“Parents’ Grief Turns to Rage at Chinese Officials,” By ANDREW JACOBS. New York Times, May 28, 2008.
Raw public outbursts have been taking place across northern Sichuan Province as grieving parents have been loudly calling for investigations into why so many school buildings collapsed during the May 12 earthquake, killing an estimated 10,000 children. During a march on Sunday, a protester waved a picture of one of the 127 children who died at the Fuxin No. 2 Primary School in Mianzhu.
A day after parents staged an impromptu rally in Mianzhu on Saturday, the Communist Party’s top local official, Jiang Guohua, came to plead with the protesters to not carry out their plan to march to Chengdu, the provincial capital, where they sought to prevail on higher-level authorities. Mr. Jiang, on his knees, failed to deter the parents, who shouted in his face and continued their march.
A line of security officers formed a human wall, as they tried to contain protesting parents in Mianzhu on Sunday. In grief, parents have overcome their usual caution about confronting Communist Party officials. Many parents say they have been especially upset that their schools have crumbled into rubble even though government offices and more elite schools not far away survived the quake largely intact.
Protesting parents clashed with police trying to block the march. During the struggle, the broken glass from the pictures of dead children wounded several parents, and the fight left them trembling with emotion. While censors have blocked detailed reporting of the schools controversy by the state-run media, bold commentary did call on the government to step up investigations into faulty school construction.
Parents marched on Sunday, holding pictures of their lost children, often their only one because of China’s population-control policy. The protests threaten to undermine the government’s attempt to promote its response to the quake as effective. But authorities in Beijing appear to have recognized the delicacy of the issue, and officials have expressed strong-worded statements vowing to find those guilty of cutting corners on school construction.
A memorial service for hundreds of students of Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan, where a mother held a picture of her son, turned into an angry protest on Tuesday. Some parents said local officials had known for years that the school was unsafe but refused to take action. Others recalled that two hours passed before the rescue workers showed up; even then, they stopped working at 10 p.m. on the night of the earthquake and did not resume their search until 9 a.m. the next day.
Grieving parents during the memorial service. A few parents said they had been approached by teachers and told they would be well compensated for their loss – about $4,500 per child, several times the annual income in this area – if they would stop their increasingly vociferous public campaign. But many parents rejected the offer and said they felt insulted that no one from the school or the government had come to offer condolences.
A woman at the memorial for the students of the Juyuan Middle School. When a dirge began playing over the loudspeaker, all at once the women doubled over in agony, a chorus of 100 mothers wailing over the loss of their sons and daughters. The husbands wept in silence, paralyzed by the storm of emotion.
Parents set off fireworks to chase away evil spirits as wads of paper money smoldered amid the rubble of Juyuan Middle School. Delays in launching investigations into the school collapses is likely to embolden infuriated parents who are protesting across northern Sichuan Province.
A woman grieving at the collapsed Juyuan Middle School.
Two girls looked at the remains of the Juyuan Middle School. Although there is no official casualty count, parents say only 13 of the school’s 900 students came out alive.
From “Grief Turns to Fury in China”
Photo: Shiho Fukada for The New York Times