The China Economic Times Report on the Lan Chengzhang Case

(China Economic Times via  Behind the case in which a "reporter" was beaten to death by the owner of illegal mine in Shanxi.  By Wang Keqin.  January 24, 2007.

[in translation]

The beating death by pickaxe handles and steel rods of China Trade News' Shanxi bureau worker Lan Chengzhang by the owner of an illegal coal mine and his gang is one of the hottest story in China this January.

There are many versions of the story circulating around.  Lan Chengzhang has left the world 13 days already.  How was he beaten to death?  What is the truth?  Will the same kind of tragedy occur again?

Our reporter went to Datong city (Shanxi) to conduct in-depth investigation in order to answer these questions.  From the large number of interviews that our reporter conducted plus the information supplied by the Shanxi provincial and Datong city government, the most detailed description about the death of Lan Chengzhang is the following:

34-year-old Lan Chengzhang was a worker at the Shanxi bureau of China Trade News.  On January 10, it was his fifteen day at this new unit.

On the day before yesterday, the Datong city police officially published the <Situation Bulletin> to the media.  This <Bulletin> described the incident as follows:

At around 9am on January 10, 2007, China Trade News' Shanxi bureau worker Lan Chengzhang called his colleague Chang Hanwen to go to Hunyuan county to collect information about an coal mine that has not gotten all its paperwork done.  The two men rented the Santana 2000 car of Cao Xinbin and left together.  On the way, Lan told Sheng, "I heard that a certain coal mine in Hunyuan does not have all the paperwork done.  Let us go and take a look.  If we can meet the boss, we wave our identification and the other party will give us at least 1,000 RMB."  When they arrived at Shuigou village, Shayituo town, Hunyuan county, the two got out of the car and walked up to a small coal mine.  There was nobody at the coal mine and there does not seem to be have indication of production activity.

On the way back to the car, they saw a black Santana car in which there were two men and one woman.  One of them was named Huang Yanxin (according to China Trade News Shanxi bureau chief Chang Xuri, Huang is a worker with China Forum).  Huang claimed that he knew where the office of the coal mine was, and he took Lan and Chang to the Shuigou village Daobanfang coal mine office.  Lan Chengzhang told the watchman Zhang Gengen: "We received a tip that your coal mine does not have all the required paperwork but you are already extracting coal illegally.  We want to see your boss to see what is going on."  When they got the telephone number of the mine owner Hou Zhenrun ("Hou Si"), Chang Hanwen and Huang Yanxin called Hou separately to ask for a meeting.

Shuigou village residents confirmed to the reporter that a white vehicle came to the office of the coal mine of "Hou Si."  The driver stayed inside the car while "a young man and an older man went up the hill and returned more than an hour later."

When Lan and Chang called Hou Zhenrun to ask for a meeting, Hou was dining with his wife Jiang Xiaoyan and colleagues Wu Qiang, Kang Quanming at the Xiangyiyuan restaurant (Datong city).  After Hou finished the calls, Wu and Kang asked: "What's happening?"  Hou said, "F*ck his mother, another group of reporters are there."  Xu and Kang asked if these were real or fake reporters.  Hou said, " I don't know.  We'll go and see."  Hou called Legal Daily's Shanxi bureau's Datong resident worker "Meng Er" to enquire about how to distinguish between real and fake reporters.  Meng Er told Hou to look at the press cards first and then call him.

Afterwards, Hou Zhenrun gathered seven people including Wu Qiang, Zheng Wenping and Ma Li and headed towards Hunyuan in a BMW and a Toyota Camry.  On the way over, Hou Zhenrun called Wu Qiang in the other car and said, "We go there and see what is going on.  If these are real reporters, we will treat them well, give them some money and that's it.  If these are fake reporters, we will punish them."  At around 4pm, they arrived at the office of coal mine in Shuigou village, Shayituo town, Hunyuan county.  When they got out of the car, they saw a white Santana 2000 in which two people were sitting (Cao Xinbin and Lan Chengzhang).  Hou Zhenrun ordered Zheng Wenping to bring one person with him to keep an eye on the pepole the car.  Ma Li and another person posted were at the entrance.  Hou and the other people entered the office.  At the time, only Zhang Gengen and Chang Hanwen were in there.  Hou Zhenrun asked Chang Hanwen, "What's up?"  Chang Hanwen said, "We are China Trade News reporters and we are here looking for some raw story materials.  You do not have the paper work.  How can you be operating?"  Hou Zhenrun said, "So what?  If so, you can just accept some money and you can forget about it."  Chang Hanwen said, "You tell me."  Hou Zhenrun asked Chang Hanwen for his press card.  When he got the press card, he stepped out the building to call Meng Er.  Meng Er said, "If it does not have the stamp of the General Administration of Press and Publications, it is fake."  Hou checked and did not see the stamp.  He went back into the building and told Chang Hanwen: "Your press card does not even have a stamp by the General Administration of Press and Publications.  You just go around extorting people.  You must be blind!"  Then Hou Zhenrun directed the seven people including Wu Qiang, Zheng Wenping and Ma Li to assault Lan Chengzhang and Chang Hanwen.

On January 22, Datong city public security special police division fifth squadron leader Jiang Baoju was interviewed by our reporter and he said that according to the confessions from Hou Si and other suspects, the instruments of assault were picked up from the courtyard by Hou Si.  The principal instruments were two pickaxe handles, one steel rod and an iron.  They began the assault by smashing a thermos bottle into Chang Hanwen's chest.  Then another person kicked Lan Chengzhang until he fell out of the building.  Then the men divided themselves to two groups to assault Lan Chengzhang and Chang Hanwen separately.

In the assault on Lan Chengzhang, he was hauled out into the courtyard.  But the attackers became concerned that the villagers might see it, so they hauled Lan back into the building for further assault.  During the assault on Lan Chengzhang, Lan had grabbed the collar of someone.  So someone else landed a blow with the iron rod on Lan's shoulder and broke his arm.  Then they used the iron rod to break his other arm.  This was not enough, because Hou Si asked someone to place Lan's leg on the chair and they expertly extended Lan's leg straight before breaking it with a pickaxe handle.

Informed villagers told this reporter that the Daobanfang building was rented out to Hou Si in October last year.  Usually, three or four people stay there and it served as the "production command center."  Certain short-haired men usually went there in cars.

On the afternoon of January 10, Hou Si brought two carloads of people to Shuigou village.  Several young men with short hair got off and entered the courtyard.  Then a small young man got out of the white car and raced south for over 50 meters.  The short-haired men chasing after him yelled, "Punk, if you dare run, we'll beat you to death!"  So the running man came back.

When Lan was being beaten, many villagers were enjoying the sun outside the store next to the Daobanfang building.  They all heard the screams from inside Daobanfang.  A villager said, "It was a horrible beating.  Even the pickaxe handle broke into three pieces."

According to a mine worker who dug coal from the illegal mine, two people came out there on the evening of January 8, took a few photographs and then left quickly.  On the next day, Hou Si ordered production to stop, leaving behind only one mine worker who lived in a nearby village to keep watch.  On January 9, another three groups of people came around to inspect the conditions around the coal mine, but they did not identify themselves.

At around 6pm on January 10, Lan Chengzhang's family received a telephone call from the driver Cao Xinbin.  Over the telephone, Cao told them that their family member Lan Chengzhang had been assaulted in Hunyuan and he was being brought to the Number 5 People's Hospital in Datong city.  The family members immediately headed to the Number 5 People's Hospital.  At 6:50 pm, Lan arrived at the green emergency lane of the Number 5 People's Hospital.

According to Lan Chengzhang's wife, they saw Lan drenched in blood when the car door opened.  His eyes went turned upwards with no apparent sign of light.  His face was covered with blood.  There was a gash about 3 inches long on his forehead, with white bones showing.  Lang was in a deep coma when he entered into the emergency room.  After 10 minutes of treatment, Lan Chengzhang's heartbeat, pulse and other vital signs suddenly went off.  The emergency doctor used large amount of drugs to restore his vital signs.

The preliminary diagnosis was severe brain injury.  At 11pm, Lan was sent over to the intensive care unit of the neuro-surgery department.  According to the doctor on duty that night, Yang Fu, "when Lan Chengzhang was brought in, his vital signs were basically sustained only through medication.  His blood pressure was very low, and only sustained by blood-pressure-elevating medication.  He was unconscious.  His pupils did not respond to light when dilated."  Lan Chengzhang was unstable that night, and the entire neuro-surgery department worked to save him.

At 9:17am on January 11, the hospital doctors were examining him and discussing about an alternative plan of treatment.  Suddenly, Lan Chengzhang stopped breathing and his pulse was gone . After ten minutes of resuscitation, the team of experts pronounced Lan Chengzhang to have expired.  The preliminary conclusion of the team of experts was that the cause of death was due to a fractured skull with brain hemorrhaging.

On the evening of January 17, this reporter visited Lan Chengzhang's family.  When Lan Chengzhang's 70-year-old mother heard, she came in and cried until she passed out.  Lan Chengzhang's brother-in-law Li Wenxin wiped away his tears and told the reporter that Lan's mother had cried until she passed out three times already.  Every time that she thought about the cruel death of her son, the old lady passed away.

Lan's younger sister told this reporter that Lan Chengzhang's 13-year-old daughter cannot believe that her father was dead.  In front of Lan's body, she kept repeating to herself: "Dad, are you still going to attend the parents' meeting at school with me?"

After Lan died, the family followed local customs and began cleansing his body at the hospital.  Lan's elder sister observed five holes in the head.  The shape of the head was changed.  Both arms were fractured.  "When I lifted up the arms, I can hear the cracking sound of bones grinding against each other.  He was bruised purple and green all over his body.  His hands were swollen like buns."

After Lan died, at 9:30 am or so on January 11, Lan's brother-in-law called 110 to report the case . The police then came to the hospital.

Lan's news bureau chief and deputy came to the hospital.  "They kept calling on the telephone for a long time."

At around 10am, Datong city public security bureau deputy director Jin Runxi came to the Datong Number Five People's Hospital with the criminal investigators and technicians.  The police considered this to be a major case for which an autopsy was required.

At noon, the body of Lan Chengzhang was taken to the Number Three People's Hospital in Datong city, because the autopsy facility was better over there.  The autopsy then took place in the morgue of the Number Three People's Hospital.  According to Lan Chengzhang's younger brother who witnessed the autopsy, the legal doctor Wang Yong saw the body and his first words were, "What a terrible beating!"  Then he opened up the skull and said after a while, "Brain contusions.  Multiple fractures of the cranium.  Massive hemorrhaging inside the brain.  There is no need to look any further.  This is the cause of death.  There is no point in dissecting the arms and legs.  Those broken bones are minor affairs."

Lan Chengzhang's good friend Tong Qiang told this reporter emotionally: "Never mind whether this is a reporter or not.  Even a simplest citizen is still a citizen of the People's Republic of China.  The life of each citizen is sacred and inviolable.  No organization, group or individual cannot damage or deprive the life of any citizen without legally permitted reasons."  "Even if little Lan was wrong, you can't beat him into this shape.  This is too vicious!"

"Why was the coal mine boss so brutal and cruel?  How can he go amok like this?"


According to Shuigou villagers, the illegal coal mine of Hou Si is in Siwangpu village next to Shuigou village.  Since it is actually closer to Shuigou village, an "office" was rented there.

This was not the first time that Hou Si has assaulted people.

In mid-September 2006, Shuigou villager Zhou Lin picked up some coal pieces that fell off the trucks from Hou Si's coal mine and was assaulted by four short-haired persons.  Zhou Lin told this reporter: "They kicked my face with their feet.  I received eight stitches on my head.  My eyes were swollen, and I could not see for several days."  After this beating, Zhou Lin did not dare to ask the mine owner Hou Si for compensation, nor did he dare to report the case.  According to the villagers, the women were playing cards, knitting sweaters and chatting in front of the store one day.  Hou Si and others came out of the Daobanfang building and urinated in front of the women.  "They are hooligans," a woman told this reporter angrily.

When this reporter asked the Shuigou villagers about what Hou Si was doing in the village, they all shake their heads and said they did not know.  An old man in the village took this reporter aside and told him secretly: "80% of the people in Shuigou village knew about what happened on that day.  But nobody dared to speak out.  If they told you and then those people come back some day, we'll all be dead."

According to what this reporter has learned, Hou Si expanded the road that led to the illegal coal mine in order to bring the coal down the hill more easily.  In the process, he filled in the gutter for the Shuigou farmlands.  As a direct result, more than 30 mu's of dry farmland was flooded.  The reporter asked the villagers why they did not go and complain to Hou Si.  A villager glared and said, "He is a gangster.  You see, if you can assault reporters, wouldn't it be easier to punish us?"

In order to investigate the actual conditions at Hou Si's illegal coal mine, this reporter went to Siwangpu village ten miles away from Shuigou village.  As soon as he entered the village, he saw a coal mine field about two mu in area.  From the indications on the coal pile, this coal mine has been shipping large amounts of coal out recently.  Even so, there were still several hundred tons of coal left.  In a small building near the coal field, four drivers who claimed to be from Taiyuan city (Shanxi) said that they were waiting here today for orders from their bosses before transporting coal out from this coal field.

This reporter then went to the home of Siwangpu village Communist Party secretary Wang Jizhi, which was just over 100 meters away from the coal field.  Wang Jizhi told the reporter that the relevant state regulations issued in 2002 requires that all small coal mines that produce less than 90,000 tons of coal to be closed.  Since the Siwangpu village coal mine produces fewer than 10,000 tons per year, it was forcibly filled with earth and shut down.  From that point on, there was no coal mine in the village.

This reporter then asked Wang Jizhi about the situation about the coal mine at the village entrance.  Wang Jizhi said that he was not sure of the exact situation.  He thinks that it may be that some villagers were secretly digging coal from small mines and selling to the coal field.  This reporter then asked Wang Jizhi about the population size of Siwangpu village and the answer was: "About 400 regular residents.  Most of the young laborers are usually working on the outside."

During the interviewing, this reporter encountered a villager who was carrying a basket full of coal on his back.  He told this reporter: "I used a pickaxe to dig more than two hours and I was only able to obtain one basket of coal."  When the reporter asked the villagers about what was happening at the coal field, the villagers said "I don't know."  Only one villager told the reporter in a low voice, "I don't dare tell you."

When the reporter asked Wang Jizhi about the situation at the coal mine once again, he pounded his hand on his chest and said: "I can guarantee with my party loyalty that I am telling you the facts."

At some time after 8pm that evening, the reporter came back to Siwangpu village once again.  From afar, he saw that there was a coal fire at the coal field.  Under the light from the fire, a loader vehicle was lifting coal onto two heavy trucks.  As soon as the workers saw the reporter's car, they put out the fire and disappeared.  The drivers also disappeared.  The next morning, the reporter was going to Darenzhuang town and he stopped at Siwangpu village along the way.  All several hundred tons of coal in the coal field had been moved away during the night.  The coal field was now covered by yellow earth.

Hou's illegal coal mine is 5 kilometers away from Shuigou village.  It is actually situated inside Siwangpu village, Darenzhuang town, Hunyuan county.  In fact, it is right on the boundary between Shuigou and Siwangpu villages.

The reporter began to climb up through the mountain path and then passed through several winding dirt roads.  After about an hour, he arrived at the coal mine that was situated on the slope in a mountain pass.

When the reporter stepped into the mine area, he saw the blocked well entrance to front left..  The well entrance was filled with fresh earth that was mixed with large amounts of coal particles.  Two chimneys showed up on the top of the earth.  There were also iron pipes, beer bottles and other stuff.  On the slope, the cut telephone wire extended further down on poles into the distance.  There are many car tire tracks on the ground at the mine entrance.

On the road downhill, there was one square-shaped space surrounded by sacks filled with earth.  Afterwards, a mine worker who had worked there said that the mine owner was in the process of building a simple garage to load the trucks.  Construction had not been completed, because at around 730pm on January 8, the first batch of arriving reporters found the coal mine.  At the time, production was going on at the mine.  The reporters took some photographs and left quickly.  The next day, January 9, the coal mine ceased production, but there were still some watchmen left there.

According to the worker who worked in Hou Si's illegal mine, this mine used to be operated by Siwangpu villager Fan Fu but it was taken over by Hou Si.

Concerning the issue of the illegal coal mine of Fan Fu, village party secretary Wang Jizhi did not deny.  He told the reporter that the villagers also had the practice of digging up exposed coal.  The illegal mine of Fan Fu was initially dug by his father Fan Guanlin a long time ago.  It was a small ditch at first, but it got deeper and deeper until it became a big mine.  In recent years, the villagers were prohibited from private digging.  After the village patrol discovered the mine, Fan Guanlin was prevented from working anymore.  The village worked with Siwangpu village to seal this mine with earth.  But Fan Guanlin re-opened the mine in 2006.  The town mayor named Wan and the deputy mayor Zang Ying (who was in charge of coal mining activities) personally went to the mine and sealed it with dynamite.  Fan Guanlin died in August 2006, and that mine has not been active since.

At 7pm on January 18, the reporter went to visit deputy mayor Zang Ying of Darenzhuang town.  He told the reporter that Darenzhuang township has been very forceful in combating illegal private mining.  Basically, they go out on patrol two to three times a month.  Since December last year, they have increased the inspection frequency.  They are out checking practically every day.  When they find a mine, they will check and they will seal it up.  In the summer of 2006, the town government went out to dynamite the illegal mine of Fan Fu, but illegal mines seem to get bigger and bigger.

As for the related situation with the coal field at Siwangpu village, Zang Ying said that he was unaware and he has not been out there.

According to Zang Ying, the town party committee and government decided in November 2006 to have an inspection system based upon northern and southern teams.  "Town party secretary Wang Zhenhai patrols the northern sector in which Siwangpu village is located.  My team patrols the southern sector.  I am not familiar with what happens in the northern sector."  To confirm this, Zang Ying said that he would allow this reporter to read the 2006 meeting minutes.  The reporter immediately tried to contact the party secretary Wang Zhenhai and mayor Jing Ren who have those meeting minutes, but the calls to them could not be connected for various reasons.

At 5pm on January 19, the reporter went once again to Darenzhuang town to interview Wang Zhenhai.  The workers said that Wang Zhenhai had left work to return to Hunyuan county city.  The reporter dialed the mobile telephone of Wang Zhenhai.  Wang did not pick up.  Several minutes later, the reporter re-dialed but the mobile telephone was turned off.  At 8:10pm, the reporter called Wang Zhenhai's home telephone number.  The man picking up the telephone said that he was a friend of Wang.  He told the reporter: "Wang Zhenhai is not home.  He is staying at the town government office tonight.  I am helping to look after the apartment for his family."

On the afternoon of January 22, this reporter interviewed Datong city State Land Resources Bureau disciplinary team director Yang Qingcai.  Yang specifically brought up the situation of coal resources in Hunyuan.  He told that reporter that most Hunyuan coal mines are not economically viable to operate.  But because there are many open mines and the economic conditions in Hunyuan are poor, the villagers often extract coal privately on their own.  He told the reporter that the system of inspection for coal mines has been very rigorous in Datong over the past several years, and the responsibility is carried out down the various levels.  When the reporter informed Yang Qingcai about the coal field in Siwangpu village, Yang said that they are prepared to investigate this matter thoroughly.  If they should uncover any collusion between government and coal interests, they will show no mercy in dealing with the matter.

According to the knowledgeable mine worker, Hou Si took over the mine in August 2006.  This was supposedly because Fan Fu was forced out due to pressures from certain people in the background.

The mine workers said that Hou Si's coal mine practically did not require any kind of investment.  From the coal extraction to the transportation, everything was done on a sub-contractual basis.  The mine workers brought their own equipment and covered all related expenses.

The workers said that the coal extractors bought their own detonators and dynamite into the well to extract coal.  They were paid 20 RMB per ton of coal.  The loaders who moved the coal onto the containers bring their own iron shovels and they were paid 5 RMB per ton of coal.  The coal was transported by the transport workers who bring their own tricycles (which resemble farm-use tricycles) and they were paid 10 RMB per ton.

From this, it can be estimated that Hou Si had production costs of around 35 RMB per ton of coal from this illegal mine.

Before the incident, there were 42 people at the coal mine.  This included 12 coal extractors.  There were 24 persons who operated the tricycles to transport the extracted coal using 6 tricycles.  There were two persons in charge of security, one named Fan (from Siwangpu village) and one named Zhang (an outsider).  There were two managers, one named Hou and another known as "Ma Er."  There was also one person in charge of counting the work and one person operating the loader to move the coal onto the trucks.

Production at the coal line occurs over two shifts, the early night shift and late night shift.  They do not dare to produce during the day.  The early night shift began at 430pm and continued until midnight.  The late night shift then came on and finished after 6am.  21 people worked on each shift.

The coal mine had six or seven trucks that continuously shipped the coal to the outside.  Each truck can hold 10 tons or so.  As soon as the coal came out of the well, the loader quickly moved it onto the trucks to be shipped outside of the mining area.  The mine never stored any coal.

Among the coal workers at the coal mine, there were eight Shuigou villagers  They were all familiar with the operations at the coal mine . One mine worker told the reporter that each tricycle can make 24 to 25 trips.  Based upon the reporter's preliminary estimate, this mine can produced 300 tons per day and more than 90,000 tons per year.  Based upon the current price of 270-290 RMB per ton, subtracting the 35 RMB production cost per ton, Hou Si must be making pure profits of at least 70,000 RMB per day.

According to knowledgeable mine workers, Hou Si took over the mine and then he sealed it on the evening of January 10 after he assaulted the reporters.  He removed all the equipment on the outside before he fled.  There are other equipment currently sealed underneath the well.  "I am aware that there is one electricity generator, two diesel engines, two ventilating machines, electric cables and many other things."

According to information, Hou Si fled on the night of January 10.  The nine peasants from Shuigou village has not received their wages for the first ten days of January.  When the reporter went there to interview, a mine workers asked the reporter for help: "Can you please help us get our wages?"

It is interesting to note that all the government officials that the reporter interviewed said that there are no illegal mines in Hunyuan county.  While this case was being investigated, the Shanxi provincial official website Huanghe News published this news item on January 18: "Through asking the Hunyuan State Land Resources Bureau and the Darenzhuang town government, we learned that the 'coal mining' location north of Sihuangpu village involved in this case was started privately by Siwangpu villager Fan Guanlin in the winter of 2005.  It was later detected and filled up.  Following reports in spring 2006, the town government sealed it up again by dynamiting.  On January 11, 2007, the Hunyuan public security bureau confirmed on a first-person basis that there is no sign of coal production at this 'coal mine.'"

The mine worker said: "That coal mine goes deep down more than 400 meters from the well entrance.  There are four tunnels, each tunnel being 3 meters tall and 2.5 meters wide.  The coal mine did not have a name yet, because it did not want to draw attention.  Once it is given a name, more people will know and then the risks grow.  There is no name yet.  After Hou Si began operations, it was even shut down for 16 days from November 24 and December 10 after the inspectors came."

The coal from Hou Si's coal mine was transported to the coal field in Zhaobi village, Shayituo town.  Since January 1, 2007, the coal was transported instead to the Shalingpu coal field in Shayituo town.  When the reporter went to the Shalingpu coal field, he saw that there were about 1,000 tons of coal there.  There was only one watchman.  The reporter chatted with the watchman and learned that the owner was a man named Hou who lived in Datong city.

Over the past two years, Shanxi province has raised its efforts to combat illegal coal mines.  The Datong city State Land Resources Bureau disciplinary team leader Yang Qingcai said that government-coal collusion could occur at small local coal mines.  Therefore, he had emphasized in meetings that if the county-level Land Resources Bureaus had difficulty with carrying out the investigations, they can also report directly to the city bureau which can conduct those investigations.  They had to be able to "find the place, investigate the place and take action against the place."

In May 2006, five bureau chiefs were dismissed in the corruption case in the Taiyuan city safety inspection bureau.  Within one year, seven safety inspection bureau chiefs in Shanxi were sent to jail.  The crimes were mostly about corruption, bribery and possession of large amounts of money of unknown origin.  The corruption surrounding the coal mines is astonishing.

The informed person who worked at Hou Si's coal mine told the reporter that when Hou Si operated the coal mine, all those government departments which had any relevance would come to inspect.  "They would show up and inspect.  They would receive several tens of thousands in payment.  There is nothing that money cannot take care of.  The illegal coal mines all have some kind of background.  They could not survive otherwise."

In the many news reports coming out of Shanxi in recent years, there are two points of focus: one is about the heavy-spending coal bosses; the other is about the recurring coal mine disasters.

In 2005, a coal mine boss "burned money" to purchase twenty Hummer jeeps in one deal, and this became a focal news story.  The Hummer jeep is powerful and safe, and it supported the weak nerves of the coal boss who made his blood money quickly.

The coal mine bosses also remembered to go and light a fire in the Beijing real estate market.  Since September 2005, in less than two months, more than 1 billion RMB worth of apartments were sold in Soho in Beijing, of which half were purchased by people from Shanxi.  The largest purchase among them was a one-time-only sale of 12 apartments valued at 66 million RMB.

Corresponding to the heavy-spending of coal bosses are the frequent appearances of coal mine disasters in news reports.

This reporter had an incomplete count of public news reports on Shanxi mining disasters . From January 2006 to the end of November 2006, there were 26 mining accidents in Shanxi province.  There were 468 dead, 17 injured and 17 missing.  Those were the published figures.  This reporter does not know what the unreported numbers are.  Shanxi media colleagues told us: "Coal comes with blood.  When a mining accident occurs, the owner usually covers up the case or refuses to provide help.  This is a model in which the accumulation of wealth and GDP growth depend on paying the price with young lives."

On May 18, 2006, the Xinjing coal mine in Zhangjiachang town, Zuoyun county, Datong City, Shanxi province was flooded with the result that 56 miners dined.  The public servants in the case were prosecuted for dereliction of duty.  On December 5, the court issued verdicts against these 12 persons charged with the crime of dereliction of duty.

"All twelve person charged with dereliction of duty were given suspended sentences.  The punishment for dereliction of duty is so much less than the huge hidden interests involved in government-coal collusion.  Datong, oh Datong, you are really so different."  (Note: Datong also means "the same.")  A Datong media friend told this reporter: "56 lives brought suspended sentences for 12 government officials.  This verdict seems to imply that the cost for a mining disaster has decreased once again.  After a mining disaster, the coal boss usually try to dole out lots of money.  The government also tries to act nice, because a mining disaster tarnishes its political accomplishments.  The government and the nouveau riche coal bosses are on the same page in terms of their interests with respect to how to handle mining disasters."  "The reason why coal bosses take such huge risks because the cost of breaking the law is very low.  If you are willing to spend the money, you can solve all the problems!  That is the reason why Hou Si could be so insane and brutal!"

While the reporter was interviewing in Datong, he found out that many local people were unaware that a Datong "reporter" had been beaten to death by a coal boss.  Many taxi drivers said that they have not heard about it.


In the Lan Chengzhang affair, a key phrase is "fake reporter."  The death of Lan Chengzhang has a direct connection with this key phrase.

According to the <Situation Bulletin> provided by the Datong police, the most important reason for the death of Lan Chengzhang was that his local colleague Meng Er confirmed that Lan was a fake reporter.  The reasoning of the mine owner Hou Si was that "if this is a fake reporter, we will punish him."  So Lan was thoroughly "punished."

On the day when Lan was beaten to death, Datong city released a <Notice about the special project to combat fake newspapers, fake periodicals and fake reporters>.  This notice claimed: "All those who do not hold a press pass issued by the General Administration of Press and Publications" but engage in news gathering are fake reporters."  Since Lan Chengzhang had worked only 15 days at China News Trade and did not have this press card, he was a fake reporter according to the requirement in this Notice.

At the home of Lan Chengzhang's mother, his family members and friends explained this status and experience to this reporter.

34-year-old Lan Chengzhang was recruited to work at a local state coal mine after he graduated from high school.  At the Datong city Qingciyao coal mine, he "worked as a warehouse keeper."  Lan's original unit leader Zhao Bao (who was the Datong city Qingciyao coal mine mechanical factory deputy manager) said: "In 2005, he asked for leave of absence without pay and he left."

Nie Laixian was an old friend of Lan Chengzhang and he is now working at a safety production magazine.  Nie went to work in the media earlier on.  Nie told this reporter: "We were together very often and we chat.  He was quite interested."  "At the time, I was working at the Xiguangge magazine and I let him write or I gave him a subscription."

Later, Nie recommended Lan Chengzhang to work at his unit -- the Shanxi bureau of the China Safety Production magazine.  Lan's friends told this reporter that Lan's job title at the time was "safety culture investigation" and he specialized in finding out about casualty figures or irregular conditions at various mines.  Since "the publication was unable to get him a worker's card," Lan left this bureau.

Soon, Lan chose to work for the Shanxi bureau of Modern Consumption Guide as an opinion supervision monitor.  According to his friend, "Little Lan stayed therefore for a short while and then left.  That newspaper required Little Lan to bring in at least 3,000 RMB in revenue per month.  It was very hard for Little Lan to reach this goal.  Therefore, he left the newspaper."  With respect to his, the leader of a certain department at Modern Consumer Guide said that Lan stayed for only one month, did not publish any articles and left for health reasons.

Thereafter, Lan was hired by the Shanxi bureau of China Trade News as the "director of the special topics center of the Shanxi bureau of China Trade News."  The "news worker card" with serial number CN11-001506487 was stamped with the seal of China Trade News and his job title was listed as such.  This "news worker card" was issued on December 27, 2006.

The director of the reporters' department overseeing the bureaus at China Trade News told media reporters: "The special topics center is the department that deals with important in-depth reports and special features."  According to insiders, this position should be held by veteran reporters with extensive experience, expertise in in-depth reporting and known accomplishments.

After failing to establish contact with the China Trade News Shanxi bureau chief in spite of multiple attempts, this reporter went ahead to establish Lan's status with his family.

Reporter: What did Little Lan do at the newspaper?

Lan's wife: He worked on the news.

Reporter: What was Little Lan's level of education?

Lan's wife: Technical school.  Business Administration.  Via a correspondence course.

Reporter: Did Little Lan write?  Did he publish anything news reports?  Or even any other writings will do?

Lan's wife and the entire family kept quiet for a long time.  When this reporter stated his wish to see some works, Lan's wife said, "There is none."

Lan's younger brother then produced a letter of introduction from China Trade News.  This letter had the serial number "China Trade News (0790) Number 004."  It was from the China Trade News and dated on the day of the incident.  It did not have an addressee.  The letter of introduction said that "Our newspaper reporter comrade Lan Chengzhang (one person) is proceeding to your place to collect information."

The reporter searched the Internet and cannot find any reports written under the name of Lan Chengzhang.

This reporter noted that since the news of Lan Chengzhang got beaten to death spread out, the dispute over real vs. fake reporters has become the focus of social debate.  Professional journalists believe that "many people think that they understand what a journalist is and that is why there is this debate."

This reporter consulted the relevant materials in journalism, which provided the followed definitions to this reporter:

Broadly defined journalists: meaning news workers, including anyone who works in journalism, such as reporters, editors, managers, printers, distributors, ad workers, communicators, back office workers, broadcast television announcers, broadcast television program hosts and other people who are involved in various phases of work.  It also includes: special reporters, correspondents, freelancers, etc, who are non-professional outside of the system but have close business relationships nonetheless.

Narrowly defined journalists: meaning those who are involved in the gathering of information and turning it into news products.  This includes reporters, editors, news program hosts, news camerapersons, news publishers, etc.

Journalists defined in pure journalism: meaning those news workers who are engaged in the gathering of information, verification and investigation.

These explanations only explain what is a reporter.  But who is a real reporter?  Who is a fake reporter?  Who is a shady reporter?

Professor Gao Gang who is the China Renmin University School of Journalism's Executive Vice-president said: "A real reporter regards his goal as keeping watch for the public interest.  He is a news worker who will honestly and quickly report the truth of the matter to society."  "A real reporter will report the truth, speak the truth to the public and report the real happenings in real society."

Associate professor Zhou Ze of the Chinese Youth Academy of Politics Department of Journalism said: "Whether a reporter is real or fake does not depend on the press card issued by the General Administration of Press and Publications; it does not depend on whether someone has studied journalism at a famous university; it does not depend on whether someone has worked at a famous media outlet; it does not depend on whether someone has held a microphone in his hand or put a camera on his shoulder; of course, it definitely does not depend on whether someone has lived a life of leisure.

"Whether a reporter is real or fake cannot be determined by the possession of a press card issued by the General Administration of Press and Publications.  According to the report in China Youth Daily last year, there are fewer than 180,000 news workers who possess GAPP press cards.  According to this definition, 520,000 news workers in China are fake reporters.  Also, about 70% of the people at CCTV do not have this press card.  So is that place a center for fake reporters?"

This reporter went to the GAPP's Chinese reporter website and found out that the number of persons who have GAPP press cards at the Datong city party organs <Datong Daily News> and <Datong Evening News> were 19 and 20 respectively.  The people at these two newspapers told this reporter that the number of persons engaged in gathering news were 123 and 70 respectively.

"Real reporters are the news workers who speak the truth and report the truth.  All those news workers who spread rumors, manufacture news or make up stories are not real reporters.  Even if they possess a GAPP press card, they are still fake reporters."  Former Southern Weekend reporter He Sanwei believes that "those who spread false information are fake reporters."

"Certain news workers, even though they may have a GAPP press card, use their identity as reporters and the name of journalism to extort and defraud.  These news workers are shady reporters."


"Fake reporters have become a flood in Datong."

When Datong city News Center director Gu Chengming saw our reporter, he kept repeating this sentence.  He explained further, "There are at least 600 so-called reporters in Datong city."

"A fly does not peck at an egg without a crack!  The prerequisite is that there are too many problems with the coal mines in Datong city!" said a veteran local media person.

While in Datong, several coal mine owners told the reporter that there had been too many fake reporters in recent years and this is causing them tremendous headaches!

One coal mine owner said, "Over the past few years, the state has been serious about taking action against those coal mines that fail to meet national safety production standards.  But the price of coal has been very high and the profits are too good.  So many people are trying to extract coal secretly.  But the reporters kept coming to collect information, so that we cannot make money.  In the face of such problems, we choose the method of appeasement.  We would rather pay some money and bleed a little.  Ultimately, we are all out there to make money.  Usually, it is enough to pay 10,000 RMB or so."

He also told this reporter that he has found out that many of the reporters are "fakes" -- they were unable to produce any identification.  But since it is illegal to produce coal secretly, the mine bosses do not dare to call the police.  So they either settle things privately or else they employ scare tactics.

According to a Shanxi reporter who wishes to remain anonymous, "When I first entered journalism, I wanted to be a good reporter with good journalistic ideals.  But reality has change me.  At first, I was excited and I wanted to work for the people.  I wanted to write some reports that serve as opinion supervision.  Even though some people obstructed me, I insisted on doing so.  But after a while, I find that these reports were hard to do.  I offended people, and I received very little in return.  A reporter lives off his writings.  I work a long time on a report, and I end up offending people while making very little.  Other people make more by making stuff up.  If I cannot achieve my goals, I will be dismissed.  My friends told me to be practical and so did my wife.

"More importantly, when I write articles that offend people, I only make one or two hundred RMB.  Many times when I write such articles, the targets of the supervision offered me money.  At first, I refused.  Then I heard that many people are taking that money.  Since I have parents and children to support, I began to accept money.

"Actually, I wrote a number articles.  I turned down the money offers.  I handed the articles to the department leader.  But the articles never got published.  Later on, I learned that they paid off my leader.  So I thought, 'Why should I punish myself?'

"Later I saw that those reporters who bullshit or lie on behalf of state enterprises were living stylishly, and they drove fine cars.  So I began to learn.

"One one hand, this is about bullshitting.  On the other hand, it is not easy to find something to bullshit about.  So I began to contact enterprises that have problems.  I seldom come back empty-handed.  Some government departments have problems, but you can get hush money from them the same way."

A veteran media workers believes that the problem does not exist solely within certain national-level big media, but it is pervasive at various levels of the provincial and local media.  Many media and reporters become rent-seekers of news resources and power.  In these times where people popularly pursue practical benefits, it is harder and harder to pursue pure news and journalistic ideals.  Many media workers are faced with various kinds and types of "benefit feels" and they eventually abandon their firm stances and give in.  More seriously, once some reporters have taken enough payments over time, they begin to have "habitual payment" mindset.  Those who want to do real journalism as real journalists are in an embarrassing situation, because those fake and shady reporters who hold press cards are the ones who have become the "models" for many young people.

Not only do certain media workers realize that news resources can be traded for profit, but the whole society is becoming more keenly aware of this problem.  When certain enterprises want to push their products, they often seek certain reporters to write "soft articles."  Thus there appears a certain group of "brokers" who specialize in connecting enterprises with reporters -- these are known variously as cultural communication companies, public relations companies and so on.

Not only are certain companies and organizations acting as "brokers," but certain celebrity reporters are having it both ways.  On the one hand, they accept "publicity fees" from government and enterprises; on the other hand, they also accept the "fire-fighting fees" with respect to media oversight functions.

An authoritative media person believes that among those who are accepting "publicity fees" and "fire-fighting fees," a small number of the media workers serve as "public relations crisis management" consultants for offending enterprises and government departments.  They become the "protection umbrella" for those who break laws and discipline, and they help out those entities to mediate on issues about "social relationships."

According to inside information, whenever there is some coal mine disaster where reporters converge to, there will always be someone who comes out either openly or secretly to plan and recommend the amount of payment per reporter and the exact method of treatment, etc.

The Shanxi media colleagues inform this reporter that one key element that resulted in the beating death of Lan Chengzhang was that a certain media worker served as the "media consultant" for the coal mine boss Hou Si.  The police materials indicated that when reporters come to visit a coal mine, Hou Si kept consulting with a media worker named Meng Er to confirm whether Lan Chengzhang was a real reporter.  The real name of Meng Er is Meng Runli.  According to the information at the Shanxi bureau of Legal Daily, Meng is a worker of the Shanxi bureau of Legal Daily posted in Datong city.

Supposedly, when the "profit" from being a reporter gets big, some people get the idea of pretending to be a "reporter."  Certain unemployed social elements participated in some news conferences at certain units.  Some of them even became prosperous as a result.  These people are thoroughly fake reporters.  Certain "smart people" discovered that "opinion supervision" is the path to becoming rich and thus became the fake reporters who specialize in "opinion supervision."

On January 10, 2005, Beijing Morning News published an article titled "Shanxi: Fake Reporters Have Become A Public Menace."  According to information, more than ten illegal periodicals have emerged in Shanxi after the 2004 Chinese New Year.  They were engaged in illegal news gathering.  With respect to this, Shanxi province has conducted many crackdowns.  In 2004 alone, Shanxi has nabbed 21 illegal periodicals, work stations and news bureaus and turned over 17 fake reporters to be arrested by the police.

According to reports: On December 9, 2004, several persons claiming to be from a certain national-level news units arrived at the Xiaochaigou coal mine in Puxian, Shanxi province.  They used a micro-camera to take some photographs and then left quickly.  Afterwards, they used the premise that there had been an incident at the mine to ask the mine director Zhao Xinhua for 130,000 RMB to "shut up."  Faced with this threat, Zhao called the police.  In front of the militia police, these individuals showed their so-called "press cards" and "investigator cards."  Two of them claimed to be from the "China/Foreign Mayors" magazine, and three of them claimed to be from the "China Economy Management Research Center Trends in Decisions" magazine.  Upon investigation, all of the identifications were forged.

The police investigated further and found that as early as July 18, 2004, these people had extorted 16,000 RMB from a Yanzishan coal mine in Puyuan using the same method.  The police found the tape recording of that extortion as well as payment receipts that involved more than twenty departments in Shanxi, Henan and Shaanxi provinces.

This reporter found out that there were many national-level bureaus of national media and other provinces in Taiyuan and Datong.  Most of the names of these media outlets are unfamiliar.  According to a local media reporter, more than 80 media outlets have established Shanxi bureaus.  In the streets of Datong, this reporter observed that many high-end vehicles displayed signs on the windshield that say "XX newspapers" or "YY weekly magazine."

Addendum: Dirty Newsrooms: Wang Keqin's Missing Ending  Jonathan Ansfield/Mo King, China Digital Times

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