The Cover-Up Of The Yuxian Mining Disaster

(China Youth Daily)  Investigation of the Yuxian (Hebei) Mining Disaster: 2.6 million yuan paid out to reporters.  February 1, 2010.

Sign: "Closed Mine: Dangerous"

A collapsed wall, scattered coal cinders, a coal well that is filled by bricks and rubble ... the Lijiawa (Yuxian county, Hebei province) coal mine which was the site of the 7.14 coal mine disaster is now a ruin.

On January 20, 2010, when the China Youth Daily reporter arrived at this coal mine almost 30 kilometers away from the Yuxian county city, it was snowing hard.  The white snow was slowly covering up this blackish abandoned coal mine.

For the families of the 35 coal mine workers who lost their lives during this mining disaster, their sorrows could not be covered up as quickly.  The responsibility of the relevant local leaders who covered up the incident could not be covered up either.  And most of all, the scandal of the waves of reporters who showed up after the incident to demand "shut-up" fees must not be covered up.

On January 9, 2010, the Hebei provincial government reported on the progress of the investigation of the 7.14 mining disaster at the Liajiawa coal mine in Yuxian county.  At the moment, 48 persons were held responsibility and referred to the judiciary for criminal prosecution.  The former Yuxian county party secretary Li Hongxing was sentenced to 13 years in jail.  The former Yuxian county mayor Qi Jianhua was sentenced to 14 years in jail.  18 other persons in Zhangjiakou city and Yuxian county were punished according to party and political discipline.  Of these, the former Yuxian county party publicity department director, its former deputy-director and its former information officer deputy director were expelled from the Party and fired from their jobs.

On January 20, an old cadre who has been paying attention to this case for a long time told the China Youth Daily reporter: "The relevant officials are being held accountable.  Most of the cases have been tried.  But why aren't they going after the reporters who asked for 'shut-up' fees?  Why won't they even publish the list of those who received 'shut-up' fees?"

Previously, the State Council had determined that the coal mine boss had paid more than 2.6 million yuan to buy off the reporters.  Preliminary investigation showed that 10 reporters were suspected of criminal behavior.

Eighteen months after the Lijiawa mining disaster took place, this story about the dark interest chain involving the active cover-up by local officials and money-grubbing reporters including national media is gradually unfolding through the notes taken by the procuratorate interrogators and the China Youth Daily reporter.

On the afternoon of July 14, 2008, Yuxian county deputy mayor Wang Fengzhong who was in charge of production safety was chairing a work meeting with the relevant department leaders on shutting down the small coal mines.  The meeting continued even after office hours.

At around 630pm, Wang Fengzhong recieved a call from the Yuxian county Coal Industry Department director Ping Chuan.  Ping Chuan told him that "there has been an incident at the Lijiawa coal mine."  Wang Fengzhong immediately asked about the cause and details, but Ping Chuan said that he was unsure.

Wang immediately asked: "Have rescue teams been dispatched?"

Ping Chuan replied: "The mine has its own rescue team."

After this brief conversation, Wang Fengzhong instructed him "to check and investigate further."  He then hung up the phone and continued with the meeting.

Less than ten minutes later, Ping Chuan called again and said, "there has definitely been an incident but the details are still unclear."

When the meeting was over at around 8pm that evening, Wang Fengzhong reported the situation to Yuxian county party deputy secretary and mayor Qi Jianhua.  Wang Fengzhong's report was quite vague: "There has been an incident at the Lijiawa coal mine.  There have been conflicting reports.  Some say that seven or eight are dead.  Others say that more than 20 are dead."

Upon hearing this news, Qi Jianhua asked Wang Fengzhong: "Wasn't the Lijiawa coal mine shut down already?  How can there be a coal mine disaster there?"

Wang Fengzhong explained: "This is a new well.  We have been trying to shut it down since April, but we have not succeeded yet."

Wang Fengzhong asked Qi Jianhua whether the coal mine disaster ought to be reported upwards.  Qi Jianhua replied, "Let us observe first.  No matter whom we report this to, we must make sure that we know what is going on."

At around 10pm that night, Wang Fengzhong received a call from Yuxian county party secretary Li Hongxing.  Li asked whether he knew that there had been an incident at the Lijiawa mine and the number of deaths.  Wang Fengzhong replied that it is still unclear, "We know that there has been a mining disaster, but we don't know the details yet."

According to Wang Fengzhong's recollection, Li Hongxing did not say anything over the telephone.  Li did not ask Wang to organize a rescue or conduct an investigation.

According to the coal mine owner Li Chengkui, he immediately notified the relevant government officials in Wangliu town, Yuxian county as soon as the incident occurred.  But he received three directives from Wang Fengzhong: (1) knock down the wellhead and clean up the scene of the incident; (2) make arrangements with the crematorium and funeral home to deal with bodies; (3) make arrangement with the families of the deceased and prevent them from making any trouble.

According to China Youth Daily reporter's investigation, the Lijiawa mine had its own rescue team.  But there were only seven or eight members and they did not have enough oxygen tanks.  So they had to take turns to go down into the mine.  After disaster struck, this rescue team worked until 2am or 3am of the morning of the second day.  34 bodies were taken out of the mine well.

Li Chengkui acted in a hurry.  On that night, he offered compensation to the families of the deceased in amounts between 300,000 yuan and 900,000 yuan.

On the morning of July 15, the bodies were transferred to the Yangyuan county crematorium or the Shanxi province Lingxian county crematorium.

At around 8am that day, Wang Fengzhong called Nanliuzhuang town mayor Gao Feng and inquired about the situation with the mining disaster.  Gao Feng said, "They have found everyone.  The number of deaths is uncertain."

At after 9am, Qi Jianhua and Wang Fengzhong went together to make a report about the Lijiawa mining disaster to Li Hongxing in his office.

At the time, Li Hongxing asked Qi and Wang about the casualty figures.  The two said that they still didn't know the details.  They only knew for sure that a mining disaster had taken place.

According to the procuratorate's notes from the interrogations, Qi and Wang had asked Li whether the matter should be reported upwards.  Li Hongxing's replied: "How can we make any reports upward when the details are still unclear?"  At the same time, he instructed the two of them: "Pay attention on how to handle the news media reporting.  Do not draw in the foreign media.  This is the key time for safety during the Olympics.  It will be disastrous if the foreign media are brought in."

After discussing, Li Hongxing made Wang Fengzhong take charge of investigating the coal mine disaster as well as handling news media reporters.

On the morning of July 16, 2008, Wang Fengzhong went to see Li Hongxing and recommended that an investigation be conducted about the mining disaster.  Otherwise, they would be at a disadvantage if a higher level government department were to come in.  Li Hongxing agreed with this recommendation.

Wang Fengzhong said that he did conduct an "investigation."  But the subject of this "investigation" was not the Lijiawa coal mine where the mining disaster took place.  Instead, he conducted a "fake" investigation" of a different coal mine.  The interrogation notes showed that Wang Fengzhong and his investigators went to a closed coal mine and made video recordings at this peaceful site.  He also interviewed Li Chengkui and two other villagers from nearby.

Wang Fengzhong said that he reported the results of his "investigation" to Li Hongxing.  As a deputy, he said that "he knew what the leader wanted."  Even though Li Hongxing did not view the video, Wang Fengzhong inferred from Li Hongxing's comment that "whatever should be covered up should be covered up" that Li Hongxing "should know about the veracity of the investigation materials."

So this was how an investigation report was submitted on July 17 to the supervisory investigation team.

According to information, this investigation team was formed by four persons from the Zhangjiakou Safety Supervisory Department, the Labor Union and the Coal Supervisory Agency.  They came five times to investigate in Yuxian county.  It was shown later that this investigation team actually did not conduct any substantive investigation.  Instead, they readily accepted the "public relations" treatment from Yuxian county.

Qi Jianhua said that the investigation team never sought him out.  "The only contact was when I went to offer them a toast at dinner."  But there was one piece of unpleasantness between Qi Jianhua and Wang Fengzhong while the investigation team was working.  On one occasion, Wang Fengzhong told Qi Jianhua: "The city coal supervisor department deputy director Wang Jianyong wanted to return the money I gave him, so I said that it was arranged by mayor Qi.  So he took it."  When Qi Jianhua heard that, he was very angry: "How can you say that?  Aren't you setting me up?"

In the ensuing investigation, Wang Jianyong and others were held criminally liable and referred to the judiciary.  The former Zhangjiakou city Safety Supervisory director Gao Jicun was sentenced to 19 years in prison.  According to an informed source, Li Chengkui asked a fellow coal mine boss to bring 300,000 yuan to assuage Gao Jicun after the mining disaster took place.

Even as the fake investigation of the coal mine disaster was taking place, arrangements were being put into place to deal with the reporters coming in.

On the day after Li Hongxing put Wang Fengzhong in charge of dealing with the reporters, Wang went to see Li and said that he was afraid that he could not deal with the media on his own.

So Li Hongxing appointed Yuxian county publicity department director Yu Dehong to deal with the reporters.

When Yu Dehong asked Li Hongxing about how the reporters should be handled, Li replied: "With respect to the reporters, the lid must be put on at all cost."

In the notes, Yu Dehong claimed: "Li Hongxing intentionally repeated 'at all costs' several times.  He also told me to get the details from deputy mayor Wang Hongzhong who was in charge of the matter."

According to Yu Dehong's understanding, "the lid must be put on at all cost" meant "to use every means possible to make sure the reporters will not report on the mining disaster."

After receiving the instructions from Li Hongxing, Yu Dehong quickly forwarded those instructions to Publicity Department deputy director Gao Dianjun and Information Office director Shen Jianmin.

At the same time, the details of how to cope with the reporters were being worked out.  Wang Fengzhong said that the reporters should be received jointly by the county party publicity department and Nanliuzhuang town.

According to Yu Dehong, Nanliuzhong town party secretary Zhao Jinlong disagreed at first and refused to cooperate.  In the end, Li Hongxing called Zhao up personally, and Zhao agreed.

On July 17 and 18, 2008, Wang Fengzhong met with one of the coal mine owners Li Fakui at the Flying Fox Hotel.  Wang asked Li to provide money for the reporters.  Li Fakui gave Wang Fengzhong 100,000 yuan right there and then.

No sooner than the arrangements were in place than well-informed reporters showed up.

Yu Dehong said that reporters kept showing up in Yuxian county after July 20.  They were not there to gather news.  Instead, they were demanding money using all sorts of reasons.

Gao Dianjun found the situation overwhelming and he informed Yu Hongde, who told him to tell deputy county mayor Wang Fengzhong, who told Gao to discuss with Nanliuzhuang town.

During this period, Yu Dehong told Li Hongxing that there were many reporters "gathering news."  Li Hongxing replied, "Don't worry.  It is of paramount importance to ensure safety for the Olympics.  You must act boldly."

According to Yu Dehong's understanding, "act boldly" meant "satisfy the various demands made by the reporters."

After the first four batches of reporters, Yu Dehong updated Li Hongxing about the situation again.  Yu thought that "since the incident is still under investigation, the reporters won't report it yet."  Li Hongxing replied, "I am most concerned about some small newspaper or magazine tipping off the foreign media."

Yu Dehong said that "it was hard to deal with these things because Li Chengkui is unwilling to provide the money."  Li Hongxing said, "Whoever gets in trouble has to provide the money."  He also instructed Yu Dehong and Wang Fengzhong to get Nanliuzhuang town party secretary Zhao Jinlong to get money from mine boss Li Chengkui.

The mine boss Li Chengkui said that he only provided money.  "At the time, the town and county party publicity department folks all stayed at the Yuxian county Jingxi Hotel.  On each occasion, I delivered the money to the hotel."

Wave after wave of reporters arrived in Yuxian county.  After receiving more than a dozen waves of reporters, 700,000 or 800,000 yuan had been paid out already.  Yu Dehong reported to Li Hongxing again and said that "the risks are too high."  Li Hongxing's reply was that "these are special times and we must consider the overall situation.  Do you have any other way other than spending the money?"

Many reporters came to "gather news."  Apart from the Yuxian county publicity department, Wang Fengzhong personally took care of four waves of reporters and gave out 180,000 yuan.  "I gave money and stuff (such as special local produces) to the first three waves.  I only gave stuff to the last wave."

Wang Fengzhong said that he reported to Li Hongxing each time.  "Li knew the amounts being spent, but he didn't know exactly who got paid."  Wang also expressed his worries about dealing with reporters this way, but Li said, "There is no choice.  Whatever should be covered up should be covered up.  Whoever got into trouble has to provide the money.  The treasury is not paying for it."  He also said, "You need to learn more from this."

Yu Hongde also said that he told Li Hongxing that it was inappropriate for the coal mine to put up the money because the nature is different.  But "Li Hongxing said on each occasion that 'whoever is going to be the target of denunciation will spend the money'."

As of August 20, 2008, about 40 batches of reporters have visited Yuxian county to "gather news" on the Lijiawa mining disaster.  Yuxian county spent almost 1.5 million yuan on these reporters.  But this is not even the final figure.  Yu Dehong estimated that the costs on paying off the reporters alone was between 2 to 3 million yuan during this cover-up.

In the interrogation notes, Li Chengkui said that it was Wang Fengzhong who called him to ask for the money.  "I gave so many times that I can't remember how many times."

More than eighty days elapsed between the occurrence of the Lijiawa mining disaster and the establishment of the State Council investigation team.

Zhang Zheng (the name has been altered) is a long-time worker for the Yuxian county government and he told our reporter: "It was an exception for the cover-up to fail this time.  The rule is to cover up successfully.  Furthermore, it is often the local government and not the coal mine boss who leads the cover-up."

"The coal mine boss wants to cover up, but the government officials wants to do it even more so."  Zhang Zheng believes that "it affects their government jobs, especially when some of them may own shares in the mine."

According to an informed local source, Yuxian county did pretty good in covering up the 7.14 mining disaster because they did not spare any money.  It was exposed only because the coal mine boss Li Chengkui offended a former business partner who made the denunciation from one level of government up to the next repeatedly.  Otherwise, this mining disaster could have been covered up.

On January 20, 2010, a Yuxian county party publicity department information office worker did not want to say too much about the media cover-up of the mining disaster.  But he kept sighing, "It was our rotten luck this time."

According to the investigation by our reporter, most of the reporters who came to Yuxian county to demand "shut-up" fees had been there before.  These were faces well-known to the Yuxian county party publicity department.  "If one media reporter comes here to get money this time, he will definitely be back the next time.  They rarely bring others over."  Zhang Zheng said.

According to a media worker who knows about the case, the group of reporters who got "shut-up" fees in Yuxian county this time are the same people who often come to Shanxi province to profit from mining disasters.

This informed source even noted that the reporters who were interrogated by the police eventually almost all came from Shanxi or worked there for a long period of time.  This time, they went to the mine claiming to be Beijing-based media reporters and demanded money.  After <Network Daily>'s Shanxi reporter Guan Jian was taken away by the Zhangjiakou police, his reporter friends traveled to Zhangjiakou to voice their support for him.

According to our reporter's investigation, the reporters who frequently come down to Yuxian county to demand "shut-up" fees have local informants.  When an incident occurs, the informants will communication the information to their reporter friends.  After the reporters received their "shut-up" fees, they will give a portion thereof to their informants as compensation.

<Farmer Daily>'s Hebei bureau chief Li Junqi learned about the Yuxian mining disaster from his correspondent Geng Weimin, who got a tip from a local person who knows about mining disasters.

"There is a high probability of being able to cover up.  If you don't cover up, you may lose everything that you own.  Private coal mines are not protected by any policies.  The reason why they covered up from top to bottom this time was because there had been successful cover-ups before."  Zhang Zheng said.

On December 4, 2007, there was a mining disaster in the Eastern Third Lane, Left Wing Well, Heishekou Coal Well Extraction Limited Company in Yuxian county.  At the State Administration of Work Safety website, the report said that there had been 8 deaths.

But Zhang Zheng said that the real number of deaths was definitely more than 8.  Among the local mine bosses, the most frequently cited version has more than 40 deaths.  Some mine bosses even claimed that as many as 100 coal mine workers may have died at the Heishekou coal mine.

Another informed source said that the State Council's 7.14 coal mine disaster cover-up investigation team became interested in the Heishekou mining disaster while they were investigating in Yuxian.  During this period, all the coal mine bosses involved in the Heishekou coal mine disaster went away from Yuxian.  To date, there have not been any new findings in that case.

A cover-up requires many things to be taken care of, the key ones being to hide the facts from the relevant government officials as well as reporters.  According to the investigation, the locals were willing to spend money so that not only did the reporters shut up, but they were even willing to publish fake news stories.

It is worthwhile to note that on the day when the Lijiawa coal mine disaster took place, many local Yuxian residents knew.  But nobody there filed any reports either through official channels or on the Internet.  Zhang Zheng said that many local people make money in ways that are connected to the coal mines.  It may seem that a coal mine has only two or three owners, but there are actually many small shareholders behind them.  Most people with some means own mine shares.  Those without means work at the coal mines and fields.

According to the local taxi driver named Zhao, 70% to 80% of the coal mine workers at the coal field of Nanliuzhuang town in Yuxian county came from the outside.  When these coal mine workers got paid, they went to the county city.  Therefore, the taxi drivers were able to make multiple trips each day.  Ever since the small coal mines were shut down, these trips barely occur twice or thrice a month.  "Ordinarily people like us detest those small coal mine bosses who don't care about the lives of their workers.  But when those small coal mines were closed, it affected our incomes and lives."

For Zhang Zheng, the so-called cover-up was actually a game among government officials of a certain level and between the government officials and the reporters.

A worker at the Yuxian county party publicity department told our reporter that when the former publicity department officials were being punished, he had thought about releasing the list of reporters who had accepted "shut-up" fees.  But "this case involves out publicity department as well as many others."

Companion piece: Chinese Reporters Jailed For Taking Bribes

(Xinhua)  35 killed in concealed July mine accident    October 24, 2008.

Thirty-five people have been confirmed dead in a notorious coal mine accident in north China's Hebei Province that was covered up for almost three months, the local government said on Friday.

The accident happened at 8:30 a.m. on July 14 at Lijiawa Coal Mine in Yuxian County, when explosives illegally stored in the pit ignited, killing 34 miners and a rescue worker.

Most of the victims were migrants from Chongqing Municipality and Sichuan Province in the southwest, investigators said.

The mine owners hid the bodies and silenced the next of kin with cash compensation and threats. Some village and county officials also collaborated with the mine owners to cover up the tragedy, said Hu Chunhua, acting governor of Hebei Province.

The cover-up infuriated witnesses and the victims' families, some of whom filed complaints to the State Administration of Work Safety and sought justice by posting the truth on the Internet.

Their complaints prompted the central government to investigate the accident, which was revealed to the public on October 7.

Hu said 25 officials had been sacked for the cover-up, including three top officials in Yuxian County, local work safety chief, village heads and police officers who harbored the mine owners. Twenty-two of them were prosecuted.

Police have also detained the mine owners, three brothers named Li Chengkui, Li Xiangkui and Li Fakui.

Investigators said the mine had been operating for years without any license, and was just one of the illegal mines owned by the Li brothers.

(New York Times)  Graft in China Covers Up Toll of Coal Mines   By Sharon LaFraniere.  April 11, 2009.

When an underground fire killed 35 men at the bottom of a coal shaft last year, the telltale signs of another Chinese mining disaster were everywhere: Black smoke billowed into the sky, dozens of rescuers searched nine hours for survivors, and sobbing relatives besieged the mine・s iron gate.

But though the owner and local government officials took few steps to prevent the tragedy, they succeeded, almost completely, in concealing it.

For nearly three months, not a word leaked from the heart of China・s coal belt about the July 14 explosion that racked the illegal mine, a 1,000-foot wormhole in Hebei Province, about 100 miles west of Beijing.

The mine owner paid off grieving families and cremated the miners・ bodies, even when relatives wanted to bury them. Local officials pretended to investigate, then issued a false report. Journalists were bribed to stay silent. The mine shaft was sealed with truckloads of dirt.

:It was so dark and evil in that place,; said the wife of one miner who missed his shift that day and so was spared. :No one dared report the accident because the owner was so powerful.;

Indeed, the Lijiawa mine tragedy might still be an official non-event, but one brave soul reported the cover-up in September on an Internet chat site. The central government in Beijing stepped in, firing 25 local officials and putting 22 of them under criminal investigation. The results of the inquiry are expected this month.

Such a wide-ranging cover-up might seem unusual in the Internet age, but it remains disturbingly common here. From mine disasters to chemical spills, the 2003 SARS epidemic to the past year・s scandal over tainted milk powder, Chinese bureaucrats habitually hide safety lapses for fear of being held accountable by the ruling Communist Party or exposing their own illicit ties to companies involved.

Under China・s authoritarian system, superiors reward subordinates for strict compliance with targets set from above, like reducing mine disasters. Should one occur, the incentive to hide it is often stronger than the reward for handling it well. A disaster on a bureaucrat・s watch is almost surely a blot on his career. A scandal buried quietly, under truckloads of dirt, may never be discovered.

China・s lack of a free press, independent trade unions, citizen watchdog groups and other checks on official power makes cover-ups more possible, even though the Internet now makes it harder to suppress information completely.

Work-safety officials in Beijing complain that even more than in other industries, death tolls from accidents at coal mines are often ratcheted down or not reported at all. That is because of the risky profits to be made X by businessmen and corrupt local officials X exploiting dangerous coal seams with temporary, unskilled workers in thousands of illegal mines.

Just two weeks after the Lijiawa disaster, for example, officials in neighboring Shanxi Province announced that 11 people had been killed in a natural landslide. After another Internet-lodged complaint, investigators discovered that 41 villagers had been buried under a torrent of rocks and waste from an iron mine.

Even if underreported, the official death rate for China・s coal mines is astronomically high. On average, nine coal miners a day died in China last year X a rate 40 times that of the United States, according to the State Administration of Work Safety. Small mines, legal and illegal, accounted for three-fourths of the deaths but only a third of the production.

To be sure, the mines are much safer than just six years ago. Huang Yi, the deputy administrator of the work safety agency, said stricter scrutiny, regulations and the closing of 12,000 mines had cut the death rate by three-fourths since 2002. :There are some illegal coal mines that still operate because they are protected by local officials,; Mr. Huang said, but :fewer and fewer.;

Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, argues that Beijing・s top-down approach can only do so much to make local officials more accountable.

:We don・t have the grass-roots democracy; we don・t have independent labor unions; we don・t have checks and balances; we don・t have any system of official accountability,; he said.

Work-safety officials are trying to fill the gap with hot lines, a Web site link, and even rewards to informants. But in a country that relies on coal for most of its electricity, powerful financial incentives lie behind unsafe mines.

China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based nongovernment group that advocates workers・ rights, estimates that even a small Chinese coal mine producing just 30,000 tons a year of coal can make up to $900,000 a year in profit. In 2005, the central government ordered officials to divest themselves of their holdings in mines that they supervised. But Professor Hu said, :Many officials still own shares.;

Here in Yu County, where roads divide towering pyramids of coal and the poor rake the ravaged land in search of loose chunks, local officials were widely assumed to be in league with mine operators. According to one local government official, nearly half of the county・s 200 mines operated illegally last year. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the subject is politically delicate.

:Everyone in Yu County thinks this accident was very typical,; he said. :If Mao was still in power, these local officials would be executed.;

The Lijiawa mine・s single shaft was no secret. Even though its owners lacked all six required licenses, it operated on state property in full view of a state-owned mine for more than three years, the official said.

Zhou Xinghai helped recruit migrant workers from hundreds of miles away to work the seams. The $600 monthly salary was high for migrant labor, but so were the risks.

In May, he said, miners were dismayed to discover that 59 mules had died from unventilated mine gas. Some oxygen cylinders were on hand in case of emergencies, he said, :but we didn・t know how to use them.;

Before the August Olympics, Beijing officials ordered all nearby mines shut down to reduce pollution. But Lijiawa continued its three shifts a day.

When five tons of explosives stored illegally in the mine caught fire in July, workers were trapped hundreds of feet underground with only a megaphone to summon help. Many suffocated trying to crawl out of the tunnel, Mr. Zhou said. Only three or four survived.

Mr. Zhou said the mine owner, Li Chengkui, enlisted him to deal with the victims・ families. He wanted the relatives split up so they would not :kick up a row,; Mr. Zhou said.

Over the next few days, Mr. Li or his managers struck deals with the families: 800,000 yuan, or about $120,000, if the miner was local; half that much if the miner was a migrant worker. The relatively high sums reflected the owners・ eagerness to suppress complaints. Locals were given more because they could cause more trouble, Mr. Zhou said.

The widow of the miner Yang Youbiao said she was hustled from the mine to a local hotel, then to another county and finally to a third county. There, she picked up her husband・s ashes even though she had wanted to bury his body. She asked that her name not be published for fear of retribution.

:They just gave us the ashes and told us to go,; she said, quietly weeping. :I don・t even know if the ashes belong to my husband.;

Zhou Jianghua・s brother survived the explosion, but suffered severe brain damage from lack of oxygen. At 37, he is now a semi-invalid, said Mr. Zhou, who is no relation to Zhou Xinghai. He said his family was offered 200,000 yuan, about $29,000, if they agreed not to sue the mine owner or speak to reporters, but an agreement was never reached.

In September, an Internet posting pleaded for justice. The writer said he had repeatedly reported the accident to the authorities.

:No feedback for over 70 days!!!!; he wrote. Instead, callers threatened him.

Hebei・s governor finally disclosed the accident in October. The Beijing news media subsequently reported that 25 officials had been fired, that an official report had been faked and that dozens of journalists had taken bribes. Now the central government is busily trying to make an example of Yu County by shutting down illegal mines. A new cast of officials is in charge.

But Yang Youbiao・s widow says she does not believe culpable officials will be punished.

:They can find ways to avoid it,; she said.; There won・t be any end to this kind of tragedy.;

(New York Times)  China Charges 58 With Covering Up Deadly Mine Blast   By Edward Wong.  December 1, 2009.

Ten journalists and 48 officials have been charged with taking bribes to cover up a mining disaster last year, according to a report published on Monday in China Daily, an official English-language newspaper.

Mine bosses relocated bodies, destroyed evidence and paid the journalists the equivalent of $381,000 to cover up the explosion, in which 34 miners and a rescue worker were killed, China Daily reported. Earlier reports by other news organizations indicated that the bosses also cremated miners・ bodies against the wishes of family members, paid grieving relatives to silence them and sealed the mine shaft with truckloads of dirt.

The disaster took place on July 14, 2008, almost a month before the Beijing Olympics, at the Lijiawa mine in Hebei Province, about 100 miles west of Beijing. The cover-up kept the disaster out of the public eye for 85 days.

In September 2008, someone reported the cover-up on an Internet chat site, and the ensuing clamor forced the central government in Beijing to step in, firing 25 local officials and putting 22 of them under criminal investigation. The charges reported by China Daily on Monday were the result of an investigation by the State Council, China・s cabinet.

The report said that 48 officials were being charged, including the mine owners, the county chief, work safety officials and police officers. The China Daily said none of the 10 journalists charged in the case had been identified.

Because of low salaries, journalists in China are often tempted to accept bribes, called hongbao, or red envelopes.

The China Daily said one of the journalists being charged is almost certainly Guan Jian, a reporter from Beijing working for a newspaper called China Internet Weekly. Mr. Guan was detained in Shanxi Province last December and charged in April with taking bribes from officials in Yuxian County, where the mine is located, in the aftermath of the disaster.

In that case, prosecutors accused Mr. Guan of receiving $36,600 from officials under the pretense of running two pages of advertising in his newspaper, and also receiving a so-called newspaper subscription fee of $4,400.

Last year in Shanxi Province, two journalists and 26 people posing as journalists were accused of taking money to cover up a coal mine accident in which a worker was killed.

Mine fatalities in China, even if underreported, annually rank among the highest in the world. On average, nine coal miners died each day in China last year X a rate 40 times that of the United States, according to statistics from the State Administration of Work Safety. Small mines, legal and illegal, accounted for three-fourths of the deaths but only a third of China・s production.