Anger Over Rail Crash Rescue

China's propaganda department limits coverage of a high-speed rail crash, while victims' families gather in protest.

Workers clear the wreckage after a fatal high-speed rail crash in Shuangyu town in China's eastern Zhejiang province, July 24, 2011.

China has promised a probe into a fatal high-speed rail crash while seeking to limit media coverage about the accident, as the relatives of those who died gathered outside government buildings on Monday.

Around 30 relatives whose loved ones died in the rail crash gathered outside municipal government offices in Wenzhou city on Monday, chanting slogans and surrounded by police.

A relative surnamed Yang said: "We went over to the accident site this morning, where they were clearing up the wreckage, and they just found someone alive."

"Why aren't they trying to save more people?"

Video taken by bystanders at the scene and posted on the popular Youku website showed a recumbent body being carried away from the scene as mechanical diggers moved in to clear the wrecked train.

Yang said he had lost his pregnant wife, three-year-old son, and both in-laws in the crash.

"I rushed to the scene after the accident," he said. "It was already the middle of the night. The place had been sealed off by armed police."

"I saw that there were a number of dead bodies still inside the carriages as they were being lifted off," he said, echoing allegations also made online.

"They just stood there. They didn't bother to save the injured," he said.

Curbs on reporting

A man who lost his 12-year-old daughter in the train accident is consoled by relatives in Shuangyu town, July 25, 2011.

Far from covering the details of the rescue effort, China's official media machine moved swiftly to limit what could be said in public.

In a regular directive sent to news editors setting out the guidelines for coverage of major stories, the Communist Party's powerful central propaganda department set the angle to be adopted in covering the crash.

"The major theme for the Wenzhou bullet train case from now on will be known as 'in the face of great tragedy, there's great love'," the department said.

The directive was posted on the "Ministry of Truth" website, which regularly posts copies of government orders that are leaked by journalists.

"Do not question, do not elaborate," it said.

The crash came at 11.00 p.m. on Saturday as the D301 bullet train with 558 passengers on board slammed into the 16-coach D3115 train which had come to a halt with 1,072 people on board following a lightning-induced power failure.

The D3115, ironically named "Harmony" after the government's policy of preventing social unrest through "harmonising" the media, was sitting stationary on a flyover when it was hit, and some cars were shunted off into the fields below.

Presumably implementing this policy, the propaganda department told the media not to "investigate the cause of the accident."

"The word from the authorities is all-prevailing," it warned.

Rail cars 'buried'

Chinese netizens reacted angrily to the leaked document, as well as to video shot by bystanders of train carriages being moved by mechanical diggers, apparently with people still inside them.

The videos were shown on the video-sharing site, with many commenters accusing the government of burying the carriages to prevent a full probe into the cause of the crash.

Top officials including President Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao traveled to the scene in the wake of the accident, which has shaken China's image as the new growth market for high-speed rail, sparking sharp falls in Chinese share prices on Monday.

Deputy premier Zhang Dejiang told reporters at the scene of the crash near the eastern city of Wenzhou that the authorities were doing everything they could to help those who were injured in the crash, which came after a train plowed into a stationary train which had been disabled by lightning.

Zhang promised a full investigation into the crash.

"We will definitely take responsibility for this and carry out a full investigation into the cause of the crash and report back to the general public," he told reporters at the scene.
"We will deal with this matter seriously according to the law, and uphold the safety of our rail network."

But he refused to admit to any safety issues with China's bullet-train network, which has been plagued by problems in recent months.

"We should say that there are no problems with the safety of high-speed trains," Zhang said. "But there are a confusing number of factors which can influence the operation high-speed rail services."

"Overall, our high-speed trains are safe," he added.

Officials resign

Three senior rail executives, including Shanghai Railway Bureau chief Long Jing, have resigned following the accident, however.

Meanwhile, railways ministry spokesman Wang Yongping told reporters on Sunday that investigators had already found the train's log, and that investigations were ongoing.

Zhejiang officials said on Monday that the death toll had risen to 38, with two U.S. citizens among them, state media reported.

An employee who answered the phone at a blood donation clinic in Wenzhou said there were a large number of volunteers in the wake of the accident.

"We have enough blood for now," the employee said. "We are at full capacity."

"A lot of people came [today] ... maybe 200 or 300."

Authorities slammed

Some online commenters slammed the authorities for poor management.

"God, the Wenzhou accident … I no longer dare to ride high-speed trains," wrote one user on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging platform.

"I’m very curious to see how this accident will be reported on CCTV News this evening," wrote another, in comments translated by the China Geeks blog.

"Will it still be mostly reports about leaders meeting with whoever and then a few seconds on the accident, with the closer ‘the cause of the accident is still under investigation’?"

Meanwhile, a third quipped: "When I saw the news of the high-speed rail crash today, I had a very strange feeling. I wish the injured a speedy recovery, you must be strong, and trust the Party."

A ministry statement said that bullet trains running from Shanghai to Wenzhou, Fuzhou, and Xiamen all departed on time on Monday, with one passing the site of the accident.

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


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Aug 03, 2011 05:04 AM

I think that it's pretty hypocritical that a news organisation that is basically funded by one government in order to show the best side of itself to the world can then begin to comment on a country doing exactly the same thing. I want to use this as an objective source of information, but, of course, it is not.

Aug 03, 2011 09:58 AM

If you refer to our mission statement, you will see that our goal is to provide news for the residents of countries that don't have a free press. While we do receive government funding, the difference is that RFA retains independent editorial control over its journalism, whereas the media organizations in the areas we cover, for the most part, are state-controlled and told what to report.