Crash Survivors Struggle, One Year On

China's official media go silent on train-crash victims and their families.
2012-07-24
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A man who lost his 12-year-old daughter in the bullet train crash in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou is consoled by relatives, July 25, 2011.
AFP

Survivors of last year's bullet train crash in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou say they are struggling to rebuild lives shattered by the disaster, which unleashed a storm of public criticism over China's public safety record.

Relatives of the "miracle" girl survivor, Xiang Weiyi, who was the last person to be pulled alive from the wreckage after the July 23 collision, told local media she had been turned away from kindergartens in her native Shanghai because her injuries weren't yet fully healed.

"She is still undergoing rehabilitation," said Xiang Yuyu, the uncle of the child who has become known around China as Yiyi. "She can walk, but her left leg, which sustained the worst injuries, is now slightly shorter."

"That means that one foot is slightly higher than the other, so obviously the way she walks isn't the same as before," Xiang said.

But he added: "Overall, her prospects for recovery are very good."

However, three Shanghai kindergartens have refused to enroll Yiyi, citing fears that her injury will bring additional liability to their business, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported on Monday.

Yiyi's mother and father were among those killed in the crash, which left 40 people dead and nearly 200 injured, according to official figures.

Struggle to rebuild trust

China's ruling Communist Party has struggled to rebuild public trust in its vast rail system after the high-speed train crash near the city of Wenzhou, south of Shanghai, in which one high-speed train rear-ended another which had stalled following a lightning strike.

Premier Wen Jiabao called at the time for a sweeping and transparent investigation, but results of the government's own internal probe have yet to be made public.

Railway expert and deputy director of the investigation team, Wang Mengshu, was initially quoted by the state-run Beijing Times newspaper as saying that the crash largely resulted from mismanagement.

His comments were the first official move towards admitting that human error was a key factor in the crash, which the government has so far blamed on a signal failure caused by a lightning strike.

However, later media reports have said Wang was misquoted.

One woman who lost her husband in the disaster said she had been given 900,000 yuan in compensation, but that this would never mitigate the effect on her life of losing him.

She said state-run media appeared reluctant to publish follow-up reports on the families of the victims.

"There was a journalist who came over a while back, but he said he had to come on a private visit," Liu said. "After he went back, I never saw any article about this come out at all."

"I heard that they are all forbidden to write about it."

Media controls

Media coverage of major disasters and accidents is closely controlled by China's powerful and secretive propaganda department, which issues regular directives to journalists and editors dictating the angle to take and sometimes banning coverage of controversial issues outright.

Yiyi herself was at the heart of a storm of criticism after she was pulled from the wreckage, hours after the rescue effort had been called off and as the damaged train carriages were being buried nearby.

Chinese reporters heckled and gasped in disbelief when Railways Ministry spokesman Wang Yongping explained her rescue as "a miracle," prompting Wang's reply: "Well you can believe this or not, but I believe it."

A relative of another young victim surnamed Huang said he had lost hope in any honest appraisal of the disaster from the Chinese authorities, a year after the accident.

"I am very angry and I feel in despair, to the point where I can barely talk about it," Huang said. "What can we do about it? We are just ordinary people."

The relatives of victims said they had no plans for a public memorial event this week, so as to avoid causing greater suffering to the bereaved and to avoid retaliatory action from the government.

However, netizens marked the anniversary on China's popular microblogging services on Monday, posting messages of condolence and candles in memory of those who died, as well as messages of support for Yiyi on the Sina Weibo account of her dead mother.

Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.