend of the earthquake. It's what ordinary Chinese people are told - and it's probably what most of them genuinely believe as well.

On a hilltop overlooking the ruins of the town of Beichuan, hundreds of Chinese tourists now queue up to buy pieces of this legend. Vendors sell picture books and DVDs of the disaster, incense and candles to be placed on memorials.

"This national tragedy has made us build a much stronger nation," says one tourist. "The government is deeply concerned, ordinary people work hard - all obstacles are overcome."

Campaign Silenced

But these tourists know almost nothing of the parents' story. Since early June 2008, the Communist Party has banned the Chinese media from covering the parents' campaign.

Over the last year, local officials have harassed, sometimes even attacked the parents in an effort to keep them quiet.

Fu Xuezhong
A year on from the earthquake, Fu Xuezhong looks much older. He and his wife live in a temporary home provided by the government.

His hopes for justice have now gone. The remains of his son's school have been cleared away. Any evidence of bad building work has disappeared. A recent government inquiry has found that no-one was to blame for the collapse of this school or any other.

"It's not just the earthquake that made the building collapse," insists Fu Xuezhong, "but the government can't acknowledge that fact. It would bring out a lot of other troubles. They will never acknowledge it."

He concludes: "There isn't much hope for justice anymore, I think it's hopeless."

He Deming listens to Fu Xuezhong. His 11-year-old son He Jie died when the school collapsed.

"We want to petition," He Deming says, "but how can we do so? We get stopped, we can't even walk out. I won't give up not until I get justice for my child."

Artist Campaign

These parents are not alone. The artist Ai Weiwei, who helped to design the Olympic stadium in Beijing, has led a campaign for disclosure and justice.

Artist Ai Weiwei
In the absence of an official tally of dead schoolchildren, Mr Ai sent 50 volunteers to Sichuan to compile their own toll. (In early May 2009, the government finally issued its own number: 5335 pupils were missing or dead.)

Ai Weiwei says that his attempts to discover the truth have routinely been impeded by government officials.

"It's a tradition for China not to reveal any public information," he says. "This earthquake relates to too many issues - such as wrongdoings in the construction. And also some policy mistakes after the quake such as aid distribution and the humanitarian effort."

Cemetery

The children who died in the Xinjian school have been buried in a special section of the Bao Shanta cemetery. Fu Xuezhong takes us there, along with two other fathers.

"This is it," says Fu Xuezhong as he points to his son's grave. "These three kids are buried together because they were good friends."

Moments later, an official guarding the cemetery stops us from recording and he calls the police. Officers from a special unit set up to deal with the parents are called in. They ask us for our press credentials.

Fu Xuezhong and the two other fathers quietly walk away down the hill.

In the official legend of the Sichuan earthquake, there is no room for the parents who want to know why their children were killed.

Comments

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  • 1. At 00:27am on 12 May 2009, Wil wrote:

    Sometimes one building collaspe while the rest is left standing in an earthquake. This is because of natural frequency, so not necessarily due to poor building construct. However, it might be due to poor building construct that result in the speed of collapse. And cause the high amount of death as they do not have sufficent time to escape.

    Some people cannot get over the grief and need to blame someone and not GOD. The chinese government must learn to due with them like what the US government did to katrina victims.

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  • 2. At 02:38am on 12 May 2009, firescorpy wrote:

    James,

    Your insightful blog has kept me informed about my country. And yes, I do think that it is very sad that a year after the earthquake, officials are still not acknowledging their mistakes and failures. I love my country, but events such as this still pains me as my mother grew up in Sichuan province and my uncle and his family still lives there.

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  • 3. At 02:56am on 12 May 2009, kururu6 wrote:

    James,what you said are right.I am a Chinese,I nearly haven`t heard anything about the parents`s campaign.It`s very diffical for Chinese officials to accept the concepts of open and democracy,which need maybe about several hundred years to overcome,especially in poor areas.

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  • 4. At 03:18am on 12 May 2009, pattang wrote:

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  • 5. At 03:25am on 12 May 2009, pattang wrote:

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  • 6. At 03:46am on 12 May 2009, KrSund70 wrote:

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  • 7. At 06:40am on 12 May 2009, modagr8 wrote:

    "A recent government inquiry has found that no-one was to blame for the collapse of this school or any other."

    Everybody knows who they want to blame, even this report points to it, the Chinese gov't. that's who.

    So go sue the gov't., have fun doing it.

    Old saying here in the west, you can't win sueing city hall.

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  • 8. At 07:58am on 12 May 2009, modagr8 wrote:

    "The parents believe their children were killed by bad building work - by negligence not natural disaster."

    If the schools fell on their own that's by negligence and you blame bad building works.

    The schools fell because of the earthquake that you blame on act of god and that's by natural disaster.

    China was a poor country in those days when they built those old schools, too many to blame and everyone is to be blamed. They should've never built anything there, it's an earthquake zone and they knew that.

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  • 9. At 08:44am on 12 May 2009, beijing_2008 wrote:

    You have every right to report on the parents' campaign for justice for their children. But, as a journalist (not a human rights campaigner), you also have the duty to report on the other side of the story. Which is that many families are rebuilding their homes, new villages are springing up, and some mothers are pregnant again with another child.

    Appalling bias. Absolutely appalling bias.

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  • 10. At 08:52am on 12 May 2009, heyone wrote:

    You can expect people will get quite upset about you reporting about the injustice in China. Of course they are going to start pointing out irrelevant things like 'how could you have possibly interviewed those parents if the officials banned anyone reporting their campaigns?', ignoring the fact that just 2 months ago somone was just sent to prison for trying to find out how the school buildings collapsed and how children were killed. You know, trying to find the truth constitutes to 'subversion of state power' in this country. Much like the allegation of 'heresy' in medieval religious context when someone tries to point out the world isn't actually flat.

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  • 11. At 09:07am on 12 May 2009, davidwhite44 wrote:

    The outstanding rescue efforts and admirable government response to this disaster is testament to the nation's development since the Tangshan earthquake when Beijing refused all international aid.

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  • 12. At 09:15am on 12 May 2009, heyone wrote:

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  • 13. At 09:25am on 12 May 2009, heyone wrote:

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  • 14. At 09:27am on 12 May 2009, ionnsaigh wrote:

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  • 15. At 11:01am on 12 May 2009, funnyanotherblogger wrote:

    James.

    The Chinese government had published the results of its investigation. There were more than 2000 schools damaged. More than 80% of these Schools had a small part ot its buildings collapsed or badly damaged. Most of these schools had single digit students died. The student died only consised 6% of the total casualties while the students consisted 16% of the tatal population in the earthquake affected area prior earthquake. The government is still investigating specific schools where large number of students died because of complete collapse of the buildings.

    SiChuan province is very mountainous. The earth part of building fundations can be vary. Buildings that is built on top of stony earth have much better chance to stand tall even after earth quake while the building built on top of sandy earth does not have any chance. School buildings are often large buildings with large rooms. They have less chance to survive the earth quake comparing with those smaller buildings with smaller rooms built with the same materials. If the direction of the major waves are against the longest line can be drawn from two ends of the building then the building has less chance to stand the quake...... I have never done any serious study on earthquake but I had experienced the Tang Shan earth quake before. At least I have a little bit of knowledge. It is a complicated issue. The building that stands tall after earthquake is not neccessarily the strong one. James, across western media not only you but also all other journalists have never consulted a scientist before their reports. Intentedly or unintentedly poorly researched report to satisfy the apetite of western public. James, a journalist has the responsibilities to present facts to the public not one sided opinions.Politically exploiting these poor parents who lost their children (Often the only child of the parents)is no journalism of any kind.

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  • 16. At 11:14am on 12 May 2009, AChineseStudent wrote:

    The government of CCP just cooked up a fake stastistic which said 5,335 students were killed(according to their habit this number should not include pre-school children and babies)but the number between civilian is about 30,000 to 15,000.And the government treat the number as a most important national secret,there'll be many policepersions and spies disturb even arrest people who want to know the truth(foreign journalists should have more "formal" welcome as you know or may be just have suffered).

    What is more boring is that many hired professionals who perform as civilians or experts(maybe they are really experts merely not this in major),continously boasting what "The Premier Wen" ,"Grangfather Wen" in internet and newspaper.And they said the disaster is a test to chinese people and it will make china prosper.People who think government has responsibility to the collapse are "cheated" by "foreign enemies" ,and they shall be accept re-education provide by labor camp or prison.

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  • 17. At 12:12pm on 12 May 2009, Yip-May wrote:

    I do not understand why BBC journalists spare no in creating nagative images of China. Every country has its own way of building national pride, so does China. You choose to overlook everything good and positive about China, and put her mistakes under microscope. I wonder how you manage to live your daily life in China, a country you so despise.
    I do not necessarily agree with everything Chinese government has done after the Sichuan earthquake, but I believe CPC did help a lot of people to survive the disaster.

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  • 18. At 12:35pm on 12 May 2009, xyz273 wrote:

    I think you need to explore a little deeper into chinese media. The official chinese media (e.g. Xinhua) is known by most to have its own version of the news. However, a lot of news these days is unofficially carried by internet and many many people look deeper than the CCTV news.

    "In this story, the Party united the country against foreign enemies. Its leaders are benevolent, even god-like, figures. Natural disasters are trials to be overcome.


    The Sichuan earthquake has now taken a prominent place in this national story. The government's response was portrayed as quick and compassionate. The Premier, Wen Jiabao, was cast as the noble hero - the leader who cried with the bereaved and who promised that fallen towns would one day rise again.

    This is the official legend of the earthquake. It's what ordinary Chinese people are told - and it's probably what most of them genuinely believe as well."

    Froom outside China, I can tell you that the government actually dealt very well with the earthquake. It WAS quick, it WAS compassionate and clearing up the aftermath is NOT a good time to point fingers and appoint blame. I don't think anyone in China thinks of Wen Jiabao as a national hero - he's just relatively competent compared to most of his predecessors. I have no idea where you got the "god-like" government from. The government in china is seen no differently to the government here, except with perhaps less whining.

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  • 19. At 12:39pm on 12 May 2009, thhan279 wrote:

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  • 20. At 12:40pm on 12 May 2009, keen_yip wrote:

    i think we should all be humbled by a disaster of such magnitude and express sympathy and support to the Chinese.
    Whatever ideology we may have, the effort of Chinese government in the relief and rebuilding of the area should be applauded.
    Even if it is embarrassing for westerners to express positive comment onto 'communist' government, we should at least comment using the humanitarian point of view instead of mixing cynicism and committing yourself once again into pointless accusation to the impotency of the supposedly doing-nothing-good Chinese government.

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  • 21. At 1:00pm on 12 May 2009, waitinghk wrote:

    Here in HK, reports in major TV station told us that volunteers who are doing their own death toll are actually arrested. They are alleged of something like 'undermining the stability of the country'. Perhaps it's true. If the volunteers later on accused, with little evidences, a lot of officials of serious crime such as corruption to cause any so-called bad building work, the people would be mad on the whole CCP government.

    The experts in the government should see something that the local people don't see to make the conclusion that no one is responsible for the collapse of schools. Perhaps we should trust them, sit back, and mind our own business instead.

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  • 22. At 1:30pm on 12 May 2009, XunFang wrote:

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  • 23. At 1:51pm on 12 May 2009, XunFang wrote:

    The government's response was portrayed as quick and compassionate.


    But thats what happened. Governments response for last years earthquake was quick and compassionate. They did not try to cover it up or underplay it, they asked for international assistance immediately. They were not worried about saving their FACE.


    The Premier, Wen Jiabao, was cast as the noble hero - the leader who cried with the bereaved and who promised that fallen towns would one day rise again.


    What would you like him to do?? Laugh in the face of the family who lost their family, and tell them that their future is doomed. Hope is important for us to go through difficult times.
    Any normal person would cry in face of such unfortunate event, and try to give people hope. I cried while reading news report about the earthquake on the internet would you then tell me that I am trying to act as a noble hero. What has happened to normal human compassion for each other? Has it become so rare in life, that people now even take showing of true emotion as acting?

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  • 24. At 1:56pm on 12 May 2009, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    China or I should say the Chinese government has joined the other leading nations by its silence. A fair investigation into school construction would seem reasonable. Although the children will never return the parents should be able to know if their deaths were a needless result of the corruption that is Chinese government. In the report it states that China is a state without God, yet it is the incense and candles that are sold in the custom of Confucism/Daoism/Buddhism that dominate the scene. There is the Chinese government and there is the Chinese people, please don't confuse the two. Washington D.C., London, Moscow, Paris, Rome and Beijing are all silent about the global financial collaspe and who will be held responsible...no one. Modern governments are corporate structures owned an operated by the interest of wealth. They sit on their high horses and spit out thier mantras about creating jobs is their only responsbility. Justice, human rights, enviornmental protections and redress for governmental corruption are viewed as naive interest of the "little people." You do not hear other countries asking about the construction of those schools and what happened to those children or why the government will not respond to the questions of the parents. As Sec. of State Clinton stated, the U.S. will not let issues like human rights or the environment get in the way of relations with China. No moral high gound in that statement. The Communist Government of China, and that is only a name now since it is primarily a captialist country,is so distant from the people that they don't care, much like other governments around the world. Qin Guang Wang waits with the Mirror of Retribution for them all. I light my incense for the children of Sichuan and suffering of their parents.

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  • 25. At 2:01pm on 12 May 2009, Jan wrote:

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  • 26. At 2:15pm on 12 May 2009, XunFang wrote:

    "It's not just the earthquake that made the building collapse," insists Fu Xuezhong, "but the government can't acknowledge that fact. It would bring out a lot of other troubles. They will never acknowledge it."

    While I am in South Africa, I heard in the news on the radio that the Chinese government has acknowledged that the cause of some school collapsing is due to poor construction problem, while others are not. Has this acknowledgement not made public in China, but only internationally. Or is it error reporting in South Africa. The government should acknowledge the poor construction quality of these schools, and held the construction companies liable. Avoiding this matter will not solve the problem. These parents only wish to obtain some sort of justice for their childrens death. By holding irresponsible construction companies and connected personnel liable will give these parents a sense of justice. By harassing parents to avoid petition is adding oil to the fire, causing more outrage. Hope the Chinese leaders will wake up someday.

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  • 27. At 2:18pm on 12 May 2009, TopCat1802 wrote:

    The Chinese reponse to the earthquake was only due to the fact that the Beijing olympics were scheduled to happen in August 2008. If there had been no Olympics in Beijing then there would have been no response, or at least not in the same way as actually happened!

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  • 28. At 2:20pm on 12 May 2009, beijing_2059 wrote:

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  • 29. At 2:51pm on 12 May 2009, aeroarchie wrote:

    Many houses collapsed. Many didn't collapse.

    Many schools collapsed. Many didn't collapse.

    .............................................

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  • 30. At 2:51pm on 12 May 2009, chinabuzz wrote:

    Autocracy leads to abuse of power.
    Abuse of power leads to unaccountability.
    Unaccountability leads to corruption.
    Corruption leads to public discontent.
    Public discontent leads to mass protests.
    Mass protests lead to downfall of autocracy.
    I look for that day!!!

    There are more wrongs with Chinese regime than rights. Death of many children due to poor constructions resulted by corruption is just one case. Thank you for the highlight.

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  • 31. At 3:30pm on 12 May 2009, Roberto Carlos Alvarez-Galloso wrote:

    The same thing happens in America.

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  • 32. At 3:58pm on 12 May 2009, tigerSiming wrote:

    James, After a year of reporting in China, you look much tired too. There is no surprise why these parents are treated like this. Same with parents of kidnapped children and those who died years ago in 1989. There is no justice to them and no freedom for them to express their anger and frustration. I admire Ai's efforts and courage but there are too many people in this country who only think of themselves and care little of others.

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  • 33. At 4:04pm on 12 May 2009, thisisacryforhelp wrote:

    Constructions can be destructive.

    The special unit which deals with too many issues, e.g. keeping people quiet after a building collapsed, could possibly be the Wei Wen Ban - a creatively harmonious office name for the Maintenance of Social(ist)Stability. I'm not sure how they'd judge what looks photogenic, presumably smiling faces. Today by coincidence the BBC's In Pictures page of the quake memorial fails to be displayed.

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  • 34. At 4:37pm on 12 May 2009, lovesunray111 wrote:

    hi there, its my first time to be here

    thanks for caring about CHINA

    yeah,last year's earthquake made all of us totally desparated
    but,on the other hand we Chinese are strong
    we can handle this

    since you mentioned the parents
    i thnk the bad building is of course a factor of the collapse
    but do think a well-built buiding can still stand in that devasted earthquake?

    i have to admit the government did sth wrong ,i mean the local government

    you know the system differs from US after all.

    and due to the nation's history as well,this happened
    this nation's tradition made us always report good things and avoid bad ones,but now the media become more fair

    i am sorry for the parents ,i hope they can get what they want

    there r of course many problems existing in our government ,
    but we firmly believe in the leaders and we believe we'll be better

    believe me ,we'll get over the sadness

    let's pray for the deaths

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  • 35. At 4:47pm on 12 May 2009, lovesunray111 wrote:

    sometimes the government do sth to cover the truth a bit in order to

    avoid making more negative effects

    and i think this is can be understood

    and i do not think only China does the same thing

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  • 36. At 5:12pm on 12 May 2009, waitinghk wrote:

    Quite a number of comments by Chinese are blaming the 'motivation' of reporting this piece of news, such as 'Why not reporting more positive news?', 'Bias! You don't report the positive side of the story.' I find these comments lack of higher quality argument, and move the topic to an endless talk: Westerner are liar, Chinese are liar, blah... blah...

    Some are better, talking about science, like natural frequency, but they remain silent about the arrested volunteers and parents, and I find them cold-blooded and lack of sense of justice.

    Some are non-sense, comparing any bad situation in China with any given worse situation overseas (US is popular in this regard), and feel comfortable.

    As a citizen in HK, I feel shame about these.

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  • 37. At 5:14pm on 12 May 2009, Home412AD wrote:

    I wish the BBC and other bottom-feeder news outlets would stop whipping this dead horse. Construction was done to substandard levels in order to skim off fraudulent payments in people's pockets. Yes, yes, it happens all the time in every country of the world.

    It was too late for any government to do anything about it the second the earthquake struck, and a year later is just a year wasted in futile complaining. Demanding punishment for criminal contractors and officials is simply unrealistic and impractical. After all, the Government of England and the USA Feds haven't even arrested the hedge fund managers and real estate mortgage brokers who caused the destruction of our planetary financial system, let alone thrown those common criminals in prison.

    Yes, yes, the common criminals have gotten away with it and walked away scot-free. That always happens in every country of the world, too. So what? Yes, human beings are not perfect. Is that supposed to be newsworthy?

    The Chinese government has got on with the job in the best disaster response the world has ever seen, making sure the new schools erected are the best structures any government can build, so I wish media rabble-rousers would get a life, as well.

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  • 38. At 5:34pm on 12 May 2009, heyone wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 39. At 6:54pm on 12 May 2009, Noliving wrote:

    beijing_2008: What does women getting pregnant and rebuilding homes have to do with getting justice? A woman getting pregnant doesn't make up for her loss. A woman getting pregnant doesn't make up for the fact that she is being monitored and being pressured to shut up by the government. The "other side of the story" that your talking about has nothing to do with the topic James wishes to talk about. That is the parents campaign for finding out about what really happen. How does him talking about new villages being built or women getting pregnant having anything to do with people trying to find out if the reason why they lost loved ones was because of bad construction and corruption within the government. The story is about Fu Xuezhong and his 12 year old son, its about how local government having been trying to silence and even attack the victims of the earth quake and activitists trying to find out the truth, but you know what the story also talks about how he got temp. housing by the government, so the other side of the story. The story is about parents and other people in china not affected by the earth quake trying to get full disclosure and justice and how they are being silenced by their government. Tell me again how building brandnew villages,towns,cities and women getting pregnant again has anything to do with getting full discolure and justice and the way how the government has been harrasing their civilians.


    All stories are biased, how many times do you read in the chinese news about a criminal that lists all of his or her contributions to society, or does that story focus primarily on the crime? I'm betting it focuses primarily on the crime.

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  • 40. At 7:02pm on 12 May 2009, modagr8 wrote:

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  • 41. At 7:57pm on 12 May 2009, dudeintexas wrote:

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  • 42. At 8:50pm on 12 May 2009, redtibetan wrote:

    My heart goes to these poor parents who lose their only child. I hope they get degnify justice but god knows specially with this regime. if Crying grandpa wen is serious in his emotion that we saw in sichuan then why not he just acknowledge and give a rights to parent to petition their grievience. why parents are still frustrated with they being treated badly by official. crocodile tears....welcome to the shoe club..

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  • 43. At 9:39pm on 12 May 2009, mooncake wrote:

    James, what you reported here is something would be not possible to aviod. Anyone who lost family members would have such devastated feelings, and I understand the grief of the parents as a only child myself. however, the reports is focus on the sadness of the story.

    I still had faith in media professionals in west and in China, so I hope you would dig something may be more exciting. give us some figures, and your analysis in depth of some realiable statistics.

    stories only from the most griefs hurt but not helpful.

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  • 44. At 10:31pm on 12 May 2009, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    James:

    Still searching for answers

    Thanks for the excellent update regarding the 1st anniversary of the Sichuan Earthquake....And, there are many answers that need to be answer....

    ~Dennis Junior~

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  • 45. At 11:36pm on 12 May 2009, luhai167 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 46. At 00:23am on 13 May 2009, newProps wrote:

    The memorial marks a day of mourning for the chinese people, to celebrate the spirit of all chinese including the government which acted faster and more effective than any other government in the world would of. It also marks a time to move on.

    Naturally there will be a proportion of parents grieving and naturally would move to blame the buildings constructed in a poor region of a war ravaged country in the midst of rebuilding itself (Before 1990's.

    What is abhorid is the western media taking advantage of this grieving process for their own means. Funny how the chinese are all about remembering the spirit and moving on whilst the 'international community in westernised countries' are all about laying blame and pointing the fingure. Quite sad isnt it?

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  • 47. At 00:32am on 13 May 2009, endyjai wrote:

    You guys have to understand that positive news is not as apparent to James as others. I arrived in Beijing last week and watched some of the coverage of the years anniversary. To me, I see many Hong Kong celebrities doing their part and promoting aid. The significance of this is lost when well known Hong Kong celebs/prominent figures are not unknown to them. Being a Brit/Hong Kongese it's easier for me to see both sides of the story. For everything like this, there are always those left out, and they should be made known to the public. However, it would be nicer if journalists could be more detailed.

    It's the same with the story/ies on unemployment. Of course there are people who are aggrieved to have lost their jobs. But many poor Chinese people have endured this in the past and just work through it. They still have their spirit of optimism and know that the good and bad times fluctuate.

    Anyway, good post James, but I hope, however difficult, that you should try to get an edge above what all the other media outlets say.

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  • 48. At 01:24am on 13 May 2009, tclim38 wrote:

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  • 49. At 01:29am on 13 May 2009, coguin wrote:

    James, great reporting. Keep up the good work!

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  • 50. At 09:11am on 13 May 2009, beijing_2059 wrote:

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  • 51. At 09:47am on 13 May 2009, elliephant67 wrote:

    James,
    I read all your blog posts but this is the first time I have commented. Partly because it's the first time I've really disagreed with something you wrote. Not with the facts of course.
    I just feel uncomfortable with your slant on the whole thing. From beginning to end, your focus is only on the aspect of schools collapsing, the potential corruption backstory, and the treatment of those seeking fore more information. This is the story which is already -in both the western and the hong kong media - the main focus of attention (and rightly so) and has been discussed a lot.
    But on this day - the actual day of the anniversary - I think it's a shame not to focus on the earthquake as a whole. Of the 80 odd thousand who were killed, only a proportion were school children (albeit most likely many more than central gov't stats reveal). It is a nation-wide crisis which shook the whole country and the world, and a huge day of mourning for millions of people.
    I know this blog sometimes seems to be a fun sparring forum between you and many enraged wumao posters blaring on about how the bbc is biased and is on an agenda against China etc. And I agree this issue is of vital importance and must be discussed - and must be mentioned centrally in any anniversary post on the earthquake. But this time, I think you got it wrong. To be frank, I'd even say disappointingly disrespectful. Going on about how China is a "country without a God", with "no room for parents" of earthuake-killed children etc. The political system has many problems and a major lack of accountability, and many people within and without are slowly helping to change it. But ultimately the majority of the people killed in this earthquake died from living in a poor area in cheap houses during a major natural disaster.
    There is an old chinese saying that you could say whatever you want as long as you put it in the right way. I suggest you would engage better with your evidently large Chinese readership, and communicate from China better to your western readers, if you considered this saying more carefully in your postfully. Especially on such sensitive and tragic topics.
    May the millions killed RIP and may their families receive justice.






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  • 52. At 10:00am on 13 May 2009, Yuhan_Liu wrote:

    "This is the official legend of the earthquake."
    "Official" might be a too serious word here, I'm afraid. It is the ordinary people who are building their homes and recovering from tragedies.People watch and notice whether the govenment functions properly or wrongly.
    I believe the blockade of information of the badly-constructed school should be temporary in the condition that the domestic media such as Southern Weekly begin drawing the public's attention to the topic.
    If the government doesn't know how to take care of criticism in an era when the supervision from the Internet is some kind of inextricable and omnipresent, surely it will suffer from its insularity.

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  • 53. At 11:01am on 13 May 2009, CaravanPark wrote:

    85,000 people were killed....

    The government's top priority is to focus on the reconstruction work and the future of five million quake survivors.

    To petition for something after a quake is self destruction.

    I personally think that the communist government has been good in handling all kinds of natural disaster. Including this one.

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  • 54. At 12:34pm on 13 May 2009, ita wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 55. At 12:42pm on 13 May 2009, ita wrote:

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  • 56. At 12:51pm on 13 May 2009, heyone wrote:

    It's okay to blame some low level nobody officials for being corrupt and incompetent, yet it's blasphemy to blame Wen or Hu. If you start pointing fingers at Wen or Hu, you become a traitor because Wen and Hu are the leaders of CCP and CCP IS THE STATE.

    CCP just need their own Bible to become a proper religion. In fact, they 've already done it in the past - the 'Little Red Book' of Mao's quotes which everybody was supposed to hold a copy and study.

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  • 57. At 1:02pm on 13 May 2009, heyone wrote:

    37. At 5:14pm on 12 May 2009, Home412AD wrote:

    "So what? Yes, human beings are not perfect. Is that supposed to be newsworthy?"

    Human beings are not perfect - so having substandard school buildings falling down in earthquake killing some school kids is quite normal and un-newsworthy by your and the state media's standards?

    Sure how the bankers went unpunished makes you feel much more comfortable about how those children were killed as a result of these government officials' and building contractors' greed ?

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  • 58. At 1:12pm on 13 May 2009, shutuhh wrote:

    Here I mourn once again for those who lost their lives and beloved persons in the catastrophe.

    #9 beijing_2008 #15 funnyanotherblogger
    Very well said, I fully agree with you.

    In the earthquake, the survivors have shown great courage, endurance and humanity, which deeply touched me. Through the event, I feel so proud that I come from the big family China! The government has done a good job, not only in the rescuing, but also in the reconstruction works till now. Of course the reason of house collapsing should be investigated, and the investigation is still going on, from which we will learn lessons for the future.

    As usual, this report is again trying to pick bones out of an egg. Reading through all the topics of this blog, it is really hard to find any hint of something good happening in China, and none of you seems to have doubted on that. To be honest, if I was born and grow up in Europe, I dont think I may have any positive impression about China. Well, if people in UK are happy with it, then let it be but, every time when I see you naturally insist that you have independent media and free opinions and assume yourself holding more truth than others, I cant help feel ridiculous, and then write something again.

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  • 59. At 1:19pm on 13 May 2009, heyone wrote:

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  • 60. At 3:33pm on 13 May 2009, Noliving wrote:

    Home412AD: The mortgage brokers and real estate didn't really do anything against the law, in fact what they did was encouraged by the federal government. Besides it was the customers who signed the document agreeing to the loan or whatever, if the customers never agreed to it to begin with we wouldn't be in this mess.

    I think you saying demanding punishment for criminals is unrealistic and impractical reflects poorly on you and your character. Just because it happens all the time everywhere doesn't mean they should let go, we might as well let murderers go considering it happens all the time everywhere and not all of them are caught either.

    The argument is that the government knew before, when the school was being built, the quake hit that it was indeed shoddy construction.

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  • 61. At 3:45pm on 13 May 2009, wuhaocom wrote:

    Still looking for answers? isn't this settled 1 year ago?

    fact 1. if 8.0 scale quake happens in london, how many schools will hold?

    fact 2. when it happened, it happens right in the middle of class time

    fact 3. it happens very close to major population

    fact 4. the quake continues to rumble for 3 minutes, scale 8.0 quaeke in 3 minute is 18 times more devastating than scale 8.0 quake with just 10 seconds(like average quake)

    fact 5. there were many aftershocks which exceeds 6.0 magnitude

    fact 6. the epic centre is very shallow, which will cause more damage than deep epic centre

    fact 7. each schools has atleast 360 students(as you said above, 1 school building collpased killed 400 children), compared to how many school s collapsed, (IIRC was 700), the ratio is still very low(not more than 2% school children died in quake), so the arguement of all schools were poorly built is mute, infact 98% of the schools were strong enough to save 98% of school children's lives.

    fact 8. total death toll at 70k, 5k in 70k very very low at 7%


    i just don't see how you can argue with these facts. in fact this was already answered 1 year ago.

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  • 62. At 4:34pm on 13 May 2009, heyone wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 63. At 5:00pm on 13 May 2009, heyone wrote:

    61. At 3:45pm on 13 May 2009, wuhaocom wrote:

    "fact 1. if 8.0 scale quake happens in london, how many schools will hold?"

    None. UK is not in the earthquake region therefore none of the school buildings have been designed to withstand earthquake, so this question is pretty irrelevant.

    Sichuan, on the other hand, is in the earthquake region. Any building that gets built there is supposed to be designed and CONSTRUCTED to withstand earthquakes. In stronger earthquakes, buildings, if properly designed and built, may suffer severe damage, but not collapse.

    "fact 2. when it happened, it happens right in the middle of class time

    fact 3. it happens very close to major population

    fact 4. the quake continues to rumble for 3 minutes, scale 8.0 quaeke in 3 minute is 18 times more devastating than scale 8.0 quake with just 10 seconds(like average quake)

    fact 5. there were many aftershocks which exceeds 6.0 magnitude

    fact 6. the epic centre is very shallow, which will cause more damage than deep epic centre"

    Buildings wouldn't have collapsed and killed so many in the first place if they were properly designed and built. Whether it happened during class time is irrelevant. People would have had time to escape before anything fell down.

    "fact 7. each schools has atleast 360 students(as you said above, 1 school building collpased killed 400 children), compared to how many school s collapsed, (IIRC was 700), the ratio is still very low(not more than 2% school children died in quake), so the arguement of all schools were poorly built is mute, infact 98% of the schools were strong enough to save 98% of school children's lives.

    fact 8. total death toll at 70k, 5k in 70k very very low at 7%"

    Let's assume your numbers are correct. Still are you suggesting we shouldn't seek justice for those who died in shoddily built buildings?

    While some of your 'facts' may be true, they are pretty irrelevant if you're trying to use them to stop people from seeking justice for their killed children.

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  • 64. At 5:23pm on 13 May 2009, pchen442 wrote:

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  • 65. At 6:12pm on 13 May 2009, waitinghk wrote:

    I would like to take some words from a columnist in a HK newspaper:
    "Those who are covering up the human causes (e.g. negligence, corruption) of the school building collapse are killing the students that will be buried in the collapsed schools in all forthcoming earthquakes."

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  • 66. At 8:11pm on 13 May 2009, modagr8 wrote:

    "But these tourists know almost nothing of the parents' story. Since early June 2008, the Communist Party has banned the Chinese media from covering the parents' campaign."

    Don't try to have your say here on this free speech BBC site, they may block your post using the old Chinese rule "This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules".

    So it's not only in China that nobody has the right to say anything and whatever they want to say.


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  • 67. At 9:25pm on 13 May 2009, pchen442 wrote:

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  • 68. At 9:36pm on 13 May 2009, pchen442 wrote:

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  • 69. At 9:46pm on 13 May 2009, QingRepublic wrote:

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  • 70. At 10:28pm on 13 May 2009, JR_Siete wrote:

    As an American, I noticed a comparison of the Chinese government response to the Sichuan earthquake to the US government response to Hurricane Katrina. Widely publicized inadequacies in the Katrina response were significant factors that led Americans to remove that government from office. The Chinese people deserve the opportunity to do the same, if they choose. Do they have such an opportunity?

    As an engineer, I respectfully disagree with the idea that "natural frequency" would be responsible for one building's collapse among many. Any competent engineer who designs buildings, especially in areas prone to earthquakes, designs buildings to resist such structural resonances, and honest government inspectors protect their citizens by assuring that the design and construction are done properly. Let us hope the people are well protected in the future.

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  • 71. At 11:05pm on 13 May 2009, Wil wrote:

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  • 72. At 07:23am on 14 May 2009, lovesunray111 wrote:

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  • 73. At 07:46am on 14 May 2009, AChineseStudent wrote:

    61. At 3:45pm on 13 May 2009, wuhaocom wrote:

    May be I can answer you as a chinese:
    (My data is from official statistics.Yes we both know it ridiculous but let's assume that is true)

    We can just compare ChengDu(the capital city of SiChuan which might can be considered as London?) with BeiChuan(a normal country in SiChuan):

    There were about 4,000 victims in ChengDu while in BeiChuan,which has the same distance from the epicentre as ChengDu,there are more than 8,000 people were killed in the earthquake.But the population of Chengdu is seven times to BeiChuan's!How will you explain the amazing difference about seventeen times?Don' tell me that's because of particular situations,because I have more than five similar instances.

    What'more,as I know there is no school totally collapsed in ChengDu while BeiChuan has more than five schools serious damaged even destoried,and BeiChuan isn't the country which lost the most.
    It's clear what caused that:poverty,disregard and corruptions,which are obviously created by something.

    Another view,also in BeiChuan,the government has reduced former 82 schools to 48 schools now.Many teachers have lost their job.That's very similar with DeYang,MianZhu or ShiFan etc.Maybe we can infer something from this?

    -----
    More Information:
    In poor countries in SiChuan(might in whole China),for example,if a country has 60 pupils in elementary school who are going to graduate,next year there will be only about 30 middle school students,and after three years only one of six namely around five students will go to high school.Might some of them were gone to cities for higher study but surely not the most.

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  • 74. At 07:52am on 14 May 2009, funnyanotherblogger wrote:

    Questions for Mr Reynold.

    How many schools completely collapsed? How many schools were within 100, 200, 300, 400KM from epic center?

    If a grade 8 long lasting quake which happened less 10 KM bellow the earth surface happened in UK what percentage of school buildings would be still standing after the quake?

    Poor construction? The quake hit a poor mountainous area of a developing country! James, make sure you know what percentage of school buildings in UK can remain standing after earthquake as strong as the one hit SiChuan first.

    A question for all bloggers.

    Is your house strong enough to stand earthquake like the one happened in SiChuan? My house would not. Looking forward to see your answers.

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  • 75. At 12:17pm on 14 May 2009, popshvt wrote:

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  • 76. At 12:39pm on 14 May 2009, KrSund70 wrote:

    James

    I have to agree with many of the posts here. Your politically-charged slant on the story is quite obvious.

    Even davidwhite44, who rarely has great things to say about Beijing and overseas Chinese, reminds you of the bigger picture--that in comparison with TangShan in the 1970's, this response was light-years better. To now forget all those positives, and to harp on only the negatives, is disingenuous at best.

    You state that the parents should hold Beijing responsible, yet your Chinese readership, via these comments, have clearly voiced that you are likewise expected to be held responsible for balanced reporting. This story, unfortunately, strays far from the mark.

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  • 77. At 9:16pm on 14 May 2009, RoastDuck wrote:

    James, first, you did a good work to recover the truth.
    However, I read all your blog, all your blog.
    I read more than ten articals from your blog.
    I hardly find any of the articals that describle Chinese goverment didn't like the devil on the earth.
    But I lived 25 years on Beijing, where controled by goverment most strictly. I really didn't feel any big disadvantage than where I live now: US Michigan. Even the heinous villain may have at last one good character. Why couldn't you find a tiny good character from a huge country which developed fastest in the whole world? Is that possible a fully corruption, tyranny goverment could change their people's life so dramaticly? What about the other lose countries in this small world? all been defined as fully corruption, tyranny. Why none of them didn't fail in economy growing? Is that because our chinese are so strong that even been repressed by so decadent goverment, our economy could still growing much faster than any of other people? That's only a dream!

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  • 78. At 03:40am on 15 May 2009, 2008copper wrote:

    China have achieved a huge progress in the nation moderlization and all other aspects. It is now a few countries which still keep rapidly growing especialy in the time of the world's economic ressesion.Despite China is not without its problem, nodody can deny the fact that China today is a major power to make the economic of the world recovering.
    Just as an old saying goes:you've got to put the past behind you before you can move on.When people looks forward to the furture, they will see that tomorrow must be the better than yesterday in China. I bet.

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  • 79. At 03:57am on 15 May 2009, AtticTroll wrote:

    First of all, the 'grand narrative' that is outlined in this article is simplistic. As other posters have noted, what CCTV says and what people think are not the same.

    These days China has many countercurrents. Consider the fact that most people in China will be aware of the building issue (if the media just supported the 'grand narrative' then why do most Chinese people know about this issue?).

    It was the same thing last year when the BBC ran a story on how the Chinese media had blocked anything to do with torch protests in France and Europe. The BBC showed us a country where most Chinese lived in ignorant bliss, completely clued out about international news. A week later there were protests and mass demonstrations at Carrefour, a French supermarket chain. People were upset about the torch protests in France.... So I guess they DID, in fact, know about what was going on!

    Okay, regarding the issue of construction -- the way I see it you can't accuse the CCP of a coverup on the basis of some disgruntled and grieving parents. We can sympathize with them, but it is obvious that we cannot rely on them for reliable information about this issue. I'd be the first to point fingers at the CCP for corruption or the mishandling of justice, but in this case we just don't have anything to go on.

    These comments such as 'some critics believe' are misleading and unsubstantiated. There's simply no proof that the buildings collapsed because of poor construction. Period. End of story.

    And even if we had that proof, there's no evidence that officials made an illegal profit from the construction of these schools. It is clear that those schools could have been better built, but let's not assume that some corrupt officials made a profit off their construction and are now going around silencing parents. It might seem believable. But I don't think the BBC should report on maybes and speculation (I guess since this is a blog, we can allow some leeway, but I still think there is a responsibility here). We all know that corruption happens in China, but you can't just assume it happens all of the time.

    And regarding fatality figures. Why do we have to instantly distrust the CCP stats? Yes, they might have cooked up the numbers, but I can say a lot of things that the CCP MIGHT have done. Do we have any other stats or figures?

    So get the facts or drop it. Criticizing Chinese (or any government's) policies are an important part of reporting, but we should always follow sound journalistic principles.

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  • 80. At 3:29pm on 15 May 2009, chinzuika wrote:

    It sucks to read about the parents'campaign for the justice of their children' deaths. We hardly have access to this type of coverage in Chinese newspaper, maybe it would be more safer for the media to seal their mouths. That leaves room for others to point their fingers at it, and the impression of a one-sided China imposed by the west is strengthened.

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  • 81. At 04:48am on 16 May 2009, howardxue wrote:

    We should not blame these reporters for their non-stoping coverage of the campaigns of parents to find who is responsible for the school building collapse and the cover-up of governments. Because news stories like this are more ENTERTAINING, than those herotic government officials working hard for a whole year to help the re-construction and everyday life of the survivors.
    In a modern media, a traffic accident with good afterwards settlement is hardly a good news, but a traffic accident, with all the law suits, finger-pointings and dog-fightings afterwards, which certainly is more entertaining, will be a good feature story.
    A foreign journalist in China once asked the interviewee to say something negative, "I'm coming here not for reporting a boring good news, so tell me some stories that can make headlines, please."

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  • 82. At 1:01pm on 16 May 2009, Bloofs wrote:

    Perhaps the shock *would* have destroyed the sturdiest of schools and that the buildings *were* completely sound. Yet we don't know because the authorities have cleared away any possible evidence. And that's the problem: lack of accountability which permeates any authoritarian state. Other respondents here are also failing to address the ban on the media covering the parents' claim, and the harassment of the parents - a completely horrendous thing to do to these poor parents. Even if you believe the parents are wrong, they should have the right to speak out without fear. They have lost their children.

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  • 83. At 02:43am on 19 May 2009, laughingKiddingme wrote:

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  • 84. At 02:46am on 19 May 2009, laughingKiddingme wrote:

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  • 85. At 04:09am on 19 May 2009, laughingKiddingme wrote:

    #58 by "shutuhh"
    Best comment ever, good job

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  • 86. At 06:58am on 19 May 2009, levenshen wrote:

    Hi Reynolds,I am a new reader of your blog.I read your blog just for knowing more news about China from a different point of view.Yes,I'm a Chinese,but I think goverment maybe covered some mistakes just like your goverment maybe did.
    There is a proverb in China "Losers are always in the wrong".Everthing,except seeing by yourself,is false probably.So I think your blog should need more videos about interviewing people.

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  • 87. At 08:08am on 19 May 2009, funnyanotherblogger wrote:

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  • 88. At 8:28pm on 20 May 2009, Bloofs wrote:

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  • 89. At 8:53pm on 21 May 2009, davidwhite44 wrote:

    funnyanotherblogger: Britain is hardly prone to major earthquakes, so naturally the houses are not built accordingly. However, we are prone to cold winters hence we have heating and insulation.

    Indeed, KrSund70. I keenly await your first positive comment about the West. A place which was obviously good enough to educate you well. I doubt Beijing_2008 could ever pain himself to take such a step.

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  • 90. At 11:05am on 22 May 2009, AChineseStudent wrote:

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  • 91. At 6:03pm on 22 May 2009, laughingKiddingme wrote:

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  • 92. At 6:04pm on 22 May 2009, laughingKiddingme wrote:

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  • 93. At 4:12pm on 24 May 2009, longriver2009 wrote:

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  • 94. At 10:25am on 30 May 2009, TopCat1802 wrote:

    The truth about 'shoddy school buildings' will never be known either inside or outside China, unless some of those who built the schools come foward and admit that the schools they built wre sub-standard, or a local government official to come forward and admit that of the thousand of Yuan paid to build a new shool he/she pocketed a percentage of the costs which meant the proper materials could not be provided as there was not enough money left to purchase them - and it would take someone immensley brave (or foolish to say so). Bribery and corruption is a way of life in China, everybidy does it and everybody know about it - for instance if you want promotion or a good job in China its not based on 'what you know' but on 'who you know', if you can 'give presents' to the right people, or you know the right people the you get the promotion and/or a good job, if you know nobody then you have no chance.

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  • 95. At 08:15am on 01 Jun 2009, shalimarguru wrote:

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  • 96. At 3:10pm on 07 Jul 2009, otheronesview wrote:

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