By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
August 21, 2007
Let’s just review a few tales of China’s handling (or mishandling) of information, the media, the Chinese people and the truth lately.
–On August 17, an estimated 12 million cubic meters of water flowed into the Zhangzhuang Mine, in Shandong province 300 miles southeast of Beijing, after hard rains caused the Chaiwen River to burst through an earthen levee. More than 700 miners were underground when the dam burst. About 172 miners are unaccounted for. But because no list of names has been released, even to waiting families, and no news has been allowed about the event, we may never know the truth.
The Washington Post reported on August 20, 2007 that, “The accident, the latest in a long series of tragedies in Chinese mines, provided another dramatic example of China’s poor worker safety record, particularly in the booming coal industry. More than 2,800 miners were killed in underground explosions and floodings last year, making China’s mines the deadliest in the world. The highest known toll came from a gas explosion in a mine shaft in 2005 that killed 214 workers.”
After last week’s flooding in the Zhangzhuang Mine, families waiting for some news from their government revolted in a near-riot. Many were beaten and removed by uniformed troops, according to eye witnesses.
At the end of the Washington Post report on the lost miners, reporter Edward Cody wrote that, “The official party newspaper, People’s Daily, ran a prominent front-page story Monday detailing the widely applauded rescue of 69 miners on Aug. 1 after a similar flooding accident in Henan province. ‘Miners’ Lives Above All,’ was the headline. The paper’s account of what was actually happening in Shandong was limited to five paragraphs on page three.”
The story, it seemed, was as submerged as the miners.
–On August 16, President Hu Jintao of China ordered all of Chinese media to only report good news. The efficiency of this order’s execution indicates a long-planned evolution. China watchers says there are two goals to this. First, the communist leadership of China does not want the people of China to see, understand or think about the social ills and crimes of the government just before the 17th Communist Party Congress. And, secondly, President Hu is putting into place media restrictions that will “sugar coat” all information about China between now and next summer’s Beijing Olympics.
The Chinese National Olympic Stadium, also known as the ‘bird’s nest’, designed by Ai Weiwei. Ai Weiwei has said he will not attend any Olympic events, even the opening in the stadium he designed, because of China’s poor record on human rights.
–Also on August 16 in Henan, the police shut down two offices of China Orchid Aids Projects, saying that they were part of an illegal organization. Earlier this month, Li Dan, the director of the group, was detained for 24 hours and a planned conference about the legal rights of people infected with HIV cancelled.
Meg Davis, founder of the Asia Catalyst organization, another advocacy group for HIV/AIDS sufferers that planned to participated in the conference, said China’s leaders were excessively anxious ahead of the congress and the Olympics.
“Groups like China Orchid Aids Projects are among the best and the brightest in the world. China should be showing them off, not shutting them down,” she said. “We can’t sit on our hands and stop fighting Aids for a year because of a sporting event.”
–Also in anticipation of the 17th Communist Party Congress, on August 8, 2007, China halted radio transmissions from as many as 12 of the 17 radio stations in Nanjing. The stations were known for their more liberal views. All the stations remain silenced as of this writing on August 20.
–In Beijing, practice for what we here call the “Surreal Façade” (Beijing Summer Olympics 2008) is in full tilt. Because the automobile traffic contributes to Beijing’s smothering air pollution, the communist government has devised a plan to get one million cars off of Beijing’s streets. A four day test is just completed. But because many people were inconvenienced, out of their cars and on to buses and trains, the communist government had issued instructions to editors and producers about how they must cover the “One Million Auto Shut-Down.”
By the way: the test was a failure. Pollution actually went up during the four day “One Million Auto Shut-Down.”
If Hu Jintao isn’t asking, as the Chinese do, “Where did my lucky go?” maybe he should.
No interviews or images of the inconvenienced are allowed. The success of the four day test, at least in the eyes of the Chinese media, has been foreordained.
“This crackdown is a legal gun to the head to responsible journalists who want to report on the basis of facts,” said Sophie Richardson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “China has a long track record of using similar campaigns to weed out news that the authorities find objectionable because it exposes social and political problems.”
–On August 13, 2007, a bridge collapsed in China near the town of Fenghuang, killing 41 construction workers. China’s Central Propaganda Department ordered a media blackout on the bad news which exploded into a fist fight between police and the assembled media at the site of the bridge collapse.
–On the day marking exactly one year until the start of the Beijing Games, China arrested a group of student activists who draped a banner on the Great Wall reading: “Free Tibet.” The protest was quiet and peaceful.
After two days “detained,” the students were deported. This was a signal to the world about the manner in which protesters will be treated during the Olympics. No mention of the affair appeared in the Chinese media.
–China’s handling of the product safety scandals, which started in December 2006, is in a class by itself. For months China denied that any products exported from China were harmful. Yet all over the globe, inspectors found poisoned pet food, poisoned toothpaste, poisoned cough syrup that probably killed over 100 people in Panama, and other dangerous problems. Even children’s toys were found with lead-based paint on them, which is toxic.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported that China’s “farm-fed” seafood came packed with antibiotics. That’s because they are fed on human excrement. If you soak your Chinese shrimp too long in warm water, the “pink” runs out. It is dye: there to make the seafood look more fresh and appealing.
With a public relations scandal involving food and other product safety looming if not already roiling for China on June 12, 2007, the Vice Minister for the State Administration for Industry and Commerce in China said, “We can guarantee food safety.”
But that assertion was clearly laughable.
On August 4, 2007, the official China news agency Xinhua quoted the deputy head of the State Food and Drug Administration, Hui Lusheng, as saying “Dealing with and preventing food safety risks is a long-term, arduous and complicated project.”
Finally, a probably reliable admission from China.
But China is never happy with the truth.
Just this last weekend, on China State Television, the Most Honorable Li Changjiang, China’s director of product safety made an appearance to say the “product safety scandal” was all “politically motivated, unfair, biased and poisoned by jealousy.”
So you Americans, Canadians, Panamanians and others in the west fabricated the scandal: China was not at fault as some might think. Is that a correct interpretation, do you think?
The bottom line to all of this is this the Chinese people live in a repressive regime with an ugly record on human right. In the minds of Hu Jintao and other communist leaders in China, the less the people of China know the better. If a free media continually exposed China’s ills, the entire communist system might be called into question.
And with the world coming to call in Beijing next summer during the Beijing Games, the Chinese will stop at nothing to make sure that China appears to be the new nirvana.
END Note: as we were completing this article, the news services reported that New Zealand was investigating toxic levels of chemicals in clothes made in China….
New Zealand investigates formaldehyde content in Chinese clothing imports
China: You Won’t Get The Truth
China Planning a Surreal Facade for Summer Olympic Games: Beijing 2008
China Plans Happy Olympics But A Few “Small” Problems Remain