Press points finger at greedy and callous railways officials

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 July, 2011, 12:00am


There's little doubt that the past week was the worst of times for the Ministry of Railways, but it was a moment of glory for the nation's press.

At a press conference given by Premier Wen Jiabao on Thursday at the site of the Wenzhou rail disaster on July 23 that claimed 40 lives, reporters from the mainland were asking as many pointed questions as their overseas colleagues.

And it was not just reporters on the ground. Editorials across the nation showed a deep commitment to humanist values, in contrast to railway officials' evasiveness and callousness.

An unprecedented choice of words appeared in an editorial of the People's Daily, regarded as the mouthpiece of the Communist Party. It was a phrase that had been widely used by many internet bloggers. But this time, it made its way into official language: 'blood-stained GDP', meaning 'chasing money at the cost of human lives' as People's Daily itself explained.

'China wants development. But it wants no blood-stained GDP,' it said. 'Let us all start work on a society-wide campaign to improve work safety.'

The Guangzhou-based Yangcheng Evening News said the train crash served to remind the Chinese people that they were all moving about, whether by train or by air or by some other form of transport, in an era of increasing speed.

People had to learn to inquire about every detail of how speed affects their day lives, and to avoid its hazards, it said.

Many editorials called for China to shift the development of its high-speed-rail programme to a lower gear.

An investigative report in the National Business Daily zeroed in on the fact that the signalling system, which officials said was the direct cause of the crash, was almost entirely provided by a state-owned industrial monopoly called the China Railway Signal and Communication Corporation.

Meanwhile, another investigative report carried by Global Entrepreneur said many Japanese railway specialists either working in China or dealing with it had long expressed their concern about the low level of safety consciousness in people they met from the Railways Ministry.

Chinese officials tended to have no time to learn or no interest in learning the lessons of other countries in building their hi-tech industries and infrastructure, the article said. The ministry officials were overconfident and had no idea they could be sending their own people on a journey to death.

Nor would the press forget some individuals - such as Wang Yongping, spokesman for the Ministry of Railways, for his overly confident but poorly substantiated defence of the system he represented.

Wang, the propaganda official, attributed the tragedy to lightning before any investigation had started, and claimed a high level of confidence in the high-speed-rail system - 'regardless of whether you [reporters] have any confidence'.

A commentary on, a website owned by Sichuan Daily, said 'the humiliation that Mr Wang accidentally harvested' was not just targeted at him. It revealed the depth of society's resentment of the organisation he represented.

Some other individuals might have played even worse roles, a commentary in the newspaper Time-Weekly said. Naming a group of high-profile railway engineers, who had boasted to reporters about the (non-existent) dependability of China's high-speed-rail network, it said: 'They are not railway experts. They are just propagandists.'

The commentary suggested that by describing an unstable and potentially dangerous system as 'reliable', those people may even be subjected to criminal charges.

He Huawu , the Railways Ministry's chief engineer, was singled about by several media organisations. The Shenzhen Special Zone Daily ran a commentary reminding readers that in April 2007 He declared on CCTV, the national television system, that China's high-speed trains would never see the kind of rear-end crash the world witnessed on July 23.

With such a presumptuous attitude, the commentator asked, how many innocent lives would be put in danger? And how could China's high-speed railways compete with the 47 years that the Japanese rail system had operated without a single fatality?