The Shanxi Mudslide: Field Notes By Reporter Huang Xiuli
Here is the report that she filed at that newspaper that she works for.
(Chengdu Commercial Press via Sina.com)
At 7:40am on the morning of September 8th, there was a mud-rock flow in the Taishan mining area, Xiangfen county, Linfen city, Shanxi province. The Yunhe village of Taoshi town was buried underneath the torrent. As of yesterday afternoon, the official toll was 34 deaths. According to the field investigation by this reporter, it took the mud-rock flow just several minutes to bury the marketplace which was about one to two hectares in area. The villagers estimate that as many as a thousand people may have perished, at least half of whom are miners and their families from the outside.
"Among the people from our hometown of Chongqing, six of the children are now orphans." A local miner said. By yesterday noon, they were still not allowed to go in and identify the bodies. They clashed with the local government officials with whom they are in negotiation right now.
Yesterday around 2pm, the skies were grey and it was drizzling. Our reporter went to gather news at Yunhe village, Taoshi town. Yunhe village is located on the border between Xiangfen county and Linfen city. It is rich in iron ore, and there are many local mines in the hills. The police set up a cordon three or four kilometers away from the site of the incident.
The reporter walked up the muddy trail for an hour. On the way, she saw large swathes of land being buried underneath the mud-rock flow. The bulldozers kept pushing the mud out to open a road that can barely be treaded up on. Groups and groups of people are hurrying from nearby to find their missing friends and relatives and hoping to be able to enter the site and identify any bodies.
Village Wei Guangfei witnessed the entire progress of the mud-rock flow. At just past 7am on the morning of September 8th, Wei Guangfei and his female neighbor were going to shop at the marketplace. At the intersection about 100 meters away from the marketplace, he ran into some old pals and stopped to chat with them. Meanwhile, the female neighbor went to the market by herself. At around 7:40pm, he saw a police car running in reverse. He turned around and looked towards the hills. "I saw a wide swath of mud about 100 feet wide roaring down the hillside like a mountain flood. The market was flattened immediately. Two other bungalows by the market were also flattered. I ran towards to the hills with my friends. I was so scared that my face must have turned green and black. The whole incident took just one or two minutes."
Another mineworker Xiao Youcheng lived with his family in the bungalow by the market. On September 7, he went to Linfen on business. At some time after 9am, he learned that something had happened to his family. He hurried home immediately. By the time he got halfway up the hill, he saw three corpses that were washed down by the mud-rock flow. "I pulled a female out. She was dead. She was naked because the flow had ripped her clothes off." Xiao Cheng saw that his own house was buried in the mud. "All I left are the clothes on me. Even this jacket was given to me by someone." Xiao Cheng said that his two nieces and a niece-in-law have been washed away by the mud-rock flow. The two children are orphans. They are still at school with no one to pick them up.
At around 4pm, the reporter went around the police line and reached the mountain top. Although it was foggy, she can still see the terrible scene of the devastation wrought by the mud-rock flow: A slope of about 100 meters high was totally buried in mud without any sign of a house or agricultural plant. A broken big tree lied in the mud showing some spare branches.
This incident occurred at the Xintai Mining Company Limited in the Taishan mining area. Many of the mineworkers come from Sichuan and Hubei provinces. The families of the mineworkers lived in the village which has become a residential area.
Yesterday, the National Safety Inspection Bureau's spokesperson Huang Yi told this reporter that the safe production permit of the Xintao Mining Company Limited was canceled in April 2006. The mining permit had expired in July 2007. Therefore, this mining company is an illegal company. The mineworkers that the reporter interviewed at the scene were not aware of these facts.
According to informed sources, the name of the owner of the Xintai Mining Company is Zhang Peiliang. He purchased this mine several years ago. This person has deep connections in Shanxi province. Previously, a state mining company had opened a mine at the mountain top and left behind a dam. The place was abandoned for some years. Zhang Peiliang purchased the mountain and started to mine again. "They have been drilling since last winter," said one mineworker. The dam used to be filled with dry sand. After Zhang Peiliang took over, he dug the sand out. "He set up a new embankment in which he put all the mud, sand and water dug out of the mine. The dam could not hold the increasing weight, and it collapsed."
Previously the safety of the dam had been discussed during high-level meetings many times. A lot of people brought up the likelihood of a dam collapse. On the day of the incident, more than a hundred people were attending a meeting. When the dam burst, a lot of people were swept away by the mud-rock flow. Even the legal representative of the mining company, Li Zhijun, perished.
When this reporter went around, she was surrounded by dozens of villagers everywhere that she goes. They told the reporter that there had not been any heavy rainstorms that day, just drizzle. The dam could not have flowed over. The mud-rock flow had to be a manmade disaster and not a natural disaster.
Informed sources said that Zhang Peiliang and other mine owners were placed under police control after the incident occurred.
On the road to the site of the incident, the families of the victims gathered together. They were hoping to identify the bodies of their loved ones. The mineworkers and their families usually share a rental house with four or five other families. Every family has family members buried underneath the mud-rock flow.
Shu Ping from Sichuan has red eyes. On the morning of September 8, her husband, sister-in-law and cousin went out to shop and they are now missing. At the marketplace, a bulldozer was digging out the bodies but her relatives have not been found yet.
Zhang Honghei from nearby Dadeng village was worried about his mother and mother-in-law who were food-shopping at the market. His brother-in-law was also selling pears at the market, and he is also missing. He does not believe that they will come back alive because the entire village was flattened and those underneath the mud must have suffocated.
The reporter noted that there were signs of the mud-rock flow on both sides of the road. The reporter stepped on the mud and immediately her legs were covered up to her knees. The local rescuers have laid down some wooden planks to walk upon in order to prevent accidents.
Concerning the official estimates of the number of dead announced on September 8 and 9, the majority of the villagers found them acceptable. "The marketplace was a big as five or six basketball courts. There is a ring of bungalows around it where the families of the mineworkers lived. There are vendors who sold food and clothes. There are also many tricycles." Villager Wei Guangfei said that the place can hold as many as a thousand people. It is a bustling place where the people of Yunhe village, Hejia village, the lower village of Dadeng town, the Jiangjia Trench, Wolung and so on come here to shop. There is little or no likelihood of survival when such a huge mud-rock flow comes down.
"People are not being allowed to go in and identify the bodies that were dug out," a mineworker said. At dusk on September 8, some of them went up a side trail up to the mountain top and saw the bulldozers digging out the bodies. "After they dig the bodies out, they covered them with mud again. We were very angry." Rows of corpses were laid down on the muddy ground. Together with the bodies recovered in the morning, he believes that there must a hundred (and not just the 34).
Yesterday morning, several dozen villagers used force to go past the police cordon and clashed with the police. At 3pm or 4pm, our reporter arrived at the scene and observed several village representatives negotiating with the police representatives. A person who participated in the negotiations told this reporter that they brought up four conditions: first, the family members should be present at the scene when bodies are being dug out; secondly, the families of the victims should be treated courteously; thirdly, the family members should be allowed to identify the bodies as of September 10; fourthly, the orphans have to be placed properly. Apart from the first condition, they accepted all the others."
According to information, a large number of outsiders living in Yunhe village do not have temporary registration. This creates great difficulty in counting the number of casualties. On September 8, the local government began to ask the villagers about information on the missing people.
This reporter and the reporter from the Morning News requested many times to interview the relevant officials in Linfen city and Xiangfen county about the incident and the rescue effort, but were turned down. A Linfen city party committee publicity department worker looked at this reporter's identity card and said, "I have never heard of this newspaper. You should just use the Xinhua release."
(My1510.cn; Huang Xiuli's Blog)
The Field Notes of the Mud-rock Flow in Xiangfen, Shanxi. Part I. 23:35pm, September 9, 2008.
At past 8pm on September 8, 2008, I received a call from my leader who said that there has been a mud-rock flow in Xiangfen, Shanxi. At the time, it was market day there. As of 8pm that evening, there were already 26 deaths. He wanted me to go to the scene immediately. I was somewhat unhappy because I did not think that 26 deaths was big deal, because it was still 4 short of the 30 deaths required for an officially major incident. Such things happen all over China, so why was it necessary for me to go the place of the illegal brick kilns?
But I cannot disobey an order. I got on the Internet and found the information and travel directions. I booked the plane ticket to Taiyuan and I packed. By the time that I was done, it was already midnight. Women have more things to worry about, including not carrying more than 100 millimeters of liquid that includes facial cream, skin lotion and so on on airplanes.
At 5:10am on September 9, I got out of bed to take the plane to Taiyuan. I arrived at 8:05am. Xiangfen is three to four hundred kilometers away from Taiyuan. It is obviously easier to rent a car, but it was too expensive. The newspaper may be rich, but they won't permit this. I asked the information clerk for help, and I got on a high-speed car to Houma. At 2pm, the driver let me off in Xiangfen. I got out through the wired fence along the expressway. But the hole was too small and my backpack tripped me onto the ground. My right leg was bleeding from a scratch made by the wired fence. To get back to the highway, I had to climb up a very tall slope. I used my hands and feet, and I nearly fell down several times.
Eventually I made it onto the highway. I found out that there were very few people here. I walked on for a while until an illegal taxi stopped for me. The driver asked me where I was going, and I said that I wanted to go to Taoshi town in Linfen. He asked for 100 RMB and I agreed. So I climbed into his car with mud on my hands and feet. He did not mind, and he even took me to the gas station to clean up. This driver even knew that there had been an accident at Taoshi town. He told me that this was a mining area and a dam had collapsed. The Xinhua report that day had said that a huge rainstorm had caused the mud-rock flow.
At around 2:30pm, I arrived in Taoshi village. I asked around and learned that the incident occurred at a place called Yunhe village on a slope several hundred meters high. The sky was grey and it was drizzling. Two policemen set up a roadblock and refused to let people through. This was still several kilometers away from the mountain top. I got out of the illegal taxi. I found a policeman and I chatted with him. But he refused to let me go up because it was dangerous up there. He told me to contact the Linfen city publicity department instead of going up there. Another policeman was kinder and he let me take the food delivery truck for the rescuers.
After a while, the truck stopped to take a rest. There was a muddy road ahead with signs of the mud-rock flow on both sides. I climbed up myself with my shoes deep in the mud. Whenever I see peasants, I stopped to ask them whether they witnessed the mud-rock flow yesterday. At first, they all said that they knew nothing. Then a peasant named Liu wanted to tell me something. At the moment, an official vehicle came by and I went to the roadside to let it pass. But I stepped right into the mud which came up to my knees immediately. The shortish peasant came over to pull me out. My sandal was stuck in the mud and he reached down to fetch it. He ended up with mud all over this arms.
This peasant named Liu told me about what happened approximately during the mud-rock flow. He told me that the dam for the mine had collapsed. The dam was filled with mud and water. The mineworkers had told the supervisors about the situation, but they did not care. There were about 1,000 people at the marketplace which was buried by the mud-rock flow because it was market day. I began to sense that there was a story behind the mud-rock flow and the number of 26 deaths was also suspicious. There were many doubts about the Xinhua report.
I thanked him and continued up the muddy road. A young man came over to ask me whether I am a reporter. He told me to get a press pass from the command center, or else I wouldn't be allowed to proceed. At this time, a truck came by with an empty haul. He jumped on it. I asked him to let me get on because the road was too hard to walk on. He refused and signaled the driver to leave. I watched the car leave.
About 20 minutes later, I came to the end of the muddy road. I saw that there were many people halfway up the hill. I looked for the command headquarters. The villagers told me that it was up there. I asked them about the situation but they said that they did not know. I went into a courtyard to wash off the mud on my hands and feet. A kindhearted peasant got me some water. After I finished washing, several people came over. One 50-something-year-old man appeared to be more educated and he told me that his mother, his mother-in-law and his brother-in-law had gone to shop at the market. He was waiting to identify the bodies. They have not been found yet, and he believed that they must be dead.
He explained the situation about the Taishan iron mine. This iron man used to belong to the Linfen Yangtie company (note: unconfirmed) and it was sold to a person from Yichang city. This person is well-connected. After he purchased the mine, he used the abandoned dam to store the water, mud and rocks dug out from his mine. After a while, the pressure grew too great and the dam collapsed.
The other people then said that the television news report was inaccurate. On September 8, there had not been any huge rainstorms. Like today, it was only drizzling. The mud-rock flow had not been caused by any rainstorm.
My preliminary judgment was that the mud-rock flow was probably a manmade disaster. I urgently needed to know the name of the mine owner. So I continued to walk ahead. A few paces later, I encountered another road block. Those two policemen absolutely will not let me pass and they insisted that I call the publicity department. It is the experience of every reporter in China: you won't get any reliable information from the publicity department except for fart talk such as the government is doing its best in the rescue effort, etc.
At this time, a young man with a backpack also came up to talk to the policemen. I marked him as a reporter from his dress and demeanor. The police wouldn't let him past either. He jumped onto a field ridge and walked. The ridge was two meters high and I could not get up. So I went along the side. The soil was soft under my feet and I could not move fast. So I took off my shoes, held them in my hands and I started to run. We got out of the eyesight of the police officers. The computer bag on my back was weighing very heavy by this time. The young man also sensed that I was a reporter and came over to help me get on the ridge. We kept going up while avoiding people who looked like government officials. We really did not look like local people.
This young man was a local person. He knew much more than I did. We did not even know each other's name, but we became partners. He told me that the name of the mine owner as Zhang Peiliang and he is a Shanxi "Three Duan" associate and nobody dares to mess with a Sanduan person in officialdom.
So we walked on for another half an hour. I was huffing and puffing from walking up the trail. We came to a residential area where there were many people standing by the roadside waiting for information to see whose body has been found. We were surrounded by dozens of people. As we interviewed more people, the situation became clearer and clearer. The villagers were giving basically the same information: this was a manmade disaster and not a natural disaster. It was intimately connected to to the illegal use of the dam. Zhang Peiliang began to drill the mine well last winter and the water, sand and rocks pumped out were put into the abandoned dam. Previously, the possibility of a dam collapse was discussed and a repair was recommended. But the dam collapsed before the repair could be done.
By this time, Xinhua has already reported that the safety production and mining permits of the Xintai Mining Company Limited were expired and this was an illegal company. But they were still able to hire so many workers to mine for more than a year. This showed that Mr. Zhang had some influence.
The villagers believed that far more people died than the 26 reported on September 28 and the 34 reported today. They also disclosed another piece of news that they had seen corpses being dug out and then re-buried. They were very angry. Some of them have already gone to negotiate with the government. Later the villagers said that some of them saw more than 100 corpses and therefore the 34 deaths reported by the government was not credible.
The site of the incident was just ahead, and we were going to see the place that we wanted to film the most. But there were many police officers and officials guarding the place. They stopped us as soon as they saw us.
"You go and find the people from the publicity department," said someone from an information office from somewhere.
"But the people down there told us to go to the command headquarters. Isn't the command headquarters here? Let us in."
"But we walked half a day to get up here. Couldn't you get someone who knows what is going on to talk to us?"
"The publicity department director will be here later."
After arguing for a while, we still could not enter. Then the publicity department director came to check our identification. He said, "Which newspaper? Never heard of it." Then he turned and walked away, but not before he turned his head to tell us: "You use the Xinhua press release. They are interviewing people inside."
At that time, I saw several cleanly dressed people who look like reporters walking around inside. They held cameras, they were neatly dressed and they clearly did not look like me and my partner who were covered in mud.
After several minutes, we saw the black Audi's and SUV's came and went. Suddenly, the person from the information office assigned to keep an eye on us was gone. So I and my partner climbed silently uphill away. Several villagers immediately followed us to lead the way. It was drizzling and the trail was slippery. I almost tumbled down several times and the villagers kept me up. One villager even volunteered to carry my increasingly heavy computer bag.
We reached a ridge next to the scene of the mud-rock flow and we could not go any further. The collapsed dam was further up the slope several dozen meters away. On the left two farm steppes down was the buried marketplace. We could hear the sound of the big bulldozers still digging for bodies. When the dam burst, the mud-rock flow was about 100 feet wide and Yunhe village was destroyed within one or two minutes. That market probably had at least 1,000 peple in it. Apart from the vendors and shoppers, the market was surrounded by a ring of residential bungalows. The mud at the bottom of the hill was almost enough to kill me. These people were halfway up the hill just twenty to thirty meters from the dam. Those people could not possibly survive. The village is only so big. If they survived, they would be found already.
The person who carried my computer bag is a mineworker. His family lives on the edge of the marketplace. On the evening before the incident, he had gone to Linfen. He received a call in the morning about the incident. When he came back, nothing was left. His sole possessions are his shirt and trousers. His nieces and niece-in-law ran businesses at the market and they are now buried underneath.
At that time, it was foggy but the devastation from the mud-rock flow was still visible. The mud-rock flow went down a wide slope about 100 meters above sea level. The entire slope was covered with mud. The village buildings and farmlands were no longer visible. There is a broken tree lying in the mud with a few branches left.
At around 4:30pm, we began to go down the hill. The trail was too slippery, and we held each other up. We got to the muddy main road. I realized that my sandals were in trouble. My feet kept sliding forward so that and the pressure was killing my feet. I took off the shoes and walked on my bare feet. There were sharp rocks on the road, and they cut at the bottom of my feet. There were many official cars going down but none of them would give us a ride. We walked for several kilometers. How long will it take to get to Linfen and write the report? At that moment, a young man on a motorbike came by with a woman. He heard our cries and I got on the motorbike. My partner said, "You go to the bottom of the hill and wait for me. I will get a taxi." I was covered with mud, including on my hands. I could not hold onto the woman, so I leaned against her in order not to gall. Her clean clothes were covered with the mud from me, but she did not seem to mind at all.
They arrived home. I got out of the car and I began to worry about how I was going to get downhill. After a while, the guy on the motorbike came back again and he said that he would give me a ride. After getting off the motorbike, I went into a shop by the roadside and asked the female owner for a washbasin to wash my feet in order to get ready to walk. The female owner took out a basin filled with warm water! She was worried that that cold water would be bad for me. She was a total stranger and her kindness touched me so much that I did not know what to say. At that moment, I realized that the shoelaces on my TeenMix shoes were broken. This is my favorite brand, because their shoes are sturdy.
I stood by the road and then I suddenly realized that I did not even know the name of my partner. On the way, he had held me up because he was afraid that I would fall. He also provided me with many tips. Could this be how we lose contact with each other? I immediately called the villager that I just interviewed and asked me give me the name and telephone number of my partner.
Very soon, the taxi with my partner came. We took the rental car to Linfen city. We ate some noodles and it was already 7pm. When we got out, I found that my legs were heavy from the several hours of hill walking. I found a hotel. Heavens, the price exceeds the newspaper expense regulations. But I couldn't care less and I went in. I called several more people to confirm some key details. By that time, it was already 7:40pm.
As I wrote my report, the editor kept calling me to tell me to hurry up. I was mad because I had been working hard in the front line while they were sitting in the office making me hurry up. I can write quickly and I am a dutiful reporter. Do you want to try me? If the report turned out not to be so good, I will call and curse them out. But I know that they have their problems because if my report arrives too late, they will be penalized for signing off too late. If something is to be blamed, then it is the system at the newspaper.
But I can imagine what the Xinhua release would be like that day. Actually, I also wanted to know how the government was conducting the rescue and clean-up efforts and trying to respond to the villagers about the death toll and the re-burial. These issues require objectivity and fairness, as the information from the villagers is not necessarily 100% correct. But they think that newspapers like ours are just creating more trouble and therefore they choose to ignore us. But our estimate of a thousand people from our investigation is highly reliable. Once the report goes out tomorrow, they won't be able to deny it. It is normal practice for the officials to conceal the death toll.
At 9:40pm, I finally completed my story. I wrote more than 2,000 words in two hours. That was really fast! I admired myself somewhat. Finally, I got to take a bath. I looked in the mirror and I found out that I wrote while still covered in mud. There were even two muddy spots on my face. How come no one noticed it at dinner?
I finished my bath and then I found out that I had seven or eight cuts on my leg. The bottom of my feet had also been cut by rocks. When did that happen? Apart from the wound caused by the wired fence by the expressway, I had forgotten about the rest.
I don't know what would happen if the report goes out tomorrow. Maybe the newspaper leaders will get afraid and the report won't get on the Internet. If it does not get on the Internet, it will have no impact and I might as well as not write it. Sigh, such is the fate of reporters in China.
Yesterday I was writing the report in the hotel. I found out that the dam burst incident in Xiangfen county, Shanxi province has drawn the attention of the Secretary-General and the Premier who ordered the case to be handled properly. But I am not involved in reporting on the Secretary-General and the Premier, because that is the work for the bigtime reporters at Xinhua.
I was not able to obtain any official information yesterday, so I wanted to try again. I purchased a new pair of shoes in the morning and I called the deputy director named Duan at the Xiangfen county party committee publicity department. I asked him to give me a press pass to gather news at the scene. This Duan was not courteous and he said that the Central Publicity Department has issued an order that only Xinhua and CCTV reporters will be allowed to gather news. "You won't be able to enter." It did not matter what I said, for he only repeated, "You use the Xinhua release." (Obscenity deleted). On the first day, Xinhua reported the fake news that a sudden rainstorm had triggered the mud-rock flow. What a great lie!
What is the background of Xintai Mining Company boss Zhang Peiliang? How can he still operate a mine without safety production and mining permits? What kind of transaction took place under the table? How trustworthy is the story form the mineworkers that he is worth more than a billion? These questions are the key to the follow-up reports. I had to figure out which government departments I should interview. But I felt that it would be immensely difficult. In the end, I decided to go back to the scene again. Since the government officials have been unable to publish an accurate death toll, I will try to do an incomplete estimate of the number of victims.
I got a taxi to go to the Taishan mine. (Obscenity deleted). Several kilometers away from the Taishan mine, there was already a police road block. The road is completely blocked to both vehicles and people. I glared at the police officer and I said: "There is a death in the family and I have to go there." So I started walking again. I don't know how long this was going to be. My legs were already in pain yesterday, and it felt even heavier now. When will I get there? There were quite a few vehicles on the road. The police could not stop the local people on their motorbikes. I flagged a few motorbikes until a kind-hearted young man stopped to bring me to the entrance of Yunhe village. We were stopped by the traffic police again. The young man said that we were going home and I saw that I was his girlfriend. So we got in.
Today, the trail was not as muddy because the bulldozers have flattened the road. The muddy patches by the roadside have also dried up. The conditions were not as scary. There were still villagers waiting to identify the bodies of their relatives. I kept asking questions. I learned some things but I felt that it was very hard to do a count.
I came up to another roadblock. This time, they will not let me through under any circumstances. Even deaths in the family could not fool the five or six police officers. There were police lines everywhere. The villages were less crowded than the day before. The police said that the people have left. I chatted with the families of the victims by the roadside and I recorded the names of the victims. At that time, a young man in his 20's told me that he could take me down to the villages below to understand the situation. He wore a light pink t-shirt, he had big black eyes with long lashes and he was paler than the locals. His spoke good putonghua, he was smart and he looked educated.
He naturally became my guide. He wanted to take me uphill by trails. Unfortunately, every trail was guarded by two to three men in camouflage uniforms. There were police lines everywhere, and they even used badminton nets for that purpose. There were obviously many more police than yesterday. There were roadblocks every several hundred meters. The two of us were unable to get up there. So we used the dumbest idea by going to any house to chat with whoever is there; to go wherever there seemed to be many peasants. So I learned quite a lot. The most important thing is that I learned that this mountain contained rich iron ore resources. The dam had belonged to the Linfen Steel Company. At the mine, the ore is grounded down and washed with water so that the heavier iron particles sink to the bottom. The residual rock particles and sand were dumped into the dam along with the water. When Boss Zhang took over the mine, Linfen Steel wanted to lease him a new dam. Due to a dispute over rental issues, Boss Zhang ended up using the abandoned dam. This mountain is known as Tai'er Mountain and it has rich iron ores. Boss Zhang is the biggest mine owner here and there are other small mine bosses who sub-contract from him. Most people involved in the mining industry have government backgrounds of they may even be members of the Safety Production bureau. This is first-hand information that was not like the second- and third-hand information coming from the villagers.
It is past 6pm and I must hurry back to Linfen. I got to the entrance of Yunhe village. A large group of people were gathered there. The villagers had stopped a hospital ambulance and they wanted to identify the bodies. A body in a bag was taken down and placed by the roadside. A villager used mineral water to wash away the mud on the face. He was identified as a person from Chongqing. The body was covered in mud. He was naked and lying on top of the body bag. His eyes were closed. His face had purplish-green bruises. His body was healthy without any excess fat. The family of the deceased began to cry. They filed a document at the village office and then they took away the body. I pushed in to take a photo. People asked me if I was afraid. I said no. His expression seemed somewhat serene. I seemed to sense that this departed soul is not far away, still watching the mud-covered slope and the groups and groups of survivors.
After walking back and forth on the slope for five to six hours, the concrete counts of the death/missing were: 34 people from Jiagao town, Chongqing city; 50+ from Yunhe village; 18 from Dengzhuang town; 20 from Xiazhuang; 4 from Anli village; 6 from Dongguo; 14 from Shengxiliang villge; 1 from Xiguo village; 5 from Zhangzai; 1 from Wangyun village; 7 from Shiyanzhu, Hubei; 4 from Dongli village; 3 from Zongshi village; 5 from Zhoujiazhuang; 1 from Hejiazhuang. There were many more workers from other places in Chongqing who were carried away by the mud-rock flow.
At 8:30pm, I returned to Linfen city. A kindhearted guide took me home by motorbike. On the way, he told me very strange and unusal stories. For example, the coal mine owners and the firecracker factory owners all cut deals with government officials. The word that he used most often was "corruption." When I got off the motorbike, my legs did not feel as if they belonged to me.
As I started to write my report, I searched my memory and counted a total of eight roadblocks today. The government set up the barriers many kilometers away from the site of the incident. The buses don't go there. Other vehicles can't get there. So many people walked up the hill on foot. Some family members of the victims show up at daybreak and they walk up the trail for many hours. They waited at the scene for a whole day until sundown. These people can be seen by the roadside, by the roadblocks and in the villages. They have dark skin, their eyes look hollow and their faces are filled with sadness.
I don't think that there is any need to have so many road blocks. Even if it is necessary to guarantee free passage for the rescue vehicles, there is no need to blockade the entire mountain. After all, there is more than one road to Taishan Mine. Besides, there are very few people and vehicles here, so the government vehicles are unlikely to be affected. This method will not be able to keep the reporters out nor will it cover the truth up. They let the reporters that they invited enter in their vehicles. But the unwelcomed reporter will find a way to reach the mountain top. On that day, my colleagues showed this point through their actions.
At 8:35pm, Xinhua issued the latest death toll figure of 128. This was different from the figure provided by the man with the local rescue team. His information was: 85 on the first day; 40+ on the second day; 40+ on the third day. On the first day, the bodies were all exposed in the open and therefore easy to find. Today, they can only be found by going fairly deep into the mud. The first day should naturally be the day with the highest number of recovered bodies. Strangely enough, the number increased from 56 on the second day to 72 on the third day. The vice-mayor from one of the villagers organized many villagers to help locate the bodies. He was very dissatisfied with the death toll figures reported on television. He said that there was a "big discrepancy" which must involve "government-business collusion behind." The vice-mayor was not an ordinary peasant because he had pale skin and his looked gentlemanly in his white shirt. He was very careful in his conversation with me. He declined to disclose any details. He told the other villagers not to talk to me in order to avoid mistakes. But he repeatedly told me that I should write about the "big discrepancy."
The Final Words
When I went to gather news in Xiangfen on September 9, I wrote down some field notes. This was just a habit of mine to record the details and impressions of that day so that I won't forget. A blog is a personal thing, and I did not imagine so many people would pay attention to it. Those two blog posts with the field notes have now been deleted from this blog. I have also received orders from my supervisors not to write any more field notes about Xiangfen. In truth, I only left the scene today and my last report about the Taishan mine cannot be published.
I have only been able to get three or four hours of sleep every day. So I have not been able to read or reply to the many criticisms, comments and emails. Please pardon me. I am very moved that so many friends are supporting me. I firmly believe that there are good people everywhere. The important thing is to forge a force so that good people can work with each other to make society better. My four days in Xiangfen made me feel this force. Here, I want to thank everybody.
Some netizens did not understand some of my actions. For example, I seemed cold-blooded when I did not want to go there to gather news at first because I felt that not enough people have died. I want to tell you that this was what I was thinking. Every person is selfish, including myself. If the news is not important, the value of my effort will be lessened. For a good reporter, his eyes will gleam when he determines that a certain piece of news was important. He will only think of one thing: how to dig out the truth. He will leave everything else behind. Conversely, in the opposite situation, the opposite will happen. This is his instinctive reaction.
In China, media workers sometimes appear to be cruel. There are many dark and unfair things happening everywhere in recent years, and this raises the threshold for news. After the Yang Jia affair, the threshold has been raised even higher. The cruelty of journalism is that heavy-weight news stories are required to attract eyeballs. Therefore, the first professional requirement for a journalist is the ability to determine the news value of a story. When I write that paragraph that was misunderstood and even regarded as chilling, I was exercising news value judgment rather than being cold-blooded.
Secondly, the criticisms contained a lot of personal attacks against me. I have not deleted them. Some netizens counterattacked them, and I have not deleted them either. I personally dislike and even detest these irrational insults. If you disagree with what I wrote, you can raise questions or even refute my case. Why is this elevated to the moral level? Why does this has to be condemnation? Why does the foul language become unbearable and polluting?? Nobody can have fully accurate information. Only repeated rational exchange can bring the truth closer.
Thirdly, some netizens said that I am arrogant and have no journalist etiquette (such as saying bad things about people when they refuse to be interviewed, etc). I want to clarify this. Many villagers at the scene declined to be interviewed for a variety of reasons. Did I curse them out? As a citizen, you have the right to refuse to be interviewed. But as the government, you don't have the right of refusal. Open information is the duty of the government, and not a right. In this incident, I object most of all to the government monopolization of information.
In major incidents, the people will always get some information different from the official information. Furthermore, the people don't trust the official information due to the lack of openness and transparency of information. Nobody knows how many people died. The villagers are saying 1,000 or 2,000. Even those who participated in the rescue work and government insiders say 1,000 or 2,000. Faced with these types of doubts, the government needs to respond as opposed to chasing the reporters away from the scene. In the Internet age, there is no way to administer society through monopolization of information. The bigger the incident, the greater need to maintain smooth and open information channels. If the information channel is not open, people won't get reliable information and false information will be flying around everywhere. The lie about the "sudden rainstorm" might fool the CCTV reporters, but it will not fool the people of Linfen because they know that it did not rain that day.
People take note that I did not scold any specific person. In reality, many government officials are friendly. They are not the enemy, or else I could not believe that I had completed my job. As a reporter, I have no personal enmity against any one, whether they are government officials or mine bosses. I don't want to go after anyone. I don't have the intention or ability to cause chaos and disrupt stability for the local government. I am just an ordinary person. My sole purpose is to figure about why this incident happened and what the lessons are. It is the basic duty of every reporter to dig out the truth.
Let me repeat once again. Please do not hurl insults and condemnations. My principle is that I never attack others actively. But if someone attacks me, I will counter-attack.