You’ve probably noticed we’ve been mostly absent over the last few months. Both Wukailong and I had been pretty busy with work and personal matters but we should be far more productive in the coming days.
You might also have noticed that this blog has rarely if ever commented about breaking news in China. Two trains crash head on, the next day the news and blogs are filled with instant “expert” reporting. Bo Xilai’s police chief ends up in the US consulate, immediate analysis from “old China hands” near and far. Cheng Guangcheng escapes house arrest and ends up in Beijing, same thing. Meanwhile, we’re silent as the dead of night.
Trust me, we’re not averse to taking on controversial subjects. The problem with instant analysis is that it’s all guesswork. Chinese culture is all about keeping up appearances regardless of events, so the government or relevant agencies are not going to be forthcoming with details about what happened, it’s just not their way. And there’s the Catch-22, news media from most of the rest of the world is used to providing instant analysis so they have to write something, it’s big and timely news! They know they’re not getting much from the government so they troll for ‘sources’ to provide them with something they can put in their papers or websites. This usually ends up being some superficial and not very well thought out reasoning for what happened when in reality, they have no idea what might have occurred. Let me use last year’s train crash story as an example…
Two trains crash near Wenzhou. The first is stalled by a lightning strike while the second then runs into it, throwing four cars off a viaduct with 40 deaths and almost 200 injuries. The Chinese government went into its usual modus operandi, they began dissembling, burying and removing the wrecked train parts almost immediately after the accident, deeming it a more important priority than continuing the search for possible victims. The propaganda bureau got into the action, issuing orders such as, “All reports regarding the Wenzhou high-speed train accident are to be titled ’7.23 Yong-Wen line major transportation accident… Reporting of the accident is to use ‘in the face of great tragedy, there’s great love’ as the major theme.”
At this point, the Chinese blogosphere got into the action, staying ahead of the censors and demanding a more thorough investigation into both the causes of the accident and the handling of the investigation. Massive amounts of speculation are printed all over the world. And yes, the worst possible procedure to investigate an accident such as this would be tampering with the accident scene but in the political climate of the day, that’s exactly what happened.
Since that time, China has published an account with the results of their investigation. The verdict?
- Missteps by 54 officials
- Serious design flaws in control equipment and improper handling of the lightning strike
- Former railways minister Liu Zhijun is accused of corruption and ”has the main leadership responsibility for the accident”
These are all very vague accusations offering no real specifics as far as what actually happened from a technical point of view, nor would I expect there to be such a report. Lightning strikes are not an uncommon occurrence and would certainly have been taken into consideration during the design. My background is in instrumentation and controls for a variety of industries, so I too have my guesses as to what might have happened based on what I’ve read of the incident. Are my guesses accurate? They might be; I have absolutely no way of knowing but at least they’re based on how those systems actually operate so the odds are better than most of the garbage I read. But for me to print my suspicions would be the height of unprofessionalism since it’s nothing but speculation with no facts to back them up. Yet people with no expertise made all sorts of wild guesses with nothing to back them up. That’s my gripe; when you engage in speculation you’re no better than a bureaucracy that covers up an incident, you’re both creating stories to fit your paradigm of what you’d like the story to be.
This post isn’t meant to be about the railway accident, it’s about a different cultural handling of unfortunate (per their view) incidents. The question I find most interesting is whether the Chinese people are changing their mindset faster than their government and are no longer satisfied with the standard pattern. Based on what I’ve read, I would think so. China today isn’t what it was 20 years ago. That’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just the way it is. Can the government change as quickly as society? Can the government adapt to the evolving world and national views of her people? This has nothing to do with democracy or a different form of government, this is solely about adapting to the needs and desires of the people the government serves.
These are the reasons Wukailong and I have stayed away from ‘current issues’ in the Chinese blogosphere. We’d rather sit back and see what develops before having an opinion, since we both believe that having an uninformed opinion is far worse than having no opinion. These days, the big speculation is about Bo Xilai, Gu Kalai and Wang Lijun. As usual, the real story is all behind the scenes and what the public hears will be the official story, which is the Chinese way. I’m not going to speculate on what really happened since I have no idea but what does interest me is how the situation affects the upcoming leadership change. Now THAT’S worthy of speculation!