Collapsed Schools And A Call For Responsibility

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The Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend has a fascinating interview (translated here by China Digital Times) with an education official in Sichuan, where thousands of students were killed by school collapses in the May 12 earthquake. Lin Qiang, the deputy inspector of Sichuan’s education department, told the paper that if education officials had done their jobs and ensured that sturdy schools were built, fewer children would have died:

If we education administrators had fulfilled our duties and guarded against corruption, our school buildings would have stood firm and the teachers and children wouldn’t have died for no good reason. So much tragedy could have been avoided. It’s a shame that we were not able to protect our vulnerable kids from danger. We should think about it. We should not shrink from our responsibilities and glorify ourselves with a few teachers’ heroic deeds in the earthquake.

It’s a point that has been painfully obvious for a few weeks now, but it is heartening that an authority is willing to state it publicly. Lin, who said he “held no direct responsibility for the tragedy,” added he would no longer serve in his planned role as a torchbearer when the Olympic flame makes its pass through Sichuan.

Will his words make a difference to the parents who lost their children? I’m guessing it will do little to temper their anger. Since we first wrote about the subject two weeks ago the parents have only grown more vocal and more organized. These are people who have lost what’s most important to them, and would appear to have the support of the public at large in their quest for justice. China has shown a willingness to execute corrupt authorities before. Given the reservoir of anger, this saga seems likely to end in death penalties for local officials found guilty of graft in connection with the construction of collapsed schools. The Lin interview is headlined “Seeking Truth Is More Important Than Losing Face,” but for some officials losing face will be the least of their worries.

For those who are interested, now has a gallery of photos of children and schools in the disaster zone.