Monthly Archive for August, 2011

High-Speed Train Crash

A little over a week ago, around 40 people died in a high-speed train crash near Wenzhou, China. According to some sources, a train carriage was struck by lightning, lost power and stalled. An approaching train then rear-ended this carriage. Questions abound — how could it be that the approaching train wasn’t warned there was a stalled carriage on the rails? Rumor has it that the railway was (at least partially) German-built, or built with German technology, and that the Germans had told the Chinese it would take three months to train the engineers, to which the Chinese replied that it should be done within 10 days. The Germans just shrugged, but this was of course heralded in the Chinese press as ‘what takes the Germans three months, only takes the Chinese 10 days’! It seemed like a thorough investigation was in order.

Well, not quite. According to eye-witnesses, the train wreck was being buried immediatly after the accident, even before investigators had started their work. Media censors ordered journalists to downplay the accident; lawyers were told not to take victims’ cases without government¬†approval.¬†This sparked popular outrage, and even China couldn’t censor what happened next: thousands if not millions of people started micro-blogging about the event on so-called ‘Weibos’. Weibo is something akin to Twitter; you can post messages 140 characters long and over 200 million Chinese have such a micro-blog.

For a few days, it seemed like this had forced the government to be more open. Not so, however. According to the NY Times, traditional media (usually heavily censored) that had started critical coverage of the crash were told by government censors to back down and were forced to replace pages upon pages of coverage with cartoons or whatever. Ho hum.

In other news, this is my last post from China — Im gonna make my way to the airport now. It’s always a bit sad to be leaving. I feel that only in the last few days did I really get into the rithm of this city. It always takes a while. In any case, if you get to the point where you’re the one helping locals with the automatic ticket machines in the subway station, you’ve come a long way.