The Student Bloggers Down In The Coal Mine
(JYB) The Decision Makers and the Students: A Special Conversation Initiated By A Blog. April 2, 2007.
March 12: Five students including Cao Yu (曹渝) from the Hunan Normal University's School of Literature published the blog post <Factors that influence the psychological sense of safety among Hunan coal mine workers and ways of improvement> on the Xinhua-hosted blog <Cao Yu is concerned about the psychological sense of safety among coal mine workers>. They also made an appeal to more than 100 representatives who were attending the two Congresses in Beijing.
March 13: National Political Consultative Conference member Hao Ruyu responded to their call.
March 24: Cao Yu received a telephone call from the Petition Office of the State Safe Production Supervisory Administration: "We have read the investigative reports that you and your fellow students posted on Xinhua Net. Director Li Yizhong has read your investigative reports and has issued detailed directives ..."
March 26: Xinhua Net published the front page story: <The investigation inside the coal mine: The blog exchange between a Political Consultative Conference member and students>.
March 31: Beijing Youth Daily, Sanxiang Metropolis Daily and other newspapers published news reports based upon the Xinhua blog posts.
April 1: Cao Yu and colleagues published <Our government is taking action -- the attention from the State Safe Production Administration> and disclosed the contents of the response. On April 2, Xinhua blogs recommended this blog post on its front page. Xinhua Net's front page also published a special story.
Here are the translations of some of those blog posts by the students:
Everything is just as it should be. By Tao Change (陶嫦娥). March 28, 2007.
The spring weather is truly like the face of a little girl. The cloudy skies suddenly became clear. At around noon, we arrived at my home. After lunch, my father took us to the coal mine where we will study the psychological sense of safety among the workers.
Actually, I grew up here and I knew very well about what goes on with these workers. I knew these people but now I am taking a whole stack of materials that they don't understand and I want to ask all sorts of questions. This was made me and my subjects very uneasy. So I acted at the "interpreter" instead and I translated the putonghua that my neighbors could not understand into local dialect, and conversely I translated their responses from local dialect into putonghua for my colleagues.
At around 2pm, the workers started to come up from the mine shaft. Although this was spring, it was still quite chilly. The mine workers wore a light clothing and they were covered in black soot from head to feet. From afar, we only saw pairs of white eyeballs. After they washed up, we went up to begin our work. The mine worker uncles who knew me cooperated with us, but other mine workers left because they said that they were hungry or perhaps they were shy. Some mine workers were halfway through answering the questions but left as soon as they saw the boss coming over. Other mine workers did not want to waste their time with us because they did not think that it mattered to them. Of course, there are some mine workers who were filled with curiosity and patiently answered our questions.
After more than three hours of work, we completed 24 questionnaires. This is far away from our target of 150. By the time that we got on the rickety tricycle to find dinner, it was already totally dark. Our bodies were aching and tired, but we were busy going over the questionnaire. Actually, although the questionnaire was quite detailed, it could not totally reflect the total living conditions of the coal mine workers above and underneath the mine well. More than 90% of the coal mine workers who spoke with us smoked cigarettes. Most of them have at least four persons in the households. The unmarried coal mine workers have to find money to build a house, get married, have children and take care of their elders. Most of the men in the village have big family burdens and must therefore work in the mines for 7 to 8 hours a day under highly risky circumstances. Some of them even work more than 10 hours per day. Apart working in the coal mines, they even have to grow food at home. Such is the life for coal miners that I have know in my childhood. Generations of my ancestors have all seemed to done this. Apart from admiring the wonder of the outside world, they never thought that whether this type of life was unfair and they never thought about improving or changing this style of life. Everything was so natural!
Her son suffocated in that mine. By Tao Change (陶嫦娥). March 28, 2007.
Today is the crucial day in the investigation. We got up early. We got on the motorcycles and headed towards the coal mine while lugging two bags with us. By that time, the day-shift workers had already arrived. They were in a hurry to get to work, and so we had to do home visits instead.
We entered the first home. A seventy-year-old grandmother put down the firecrackers in her hands and poured tea for us. Then she continued with her work. From our conversation with her, we learned: She had three sons. A few years ago, the second son suffocated while working at the village coal mine. When she spoke about what happened on that day, it was like yesterday. The oldest son had to assume a huge responsibility and resorted to drinking all day. He got alcohol poisoning. The youngest son had to take care of his mother, the child of the second brother and his oldest brother as well, and he could not afford to get married.
When her two sons came back and saw our video-camera, their eyes sparkled. The oldest son showed us his house. There were cracks and the house looked ready to collapse any time. He strongly demanded that we take films, as if we were genuine journalists who can expose these problems for them and draw social attention. Although we took the films, I feel inadequate for the task.
Who is struggling? By Liu Gao (刘高). March 22, 2007.
March 13. Clear weather.
These interviews occurred when I was not yet adequately prepared psychologically. I did not stop "interrogating" them even as my mind was constantly battered by their responses. I don't know how to describe how I feel at the time. I believe that anyone who is accustomed to rational thinking can never get used to this. If you don't believe me, you just read on:
(Coal miner A is 43 years old)
Q: If you encounter a dangerous situation down in the mine, what would you do? Will you come up immediately? Or will you listen to what the boss's orders?
A: Ordinarily speaking, we listen to the boss. We have to complete the assignment for the day, or else we will find it hard to get paid. There is usually nothing big. It is very safe. There should not be any big problems.
Q: Do you think that life as been fair to you? (In case they don't understand, I explained again) You were born to do such tedious and hard work, whereas other people were born to enjoy the good life?
A: There is no such thing as being fair or not. Isn't it all the same?
Q: But they are a lot better off than you are.
A: Is that so?
(Coal miner B is 22 years old)
Q: How do you think you are living?
A: Very well! I have food, I have clothing, I have entertainment. It's not bad.
Q: Is there any other reason?
A: Isn't Chairman Mao leading us today? It's very good! It's not bad. (As he spoke, he twirled his hair proudly)
Q: (Faced with this kind of reply, I can only invoke silence as conversation) Everything has sunken down. Even the skies.
(Coal miner C is 32 years old)
A: Why are you people here?
Q: We are conducting an investigative study of the mental health of coal mine workers. There is no other reason. (I was afraid that there could be unforeseen twists and therefore I chose to make this statement)
A: Are you students?
Q: Yes, we are university students! (I said so with pride)
A: University students! Great! My child also wants to attend university so that he can have a career afterwards.
Q: (I sensed a glimmer of hope here) That's good. That's a good thing. If there is a chance, he can come to our school. Our school is very good.
A: I don't know if I have the capability? He does not have a mother and I don't have time to look after him. I have no time whatsoever. He has to cook for me every day. He is a good kid.
Q: Yes, he is a really good kid!
A: Right! (He smiled proudly and I felt happy for him)
Q: That is good! He is your hope!
A: But our education system here is too poor. Anyone with money will send their children to study in the city. I am not in such a situation. You can only blame my child for having a poor fate! He was born in such a family and he can only go so far. Sigh! (This long sigh carried so much pain and sorrow!)
Q: Yes, the education system here is poor. ( I can only make excuses. I cannot change anything. I don't have the capability. I don't have ...) Sigh ...
A: Will you show your material to your superiors? Can you increase our wages? (He just made a direct statement to me)
Q: (I smiled bitterly as I worried about unforeseen problems) I cannot, because we are only doing an investigation. (I had to be evasive. Our conversation ended this way.)
(Coal miner D)
Q: How are you?
Q: How old are you?
A: I am sixty-eight years old.
Q: Did you work in the coal mines before?
A: Yes. I was a brigade leader for fifteen years under Chairman Mao! (The old man had a proud look)
Q: Do you feel that the coal mines are safe?
A: They are safe! We have to hold meetings every week. Do you think that it is lax? It is very rigorous because it affects human lives! Can you be careless?
Q: But accidents have happened?
A: Of course!
Q: Accidents still happen then! But you thought that it was very safe!
A: That's different! Back then, we had a huge incident. But that was an accident. It is very safe.
Q: Oh. (The old man was an aggressive speaker. In front of him, I was like a lamb waiting to be slaughtered. I was powerless. He was more experienced than me by far) ...
There are far too many such stories. I don't know where to begin or where to stop. So I take a break. I think that even my readers must be worn out. But at least it is not deviating from the topic.
So the first day of work ended this way.
I went back and I was racking my brain. I didn't know what was bothering me, but I was very confused. I was trying to remember how I felt at the time. At least, I was not deviating from the subject.
I don't know if I want to keep asking questions. After I began, I had a general awareness. I don't know if I understand or care about their styles or the styles that they need. Perhaps it was our wishful thinking and we don't understand the unintended and cruel hurt inside them. Can we step into their inner worlds based upon our meager experience? But this is like a bored observer who had no understand of hunger and thirst.
Perhaps they don't have time to worry about what the irrelevant people like us might think. Perhaps they don't mind the attention from these irrelevant people. Ultimately, we cannot actually harm them. At most we are offering them some temporary painkiller and that is no big deal. So what if our concern is fleeting? So what if we become strangers to each other the next day? So what if we never meet again? So what if this was a deliberate hurt, because they might treat the hurt as a sweet pain ...
"In front of this group of honest people, I did my cruel best to torture them and I used a good excuse to rationalize my deed. Afterwards, I had to contemplate their misfortune in details." Most of them have gone past the age when they treat this sort of thing as painful. But I was struggling inside because I don't want to do this anymore. Even if this seems easy to them, I don't think that they really find it so easy. Their bodies are fatigued, but we still pressed them with all sorts of questions. Perhaps it is just as hard being outside the mine as inside. In that industry, the saying is that "you eat the food of heaven and you perform the work of hell." But Rousseau said: "It is an unnatural state for Man to be thinking." Sometimes I believe that God plays tricks on those who are faithful to him just as we behave better towards those who respect us than those who don't. Dante wrote: The faithful will enter Heaven, but the people that I have met will go in the opposite direction.
Perhaps they are genuinely fortunate ...