Two Weeks On…

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As I write, it is almost exactly two weeks since the Sichuan earthquake (it happened at 14.28 Beijing time). Now that the anguish punctuated by occasional joy of a miraculous recovery is passing, attention is inevitably focusing more on other issues such as how the five million or so left homeless will be fed, housed, treated, educated and so on. Yesterday’s 6.0 magnitude aftershock, which killed at least six and reportedly destroyed some 70,000 buildings (presumably mostly ones which were already in bad shape from the original quake), demonstrates that nature still has the power to shock. But coverage of a big event like this follows its own well documented logic and, barring any new events, the focus will now turn to future issues such as housing etc but also to the past and responsibility/causes. As we have written in the past, the single most explosive issue is that of the large number of schools that collapsed, the so called tofuzha (豆腐渣) or tofu dregs buildings (ie, soft as tofu). This is a very, very delicate issue for the Communist Party, which must quickly and publicly punish some of those local officials being blamed for the poor construction of schools because of corruption/incompetence. But at the same time it must make sure that the opprobrium heaped on these oifficials (who or course also be the senior Party members) make sure none of the resulting blame sticks to the Party as a whole. Tremendous pressure is building up, as is vividly demonstrated by this translation over at of an article in the Southern Metropolitan Daily. The accompanying picture really does say a thousand words. The local Party Secretary is literally on his knees begging the distraught parents not to march through the streets calling for an investigation into school construction. But, as my colleague Austin has remarked in one of his past articles, these people have lost their entire worlds and most importantly their only children. They have nothing to lose. They cannot be intimidated by the usual threats of arrest or promises of money or other rewards. They will not tire or rest until they get some sort of satisfaction. And the whole country –indeed anyone Chinese or otherwise–can’t help but look at them and feel their anguish. These are not people who can be ignored.