When an earthquake jolted China’s Qinghai province, the country’s best reporters rushed from the scene of an earlier disaster in Shanxi, where 153 miners had been reportedly trapped below ground, to cover the story. But while the death toll from the quake quickly passed 1,000 and is still growing, questions are being raised about the “miracle escape” of 115 miners in Shanxi.
So, as news of the accident broke, all eyes were on the rescue efforts at Huajin. Everyone was silently wondering whether a state-run enterprise would devote more resources to save the trapped miners than private companies, which have been much maligned in the Chinese press for their alleged insensitivity to working conditions and safety.
The unthinkable is on everyone’s mind: Could it be the whole rescue effort was just for show? That would be too sick, even for China.
A week passed, and anxiety started to build. Then, miraculously, on the eighth day after the incident, 115 miners were rescued from the pit. China breathed a sigh of relief. As efforts continued for another week, it became clear that there would be no more survivors, but the rescue mission was declared a success by the government and the press.
But unofficial reports on the Internet by blogs run by investigative reporters are painting a rather disturbing picture of the whole Wangjialing miracle.
Jian Guangzhou, the reporter who broke the melamine milk powder story, pointed out on his microblog that to this day, officials are refusing to release the names of the deceased or the rescued. Family members of the miners are being kept in better-than-usual accommodations. The government has sent a team of officials to shadow the families of the victims and make sure they do not talk to reporters. Jian also wrote that the families of the victims are being given cash incentives to go home without seeing their loved ones, dead or alive.
With this in mind, Chinese netizens are starting to look into official reports on the successful rescue. They’re scrutinizing the few available photos of the rescued miners and wondering:
How come they have such clean arms, although their faces and hands are dirty?
How come all of them are clean-shaven, after eight days underground?
How come their clothes aren’t torn after days of trying to climb out of the mine?
As the questions have mounted, people have gotten more suspicious. The unthinkable is on everyone’s mind: Could it be the whole rescue effort was just for show? That would be too sick, even for China.
In some ways, the earthquake saved the officials at Wangjialing. China’s best reporters all left the mine and went to Qinghai. The earthquake bought the mining officials some time. But today, almost a month after the Shanxi accident, the names of the victims are still a “state secret.”
Huang Hung is a columnist for China Daily, the English language newspaper in China. She is also an avid blogger with more than 100 million page views on her blog on sina.com.