Corruption and a Quake in China

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The story of shoddy construction in Chinese schools, and the grim — and uneven — tally of the May 12 quake is not going away. Well-built government offices still stand near collapsed schools, and parents are demanding answers.

Faced with such horrible news, Chinese citizens are demanding accountability: why were schools so poorly built? Who cut corners? And even in routinely repressive China, they may be angry enough to get it.

International Herald Tribune:

As the official Chinese media continue to focus on the military’s heroism and the nation’s outpouring of generosity, a surge of anger is building among parents whose grief is overpowering the fear that often keeps ordinary citizens from challenging the government. In the first few days after the earthquake struck, the press freely reported on accusations of shoddy school construction. Within a week, however, the censors had gained the upper hand.

But in the past few days, articles about parents demanding accountability have begun to reappear. Late last week, Caijing, a business journal whose investigations often challenge the status quo, ran an editorial saying that inquiries should not be delayed. Xinhua, the official news agency, reminded readers Monday that it, too, supported a speedy response to the demands of grief-stricken parents.

The shift suggests that the authorities in Beijing may recognize the peril of ignoring public opinion. On Monday, a spokesman for the Education Ministry, Wang Xuming, promised a reassessment of school buildings in quake zones, adding that those responsible for cutting corners on school construction would be “severely punished.” In recent days, local officials across Sichuan have also bowed to the pressure.

It’s events like this leave me convinced that even in profoundly undemocratic societies, the basic dynamics of democracy still play out. Even totalitarian states rule, to some extent, with the consent of the governed, and when people are really willing to push back, they often get results. In the West, that may take high gas prices. In Zimbabwe, it may be one election too many. In China, it takes more. But the scope of this tragedy is unbearable: in Beichuan, one poorly built middle school left 1300 students dead.

The Chinese government is attempting to buy off the parents at US$4500 per kid. It’s not working.

“We don’t want their money; we just want this corruption to end,” said Luo, the farmer, as others nodded in agreement. (IHT)

IHT: Parents’ grief turns to fury in China

UNICEF is accepting donations for emergency relief.

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