“Nothing to My Name”, the Train Crash Version

Cui Jian’s song “Nothing to My Name” is perhaps the best-known Chinese rock song of all time. It might also be considered one of the first, given that it was released in 1986. It quickly grew popular, and was adopted by the students as an anthem of sorts during the Tiananmen protests in 1989. In fact, Cui Jian even performed the song live for the protesters.

In the wake of the train accident in Wenzhou, it seems netizens have turned back to this decades old song to vent. Uploaded to Tudou a few days ago, this video — which is currently being spread around Weibo — is a very well done version of that song, with new lyrics that address the Wenzhou crash. It’s a fairly impressive job; most of the lyrics use the same rhyming sounds as the original song.


As of this posting, the video has over 400,000 views. Update: The original video I linked has now been deleted (presumably by Tudou), however, the video has been re-uploaded this morning; see above. If that doesn’t work, try these links, as it has also spread to other sites: Sina, Sina. Those appear to be being deleted, so your best bet long term is just to watch it on Youtube:

If you want to search for it on Chinese sites, the easiest way is to search for the phrase 一无所有 动车版.


This is a pretty rough translation. There are subtitles in the video, so I haven’t bothered to retype all the Chinese here.

Opening monologue: Railway Ministry, don’t tell me the reason for this accident is rain and lightning. You’re standing in front of the cameras all sanctimonious and graceful, but behind it, how much disgraceful, stinking, bloody, undisguised corruption is there?

Singing begins:
The people are asking over and over,
How can the Railway officials be so ballsy,
Why did they stop the rescue operations,
after just a single day?

The passengers needed your help,
They didn’t need your excuses,
But you’re just evading [the questions],
Speaking without thinking.

Oh, you look like you’re putting on a show,
Do you really feel guilty?

The earth under our feet is trembling,
The tears on our faces are flowing,
What was that that fell [from the train car in the video]
And was captured by the camera ((A reference to the Youku video that showed an object falling from the car.))?

Why was the list of victims not published?
Why were you burying the engine car of the train?
Is it that in your eyes,
The lives of the people are more worthless than pigs or dogs?

Oh, how much is a life worth?
Is a few hundred thousand enough?

Spoken interlude: When they took the body, they found signs of life. This proves that at the beginning some people were still alive. Perhaps at that time, my wife and my family members were still alive. Why didn’t you come to rescue us? The bodies of my wife and my mother in law were still in the car when it was taken off the overpass; they weren’t trying to save our family members, we feel they were just trying to clear the tracks so trains could continue service. Because they said last night that the railway was operating normally again. The bodies weren’t [carefully] extracted from the wreckage, they were dug out with an excavator! In this project, even if they were already dead, you can’t just use a backhoe to handle them!

Singing returns
I’m telling you I’ve put up with it for a long time,
I’m telling you my final demand,
I’m tightening up my fists,
And setting out to find this scumbag,
My heart is trembling,
My blood is pumping,
What will you bring out to console me,
To console my deceased friends and family?

Oh, how much is a life worth?
Is a few hundred thousand enough?

Ending titles: “This video is in remembrance of the N victims who died in the 7/23 train crash. July 27, 2011.

Professor Calls for Special Investigation into Train Crash

On July 28, five days after the deadly high-speed train crash in Wenzhou, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao visited the scene and gave a press conference. Responding to a question about investigations into the causes of the incident, Wen said:

After the incident, the State Council has immediately set up an accident investigation team. This team is independent, and it involves the departments of safety, supervision and the procuratorate. Through on-the-ground survey, sampling, scientific analysis and expert reasoning, the team will reach a solid conclusion that can stand the test of history.

But the credibility of such an investigation has been called into question. Earlier on July 26, He Weifang, law professor at Peking University and an activist for the reform of the Chinese judicial system, wrote three posts on Sina Weibo calling for the setting up of a special investigation committee according to Article 71 of the Chinese Constitution, which says:

The National People’s Congress and its Standing Committee may, when they deem it necessary, appoint committees of inquiry into specific questions and adopt relevant resolutions in the light of their reports. All organs of state, public organizations and citizens concerned are obliged to supply the necessary information to those committees of inquiry when they conduct investigations.

The three posts, translated below, have altogether attracted over 45,000 forwards and 10,000 comments. Netizens on Weibo are overwhelmingly in support of Professor He’s proposal, although they know that it has a slim chance of being adopted.

After the 2003 Sun Zhigang incident, I and four other legal experts called for the triggering of the special investigation procedures as stipulated in Article 71 of the Constitution. The suggestion fell on deaf ears. The Wenzhou accident sparked a public outcry, and investigation by the Railways Ministry would be unconvincing. The reliability of the high-speed rail system is now in doubt. I once again call for the opening of the special investigation committee in order to conduct hearings and give an answer to the public. (link)

The system of special investigation committee as stipulated in the Constitution has been in force for 30 years. But it has never been used. The article is therefore a “sleeping beauty”. The committee is a normal act of power by our highest authority, which has an obligation to do so. In February last year, the US Congress conducted a hearing on Toyota following its vehicle recalls. Our media called it “US Congress interrogating the safety of Toyota”. Who is to interrogate the safety of our railways? (link)

Article 21 of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee rules of procedures said: “The Standing Committee may, when they deem it necessary, appoint committees of inquiry into specific questions and adopt relevant resolutions in the light of their reports.” This means that such committees can still be appointed when the NPC is not in session. The motions can be raised by the State Council, other authorities, or ten or more members of the Standing Committee. (link)

Yesterday, Professor He also wrote a blog post (translated in full below) calling for the waking up of the “sleeping beauty”. An abridged version of the post also appears in the Southern Weekend.

After the serious incident on July 23, the nation is paying much attention to the causes, number of deaths, handling of the scene and issues of responsibilities. From media reports, it is clear that the State Council is playing a major role in the on-site investigation, while the Railways Ministry does the explanation to the public. Apparently, the media, including official ones, is dissatisfied with the answers given by the spokesperson in response to questions raised by the public. The Railways Ministry itself is the involved party bearing responsibilities, and the State Council, being the supervising authority, also has a conflict of interest. Furthermore, the investigation itself is non-transparent. We can expect the results to be unconvincing.

This is worrying. It is clear that the problem stems from the investigating bodies themselves and the defects in the procedures. On July 26, I wrote on Weibo that the investigation should be based on Article 71 of the Constitution, and the National People’s Congress Standing Committee should start a special investigation committee. According to relevant regulations, this committee should be composed of members from the legislature and outside experts. From overseas experience, the works of the committee could include investigations into the causes of the accident, identifying relevant personnel to testify in subpoena, holding debates between experts with different views, and reaching a conclusion.

To achieve some basic credibility, the hearings should be open to the public, and broadcasted live on television, except if it involves state secrets. This puts the truth in front of the public and is an important channel of public supervision. It also helps people, including those accountable, to accept the final conclusion of the committee.

Furthermore, the committee can conduct wider investigations. Using this incident as an example, apart from the above matters, the committee can investigate and assess the current state of development of the high-speed rail system, the hidden problems (such as quality of rails and bridges) and the management system. Only through this can the accident be turned into an opportunity to redress the defects of the system.

My suggestion has attracted widespread responses. Within the first ten hours or so, the first post has been forwarded over 20,000 times and attracted over 5,000 comments. However, many people worry that the NPC Standing Committee is not likely to trigger the special investigation procedures. After all, during the 30 years that the present Constitution has been in force, there is not even one precedent case. Article 71 can be described as a typical “sleeping beauty article”. In the 2003 Sun Zhigang incident, I, together with four other legal experts, called in vain for the triggering of this procedure. Can the tragedy in Wenzhou wake this “sleeping beauty” up?

Death on the High Speed Rail: Emerging Causes

UPDATE: Link to a blog post by Tom Lasseter added to the end of the post, high suggest you check it out.

Apologies for the lack of coverage yesterday; our VPN was out and we couldn’t access the blog.

In any event, new information is emerging today that sheds more light on what caused the horrific train crash in Wenzhou (See our coverage of Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3).

First is this Xinhua report, which says the crash was caused because the automatic notification system that should have told the D301 train there was a stopped train in front of it had been disabled by lightning:

Design flaws in railway signal equipment led to Saturday’s fatal high-speed train collision near Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province, the Shanghai Railway Bureau said on Thursday.

Having been struck by lightning, the signal system at Wenzhou South Railway Station failed to turn the green light to red, which caused the rear-end collision, said An Lusheng, head of the Shanghai Railway Bureau, at an investigation meeting held by the State Council in Wenzhou on Thursday.

The signal equipment was designed by a Beijing-based research and design institute and was put into use on Sept. 28, 2009, An said.

The accident revealed the railway sector’s vulnerabilities in safety infrastructure and management, An said.

More damning, perhaps, is this as-yet-unconfirmed expert testimony that the accident might have been averted if the Railway Ministry had chosen to install lighting safety equipment back in 2003:

He Jinliang, a professor at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University and director of China’s National Lightning Protection Technology Standard Committee, said in an interview Wednesday that the Ministry of Railways decided in 2003, shortly before China began embarking on its drive to build an extensive high-speed rail network, against protecting the network’s power-distribution equipment for the trains with lightning rods and surge protection. The equipment in question: those tall poles that suspend power lines along the tracks, from which trains draw electricity for propulsion. That decision came even as Mr. He’s committee—a semiofficial standard-setting body—in the same year adopted standards that recommended installing those lightning-protection devices for big structures such as high-rise buildings and tall bridges.

Those safeguards “would not provide complete protection” against lightning, but they would reduce the likelihood that lightning would severely affect train operation, Mr. He said. “Strong lightning is dangerous as it could short-circuit the network’s power-distribution equipment and cause power outages that could paralyze signaling and safety systems.”

Mr. He said he doesn’t know why the country’s rail authorities decided to skimp on those safety devices. “But as far as I know, lighting rods or surge protectors are not installed on the high-speed rail network’s power-distribution pylons.” The lack of such safeguards, he said, could have played a role in Saturday’s accident.

Mr. He’s claim couldn’t immediately be verified. The Railways Ministry didn’t respond to requests to comment. Ministry spokesman Wang Yongping hasn’t spoken to reporters since holding a press conference on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the media appears to have been let off the leash, or perhaps just chosen to ignore it. Even state-managed CCTV has raised serious questions about government handling of the incident, as well as reflected on its broader implications. Perhaps most telling is this speech, from Qiu Qiming on “24 Hours” (translation via Shanghaiist):

“If nobody can be safe, do we still want this speed? Can we drink a glass of milk that’s safe? Can we stay in an apartment that will not fall? Can the roads we travel on in our cities not collapse? Can we travel in safe trains? And if and when a major accident does happen, can we not be in a hurry to bury the trains? Can we afford the people a basic sense of security? China, please slow down. If you’re too fast, you may leave the souls of your people behind.”

China’s Premier Wen Jiabao, who often serves as the man-on-the-ground for major disasters, is giving a press conference from Wenzhou today, despite apparently being sick:

“I am ill, having spent 11 days in bed, but I managed to come today only after my doctor reluctantly allowed me to check out of hospital. This is why I didn’t come here sooner.”

UPDATE: Well, I guess he wasn’t that sick. Check out this incredible blog post by Tom Lasseter that essentially proves, using only official Xinhua reports, that Wen was lying through his teeth about being stuck in bed for the past 11 days.

Han Han: “The Derailed Country”

The following is a guest translation by a Matt Schrader. It is supposedly an article that was posted to Han Han’s blog and then deleted. However, short of contacting him directly, which I have no way of doing, there’s no way to confirm that the article is in fact his. It’s also worth mentioning that articles are frequently passed off as being by Han Han as an attempt by other writers to draw more attention to the article in question.

On the other hand, articles are also frequently deleted from Han’s blog and when that happens, they quickly end up copied on other sites. Since in this case the original isn’t on Han’s blog, we’ll post the Chinese text in its entirety here. (There is no mouseover text below).

UPDATE: Based on information from a couple sources, I now believe it’s accurate to state that this is, in fact, an authentic Han Han piece.

Translation: “The Derailed Country”

You ask, why are they acting like a bunch of lunatics?

They think they’re the picture of restraint.

You ask, why can’t they tell black from white, fact from fiction?

They think they’re straight shooters, telling it like it is.

You ask, why are they running interference for murders?

They think they’ve thrown their friends under the bus. And they’re ashamed.

You ask, why all the cover-ups?

They think they’re letting it all hang out.

You ask, why are they so irretrievably corrupt?

They think they’re hardworking and plain-living.

You ask, why are they so infuriatingly arrogant?

They think they’re the picture of humility.

You feel like you’re the victim. So do they.

They think: “During the Qing Dynasty, no one had television. Now everyone has a television. Progress!”

They think: “We’re building you all this stuff, what do you care what happens in the process? Why should you care who it’s really for, so long as you get to use it? The train from Shanghai to Beijing used to take a whole day. Now you’re there in five hours (as long as there’s no lightning). Why aren’t you grateful? What’s with all the questions?

“Every now and then, there’s an accident. The top leaders all show how worried they are. We make someone available to answer journalists’ questions. First we say we’ll give the victims 170,000 kuai apiece. Then we say we’ll give them 500,000. We fire a buddy of ours. We’ve done all that, and you still want to nitpick? How could you all be so close-minded? You’re not thinking of the big picture! Why do you want us to apologize when we haven’t done anything wrong? It’s the price of development.

“Taking care of the bodies quickly is just the way we do things. The earlier we start signing things, the more we’ll have to pay out in the end. The later we sign, the smaller the damages. Our pals in the other departments—the ones who knock down all the houses—taught us that one. Burying the train car was a bonehead move, true, but the folks upstairs told us to do it. That’s how they think: if there’s something that could give you trouble, just bury it. Anyway, the real mistake was trying to dig such a huge hole in broad daylight. And not talking it over with the Propaganda Department beforehand. And not getting a handle on all the photographers at the site. We were busy, ok? If there’s anything we’ve learned from all this, it’s that when you need to bury something, make sure you think about how big it is, and make sure you keep the whole thing quiet. We underestimated all that.”

They think that, on the whole, it was a textbook rescue operation—well planned, promptly executed, and well managed. It’s a shame public opinion’s gotten a little out of hand, but they think, “That part’s not our responsibility. We don’t do public opinion.”

They’re thinking: “Look at the big picture: We had the Olympics, we canceled the agricultural tax, and you guys still won’t cut us a break. You’re always glomming on to these piddling little details. No can-do spirit. We could be more authoritarian than North Korea. We could make this place poorer than the Sudan. We could be more evil than the Khmer Rouge. Our army’s bigger than any of theirs, but we don’t do any of that. And not only are you not thankful, but you want us to apologize! As if we’ve done something wrong?”

Society has people of means, and those without. There’s people with power, and those that have none. And they all think they’re the victim. In a country where everyone’s the victim, where the classes have started to decouple from one another, where it’s every man for himself, in this huge country whose constituent parts slide forward on inertia alone—in this country, if there’s no further reform, even tiny decouplings make the derailings hard to put right.

The country’s not moving forward because a lot of them judge themselves as if Stalin and Mao were still alive. So they’ll always feel like the victim. They’ll always feel like they’re the enlightened ones, the impartial ones, the merciful ones, the humble ones, the put-upon ones. They think the technological drumbeat of historical progress is a dream of their own making.
The more you criticize him, the more he longs for autocracy. The more you gaomao him (piss him off), the more he misses Mao.

A friend in the state apparatus told me, “You’re all too greedy. Forty years ago, writers like you would’ve been shot. So you tell me, have things gotten better, or have they gotten worse?”

I said, “No, you’re all too greedy. Ninety years ago, that kind of thinking would have gotten you laughed out of the room. So you tell me: after all that, have things gotten better, or have they gotten worse?”

Death (and More) on the High Speed Rail, Day 3

UPDATE 3: Added paike footage of the toddler’s rescue to the end of the post.

UPDATE 2: Added “Donations” section with translated comments from a Tianya post.

UPDATE 1: Added information about the driver, media coverage, and a video from Shanghaiist, as well as information about a new Weibo poll.

If you haven’t, please read the first two posts on this subject to catch up to today.

This video, posted to Youku, is purportedly the first video of the crash itself. It begins with scenes of the rain, but at the end shows a train moving and then some very bright sparks, or…something. You be the judge:


Caixin released a report on the causes of the accident (emphasis added):

9:15 p.m.: Caixin has published a technical piece on the China Train Control System (CTCS), the train operation technology used by both trains involved in the crash. The system, wholly-controlled by an automated computer system, transmits information and monitors speed, taking into account inclement weather conditions like wind, rain and snow.

The report includes videos and explanations from the technology’s designers, and concludes that the accident was entirely preventable had the system been in full force. According to the system’s designs, the traffic control center should have detected the D3115’s slowdown and subsequent halting, and then notified any trains coming up from behind.

More details are available at that link.

The death toll continues to fluctuate, with some reports citing 39 dead, the netizen-crowdsourced list now listing 38 names, and Xinhua’s stories apparently edited to report 36 dead, down from 38 yesterday. But the Global Times puts the death toll at 40 today.

Also in edited news, with regards to the body-falling video on Youku mentioned yesterday, one commenter pointed out that the video has been edited. When originally posted, the video played smoothly, and there was clearly something falling from the train at around the 0:09 mark. Whether or not it was a body is debatable, but now the evidence of whatever it was appears to have been swept clean. Observe, the video now skips slightly at the 0:09 mark. The section where the falling object was visible has been deleted.


That video link was circulated widely on Youku, and was edited at some point yesterday afternoon. Compare it to this, a copy of the exact same video, circulated less widely and as yet unedited.


In case that is also edited, the video has also been copied to Youtube here, although it is a lower fidelity version and thus is a bit less clear.

Suspicion about the incident continues to be widespread. The newest user-created Weibo poll asks if people believe the government’s official casualty figures, and while it only has around 2,000 responses so far, 94% of respondents chose: “I absolutely don’t believe [the figures], if you use your brain to think about it, how could it be possible so few people died?”

Shanghaiist has also been following this story and providing excellent coverage. Two especially worthy pieces of theirs are this, which illustrates the media response to the accident, and this, the translation of a supposed conversation with the driver of the front train, who has not been heard from since the accident. The conversation, especially its ending, seem awfully convenient, and there’s no way to confirm its authenticity, but it’s worth a read anyway.

Meanwhile, other high-speed trains continue to experience power issues, as more problems caused another swath of delays on Monday.


An interesting question raised by this incident is how regular people can help. Upon hearing of the crash, many netizens wished to donate money. But the Chinese Red Cross, the place most people would generally donate money to in this sort of situation, is still tainted by the recent high-profile scandals and many no longer trust them to deliver donations.

Consider, for example, this Tianya thread about the crash in which the OP asks people to donate to the Chinese Red Cross (thanks to Jake F. for this link). Some responses:


You’re donating? I’m not going to get tricked again.

The OP is a master of satire.

Go to hell.

Donate money to Guo Meimei?

The Red Cross shouldn’t even be trying to get donations, they lost so much face and haven’t gained enough back yet.

I fuck your mom! Donate! Donate to the Black Cross Society, you might as well just throw your money away!

Who are you trying to fool?

Red Louse Society [a pun, “louse” is pronounced in a way similar to “cross”]

Donate your mom’s **** ((Yup, I’m not gonna translate that one.))

Go away.

Anyone who donates has no penis.

They found another excuse to dig out some money. Strongly disdain [in his post, this phrase is then copy-pasted around twenty more times].

The Red Cross represents the nation in begging for money.

This is a righteous slap to the face of the Black Society ((here, he means the Red Cross, not gangster/criminal society)).

Those are just a few quotes from the first half of the first page of the thread. At present, it goes on for another 44 pages, without much change in discussion. Right now, the most recent comment on the post is a joke about the original poster’s sister.

Rescue Footage

This video is gaining popularity on Youku right now. It shows the entire process of the young girl’s rescue on Sunday afternoon. It was posted about 15 hours ago and already has over 300,000 plays and 600 comments.


Death on the High Speed Rail, Day 2

UPDATE 5: Added the latest information on the death toll to the introduction.

UPDATE 4: Added Wang Yongpin’s rebuttal to the rumors that they were burying train cars to the “Official Media” section.

UPDATE 3: Added link and information about the Google Documents spreadsheet of victims.

UPDATE 2: Added a translation of some new propaganda directives to the new section “Information Control”

UPDATE 1: Added some information from Shanghaiist and a link from @InBeijingSe

Rather than continue to update yesterday’s post, which is already over 3,000 words long, we’ll be collecting new information about the Wenzhou accident here. If you haven’t already, we suggest you read that post before starting this one.

Xinhua announced this afternoon that the official death toll is now 38, rather than yesterday’s 35. The number of injured, most recently listed by Xinhua as 192, has not been updated.

Official Media

Official reports this morning acknowledge, in a rather indirect way, that China’s high speed rail “still faces challenges.” They are, however, emphatic about how the government remains confident in the trains. From Xinhua:

Despite the accident, the spokesman said the ministry is still confident in China’s high-speed trains.

“China’s high-speed train is advanced and qualified. We have confidence in it,” he said.

From the Global Times:

“China has advanced high-speed railway technology. We are still confident about that,” Wang said.

The government has additionally suspended 58 train services, up from yesterday’s number which was less than 30.

In a press conference today, railway official Wang Yongpin directly addresses the rumors that train cars were being buried at the accident site:


In the video, he says that according to a “comrade” of his, the car was buried because of the muddy ground, and that burying the car and then putting dirt on top of it aided recovery efforts. He says they would not and could not figuratively “bury” this story, so they wouldn’t try. He concludes, “That is how he [the unnamed “comrade”] explained this [the cars being buried]. As to whether you believe it or not…anyway, I believe it.”

The Global Times also ran an editorial on the crash:

China’s high-speed railway system has become the newest target of public criticism, although it reportedly stands on the cusp of joining the world’s best in the field. The society harshly criticizes the railway system whenever there is an accident. The authorities’ only option is to accept such criticism.

The collision delivered a strong shock to China’s social psychology, and caused doubt toward the nation’s railway construction plans. For a long time, China has been lagging behind in transportation. Now China is rising to the top level for railways.

However, the nation lacks experience when joining these ranks, and when an accident does happen, society naturally holds many misgivings.

Railway departments have to face up to public inquiries and doubts frankly and bravely. This is a responsible attitude to take for both public security and their own credibility. Top chiefs at the Shanghai Railway Bureau were dismissed yesterday, a correct step that the ministry took to ensure accountability for the accident.

China lags behind advanced countries in overall social management. This enhances the risks that China has to face as it develops a leading railway system. Railway departments should always keep this in mind. Besides owning reliable technologies and detailed management stipulations, they should also be able to lead the world in applying these elements. This is where public worries are focused, and where railway departments may find it difficult to improve.

All those responsible for the deadly crash should be exposed and punished. Nevertheless, the accident should not serve to fully negate China’s rail accomplishments. The rapid expansion of China’s high-speed railway network has brought huge benefits to the nation’s economic growth and social progress. Reflections upon the severe accident should lead to safer, not slower, railway transportation.

It is time for China to lead the world in certain fields. Such exploration is always accompanied by risks, as made evident throughout the history of transportation. China should take warnings from previous disasters. China’s high-speed railways should be a miracle not only in their speed and scale, but also in safety and all other fields.

The deadly crash on Saturday should become a bloody lesson for the entire railway industry in China. It should become a starting point for safer railway standards. The public should continue their attention and criticism and push authorities to respond quickly and fix problems. Nevertheless, people ought to make rational judgments.

The accident should promote the nation to develop a safer and more convenient high-speed railway network, rather than pull it back to the era of sluggish rail traffic.

The tone here seems to be that China is blazing a new trail, and some bumps are inevitable along the way. Given, however, that high speed rail has existed and been running totally safely for decades in France and Japan, among other places, this argument seems unlikely to sway many people.

Information Control

At the same time, the Ministry of Truth Directives Google Plus account has released more leaked propaganda directives relating to the crash, as sent to reporters and shared on Sina Weibo:

In addition to the directive we translated yesterday, here are two additional paragraphs:

To Central Media: Regarding the Wenzhou crash, the newest requirements: 1) Use the deaths and casualty numbers reported by authorities; they are correct 2) Do not report too frequently 3) Report more moving stories, such as people donating blood or taxi drivers not taking fares from victims, etc. 4) Do not investigate the cause of the accident, use the information reported by authorities 5) Do not do “re-thinking” or commentary.

Propaganda Notice: The name of the Wenzhou accident will be the “The 7.23 Wenzhou Line Railway Accident”. From now on, use the headline “Great love in the face of great tragedy” to report on this incident. Do not doubt, reveal, or make associations, and to not retweet things on your personal Weibo accounts. In [TV] programs you can provide the relevant information, but be careful of the music.

Public Response

The public, however, has not been in the mood to forgive anyone. A user-created poll on Weibo asking people their opinion of the way the accident has been handled has already accrued over 25,000 55,000 responses, and they are not good:

Are you satisfied with the way the Chinese government has handled the Wenzhou accident?

  • Very dissastisfied, [the government has] simply shown disrespect for human life. – 93%, 25,796 51,779 votes
  • Dissatisfied, the emergency response has been poor. – 4%, 1,077 2,003 votes
  • Decent, it’s been about average, they saved a few people – 1%, 351 592 votes
  • Satisfied, but I’m just satisfied with the way our countrymen saved themselves [i.e., satisfied with the people’s response but not the government’s] – 2%, 450 855 votes
  • Satisfied, the government is doing a good job. – 1%, 151 290 votes

Another poll on Weibo asked people whether they felt the disaster was “natural” [in this case, they just mean unavoidable] or man-made. 98% — nearly 18,000 voters so far — chose “man-made.”

Part of the reason people are so dissatisfied is videos like this (h/t to Shanghaiist). The government stated yesterday morning that all bodies and passengers had been recovered from the wreckage, but this video clearly shows a body falling out of a train car at around 0:09 as they’re moving it a body being removed from the wreckage. There may or may not also be something, perhaps a body, falling out of the car as it’s topped, but on review it’s not clear what that is. (WARNING: DISTURBING)


Additionally, there were reports yesterday that a surviving four-year-old was pulled out of the wreckage around 4:00 PM, well after the government had said that all survivors had been accounted for (state media reported on Sunday at 4 A.M. and then again at 7 A.M. that all survivors had been found). UPDATE: Here is a link to a story about this from the AP. The Xinhua report on this same story cites the girl’s age as 2 years 8 months, though. For the moment it’s unclear who is right or which system of measuring age they’re using ((The Chinese traditional way of counting one’s age is not as simple as the way age is counted in the West, and it’s possible the AP and Xinhua are working with different numbers because of that.))

The train crash remains the hottest topic on Weibo, with a general discussion of the crash ranking first and another topic dedicated to helping people find their loved ones in second.

Suspicions also remain that the death toll is higher than announced, and people are sharing images like this one, of a Japanese news site that reports 43 people were killed:

Some tech-saavy netizens are also using Google Documents (blocked in China) to try to put together a list of the victims that includes name, sex, age, other info, and links to the relevant media reports. You can see the document here; it is being continuously updated. As of now, they have information on 21 of the victims.

We’ll try to keep this post updated as new information emerges.

Death on the High Speed Rail

UPDATE 6: Added information about the firing of three railway officials to the “Government Response” section.

UPDATE 5: Added a new report from Caixin to the “Government Response” section that offers an alternative theory for the cause of the accident.

UPDATE 4: Added translation of a survivor’s story as posted on Douban.

UPDATE 3: Added significant new information to “Government Response” section.

UPDATE 2: Section headings added, “Government Response” and “Burying the Cars” sections and content added.

UPDATE 1: Additional netizen comments and translation of propaganda directive added.

We haven’t covered it much here, but China’s high speed rail has been a contentious issue for some time now. The opening of the Beijing-Shanghai line on July 1 brought the issue to the forefront again, and it stayed there when a series of weather-related power failures caused high-profile delays and stoppages in numerous high speed trains both on and off the Beijing-Shanghai line. If you missed this, China Media Project has done an excellent job covering it, and you can read that coverage in sequential order here, here, and here, as well as many smaller notes on their newswire.

For some perspective, here are some comments CMP translated after the first incident, a power-failure that caused an hourlong delay on the Beijing-Shanghai line. These comments come from Sina Weibo, and to my recollection they could be fairly considered indicative of the general mood on Weibo at that time:

“And they call it the safest rail in the world,” said user “turan kongjian” (突然空闲).

“The facts clearly show that the talk of being the safest is just hot air,” said user “yinbao xiaoxiong” (尹抱小熊), responding to another user who wrote: “Strange! This should be investigated! We should hold those responsible to account according to the law!”

“I’m sure this is just the beginning,” said user “jackie51″.

“How tragic is fast-food-style China!” bemoaned “yiguogudu_ye.”

“Taking an airplane is a lot safer. I’d rather wait in the airport, at least it’s safe,” said user “cha’ersicao” (查尔斯曹).

In light of today’s news (and in Chinese) that a horrific high-speed rail collision in Wenzhou has killed at least 35 people and injured over 200, comments like those take on a special significance. What caused the crash last night in Wenzhou? Power failure.

Specifically, one train (D3115) was struck by lightning and lost power. Stopped on the track, it was then impacted by the train behind it (D301) on the same track. The trains were apparently not in communication with each other because despite operating on the same tracks, they were administered by two different railway bureaus. D3115 was administered by the Shanghai Railway Bureau, and D301 by the Nanchang Railway Bureau.

This might seem like a freak accident, but actually, trains being struck by lightning is not an irregular occurrence. In fact, it’s so common that a train going in the other direction was also stopped by lightning last night, according to Xinhua ((Xinhua has since updated their report to remove mention of the second train. Here’s what the article originally said: “In the opposite direction, high-speed train D3212 from southeastern city of Xiamen to Hangzhou was also stopped by lightning at about 8 p.m. Saturday. No passenger was injured, said Liu Jiwei who was on board.”)). In that case, no one was injured.

Anyway, this accident raises some very obvious questions:

  1. Weren’t the half-dozen or more power failures over the last two weeks enough to indicate that power failures caused by lightning were a serious problem on these trains? Even one failure was enough to make regular people start questioning the safety of the trains, as evidenced above. After numerous incidents, it was patently obvious even to a casual observer. So what were railway officials thinking?
  2. Why not stop the trains until the issue can be fixed? Of course, logistically speaking, this would lead to even more cramped conditions on regular trains and on planes, and probably also significant financial losses for the railway operators in question. Of course, the relevant officials had already said that they were working hard to fix the power issues that have been plaguing CHina’s high speed trains. But could stopping the trains for a few weeks to fix the issue have done as much damage to China’s high-speed rail system as this accident has done?
  3. Why are trains that operate on the same track administered by different railway bureaus? There’s no way around this one, that’s just stupid. If they had been administered by the same bureau, presumably, the train in the back would have gotten word of the stoppage ahead, and instead of a tragic, bloody accident this could have been just another power-failure delay story, and all those passengers would still be alive.

Other high speed rail lines don’t seem to have these problems. France’s TGV, for example, has not suffered a single fatality since it began operation in 1981. Japan’s Shinkansen, which has been in operation since 1964, has also never had a death with the exception of one passenger who got caught in the train’s closing doors ((If nothing else, I suppose this accident in China will once and for all dispel the rumors that China copied their high-speed train from Japan’s.)). Of course, China is a much larger country than Japan or France, but China’s rail lines are also much newer.

This is accident is a tragedy, and yet I find that my primary response to it is anger. Accidents in general are unavoidable, and they happen everywhere. But this accident was entirely avoidable, and in fact, railway authorities were given ample warning that something like this could happen over the last several weeks. Ultimately, poor design and construction mixed with bureaucratic lethargy and stupidity has murdered thirty-five people. This is an “accident” in only the loosest sense of the word. Those people would still be alive if railway authorities had taken the design and construction of the trains more seriously, or alternately, if they had listened to the warnings coming from all areas of society over the past few weeks and stopped the operation of high speed trains until the obviously serious problems could be fixed.

Netizen Comments

As you might expect, comments are pouring in on Sina Weibo, where this news is already a trending topic. Here are some thoughts from netizens on Weibo in the wake of this tragedy:

“I’m very curious to see how this accident will be reported on CCTV News this evening. Will it still be mostly reports about leaders meeting with whoever and then a few seconds on the accident, with the closer ‘the cause of the accident is still under investigation’?” (link)

“God, the Wenzhou accident…I no longer dare to ride high speed trains.” (link)

“When I saw the news of the high speed rail crash today, I had a very strange feeling. I wish the injured a speedy recovery, you must be strong, and trust the Party.” (link)

“That a big accident happened is tragic. That people are showing great love [to the victims] is laudable. But if they say this big accident was a ‘natural disaster’, that will be despicable.” (link)

“I wish the dead peace. At this moment my heart is heavy; I am disappointed and angry. I don’t know what to say. Was this just an accident, or are there safety issues with high speed rail itself? Is this the result of the massive expenditure on this face-maintaining construction? ((The implication here is that the high speed rail was built as much to “gain face” for China and the officials behind it as it was to create an actual method of transportation.)) What a great nation needs is true strength, not just a shiny facade. And now we’re playing with the people’s lives as if it were a joke? My great motherland, what is the matter with you???????” (link)

“The railway minister should be required to resign his post immediately; don’t go blaming lightning for this incident, the one who should be blamed most is you!” (link)

“All the rumors on Weibo are being deleted; Chinese government just fucking go die. Not allowing freedom of speech, distorting the truth, who would fucking believe only thirty people died? All those cars you destroyed and hid only contain thirty bodies?” (link)

The above comment is referring to rumors on Weibo and elsewhere that government officials quickly destroyed and buried several train cars that may have contained more bodies. As of this writing, those reports are unconfirmed, and I haven’t seen any direct evidence, but I have seen mention of this in several different places. Melissa Chan, the China correspondent for Al-Jazeera, is in Wenzhou and has said via Twitter that locals on the scene are also convinced the death toll is higher than what’s being reported in the press.

[The first part of this comment is translated from a Japanese comment also made on Weibo]: “Compared to people’s lives, the Chinese government cares more about its own glory, this is the quality of Chinese products. Japan’s trains were in a 9.0 earthquake and yet not a single car derailed and all safely stopped. China can only copy the outside, they can’t steal the real technology.” Tragic. (link)

“Why do they want to bury it? Just heedlessly not protecting the scene of the accident? At least take away some of the parts and make a museum for the accident as a warning to future Railway Ministries, that would be enough wouldn’t it? Burying the high-speed train is just burying the truth.” (link)

One response that we missed was translated by the China Media Project, but it bears repeating here. Keep an eye on CMP’s newswire as they will no doubt also be following this story closely.

“When a country is corrupt to the point that a single lightning strike can cause a train crash, the passing of a truck can collapse a bridge, and drinking a few bags of milk powder can cause kidney stones, none of us are exempted. China today is a train traveling through a lightning storm. None of us are spectators; all of us are passengers.” (link)

Information Control

There is a lot of anger and suspicion about this accident on Weibo, where it has already become the #1 trending topic. Who knows how long it will stay there, though. The “Ministry of Truth” (a.k.a. the Central Propaganda Department) has already sent out this notification, according to the China Digital Times (our translation, though):

Central Propaganda Department Notification: With regards to the Wenzhou train accident, all media must speedily report whatever information is released by the Railway Ministry. No media may send reporters to report [on the accident]. Carefully manage all newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do not connect it to information about the development of high speed rail [in China], do not do “re-thinking”-type reports [i.e., analytical reports]

Government Response

It is perhaps only fair to note what the government’s response to this tragedy has been. Vice premier Zhang Dejiang has rushed to the scene. Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao apparently have better things to do, but they did call for “all-out efforts to rescue passengers” and told rescue teams “to make rescue work a priority.” ((A priority? What on earth are the other priorities, then?))

The government has also suspended 23 trains in the wake of the accident. Given that there are more than 23 high speed trains that pass through Hangzhou on the way to Wenzhou alone, I can’t help but feel that the scope of this effort is too small, and of course, it’s too late. Problems were very evident before the accident, and the government should not have waited for a tragedy to act.

The government has also apparently begun to move to distance itself from the accident. This report, for example, states that the accident was not a result of the train’s high speed (China’s claims to have built a faster high speed train than Japan have attracted critics who have suggested that safety was sacrificed to attain this speed advantage). It also says that the cars involved were a “relatively mature design, and were not of Chinese original design.” Further reports have officials pointing out that this train was actually a joint venture with Japan.

Of course, suggestions that China’s high speed trains had been copied from other countries were ludicrous, offensive, and slanderous a few days ago. Now, however, it seems that same criticism may be being accepted in order to absolve China from as much of the blame as possible.

An alternative take on the cause of the crash is also taking shape. This afternoon, Caixin posted this report, an interview with academic Wang Mengshu in which he suggests that the crash may have been caused by a driver error:

Wang Mengshu said that in the course of driving, if a train in front stops, an automatic system should notify the train behind it via [radio] signal. “The system works so that within 6 km, if there are no cars, you can drive as usual. A light goes off if there is a train within 4 km, warning to slow down, and inside 2km there is a red light that says [the driver] should stop the train.”

Wang Mengshu said that currently, due to the urgent situation of high speed rails ((any thoughts on how best to translate this?)), the automatic system hasn’t yet been realized in high speed trains, so driving still relies primarily people, and a driver’s judgement is still a major factor in the driving of high speed trains

Though the article implies otherwise, it seems to me that without this automatic system in place, it’s unclear what fault the drivers would have. As the trains were administered by two different Railway Bureaus, it remains unclear whether they could even communicate directly; it is also unclear what effect the loss of power might have had on the front train’s communication systems.

Anyway, heads are already rolling in official circles. The Shanghai Railway Bureau’s three highest officials were all canned today (Sunday) and according to the China Daily, they may be under investigation as well.

Burying the Train Cars

As mentioned above, rumors are flying thick that the government is burying some of the crashed cars, possibly with bodies still inside. There’s little evidence of bodies, but at the moment, independent paike videos of digging machines that appear to be positioning the train cars for burial are available on Youku and elsewhere (thanks to @SirSteven on Twitter for this tip).

Here is a video from Youku that’s been uploaded to Youtube (just in case the original is deleted). It certainly shows machines moving the train cars around, and the title implies that they’re being buried, but that’s not immediately clear in the footage itself.

This video, also linked above, is quite similar, but at the end several locals are interviewed who also suggest the cars are being buried with bodies inside. The video is hosted on a Chinese site and thus subject to deletion; I’m trying to download a copy to preserve it and if I can, will the upload that copy here.

A Survivor’s Story

Someone claiming to be a survivor of the accident wrote this post on Douban (via @hecaitou and @niubi). Here is a partial translation:

During the trip, the train stopped, and the radio announced that it was because of the weather, and that the train would be stopped temporarily. Everyone understood, and with a few grumbles, we waited patiently. If there’s a delay, then there’s a delay, safety first! (Outside it was there was very heavy rain and lightning). After we’d waited quite some time, the train began to move again. At around 8:35 PM, there was an extremely strong shockwave, as though we’d been struck by something three times. Terror. The seat behind me was smashed crooked, but luckily the luggage was in a box or anyway didn’t swing down, otherwise the results could have been terrible. Children in the car cried loudly. At first, I just thought it was a small accident, and that after a short stop we would continue on our way. Then, all the power went out, and all that was left were the yellow emergency lights. When we discovered the floor of the car was at an angle, everyone panicked.

I was in car 6, and outside it was just black, you couldn’t see anything. They said, we’re in a mountain tunnel. In this spot in the middle of nowhere, we definitely couldn’t wait to be rescued. Some people began taking photos and posting on Weibo, others called their friends and family to explain the situation. A few passengers from the car ahead came in and yelled “Young people come help! People are injured!” Only then did I know there had been a serious accident. I listened to the guy say that the train had derailed, and in back some cars had fallen off the track. We were trapped inside, and people said we should escape ourselves, a few said we should stay put and wait for a rescue team, that leaving ourselves would not be good and that the Railway Ministry would organize a rescue team. So we sat and waited for a while.

Lightning continued and lit up the sky, allowing us to see the situation outside. The car I was in was in the mouth of a tunnel on an elevated spot of the tracks. I could see houses of a small town in the distance, and a ceaseless flow of lights from police cars. Many other people from the car had already gone out and were walking around the edge of the tunnel. The whole process was unorganized; I never saw a single train attendant or anyone from the Railway Ministry. The entire process was us to organizing ourselves.

[…After some time, I reached the exit, and with the help of an older man, was lowered down, as there was nearly a meter drop and I was wearing high heels]. There were many good-hearted people, everyone was helping others and supporting others. [We walked through several dangerous areas, including a spot with live electrical wires, and I could not help but cry. Eventually we were met by some local villagers who helped]. It was truly a very difficult road. My shoes were totally covered in mud.

Finally we got to solid ground. Under the overpass were people upon people. There were weary-eyed travelers with luggage, worried-looking locals who came to see what had happened, and bare-armed local youths who were going to rescue the injured people. I had survived a disaster.

[I stopped in a local supermarket and met with many other survivors there, as well as a kindly manager]. Nearly everyone who stopped here told incredible heart-rending stories about their experiences in their cars. There was a fat man, covered in mud, who said he was on car 15 (or maybe 16) and of their car only six people got out. I saw locals or officials carrying people away on a stretcher; among them were a twenty-year-old in short skirt who wasn’t moving at all, and a middle aged person drenched in blood. Seeing this, I was very sad and began to cry again.

[The cars that were hit hardest were 14 and 15, or maybe 15 and 16. Anyway, first-class cars. I had been going to get first class; my mother sent a text saying dad was going to buy me a ticket, but I got in touch before he had bought it and said don’t bother, just buy a regular ticket, it’s just a short trip. If I hadn’t done that, perhaps it would have been me lying on the stretcher, unmoving, or covered in blood.]

The rest is just an account of her getting a cab and general stuff about feelings, but the post ends with this worthwhile post-script:

This morning I saw a TV station report that said that there are three kinds of people who will need psychological help: The first is the victims, the second is their families, and the third is the doctors and rescurers. How could they forget about the witnesses, those who but for the grace of God could have been victims? We have also been hurt psychologically. I still have not recovered; when I close my eyes, all I can see is last night. My heart hurts. Can this world be a little safer? Can we not have any more disasters?

Today Belongs to Deng Wendi

Deng Wendi’s rapid reaction to defend her husband Rupert Murdoch against an attacker carrying a pie of shaving foam during a Commons hearing into the News of the World phone hacking scandal has catapulted her to the middle of a global media frenzy, which echoes far back to China. “Tiger mother” and “guardian angel” are just some of the toasts assigned to Deng by China’s online community.

Most importantly, it makes Chinese people believe in real love again. Or at least, this is what prominent Chinese blogger Hecaitou said in his blog post written shortly after Deng’s affectionate defence of her husband, translated in full below.

Hecaitou: Today belongs to Deng Wendi

Today no doubt belongs to Deng Wendi. In the [phone hacking scandal] hearing held during the early hours of Beijing, a man unexpectedly appeared to try to attack Rupert Murdoch with a plate full of shaving cream. After about two seconds in shock, Deng Wendi, former Xuzhou volleyball player and wife of Murdoch, pounced from her seat to deliver a punch to the man, and then fell to the ground together with her opponent.

Unusually, the Chinese Central Television (CCTV) broadcast live the hearing happening at the other end of Eurasia, and demonstrated rare concern about the fate of News Corporation. Chinese audience could not immediately view the above scene, as the TV did not show it at the moment. As they eagerly anticipated, video clips from Sky and CNN started to appear on Youtube, and they were rapidly shared on Twitter and Google Plus. Deng Wendi got all the limelight. Even news of Google and Apple reaching a deal allowing Google Plus to be available for free download in Apple Stores could not match Deng’s news. People replayed her actions again and again, concentrating on how the woman in bright pink jacket jumped from the crowd to deliver her hit.

At first, people were shocked and unable to comment. Someone whispered: oh, Deng is the real bodyguard for Murdoch. Another replied: I hope one day I will have a wife like Deng. Marital relationship is the first focus emerging from the discussion, and public feelings about family, husband and wife were aroused, opening a floodgate of tenderness on the Internet. Many people think that Deng’s love towards Murdoch is real. Her knee-jerk reaction speaks volume. But previous attitude of Chinese people towards Deng is not like that.

In the Chinese dictionary, Deng Wendi means ambitions, opportunism and achieving the goal using whatever means. People don’t like that. Her existence gives a lot of pressure to people nearby. Even thinking about such kind of person is near you will give you a feeling of being threatened. Legends and gossips about Deng Wendi fill all kinds of magazines and newspapers. Too many people know better about the life path of Deng Wendi than Deng herself. People discuss with enthusiasm how Deng began from lowly origins to become an overseas student, and then finally become the wife of a tycoon. People can never forget the story of Deng getting pregnant using Murdoch’s frozen sperms, and they also worry about the fate of the children of Murdoch’s ex-wife. The common understanding is that Murdoch is only the strongest springboard Deng Wendi could ever dream of to achieve her life goals. She loves no one but herself, like a female tarantula.

Now everything has changed. That ambitious and forever climbing woman showed the courage and anger a wife should have. Public opinion begins to soften. Especially when clips of her standing by her husband in his 80s, counter striking the protester, are being endlessly replayed. People start to talk about the duties between husband and wife, and whether true love really exists in the world. They praise Deng generously: “A Chinese woman saves capitalism”. Or mix that with a bit of nationalism: “Deng let the world knows Chinese Kung Fu”. And finally, that overused idiomatic style: “Get a wife like Deng Wendi”. A news event has turned into an entertainment event. People have forgotten about Murdoch. The keyword is: Deng Wendi defends her husband. Because of Deng Wendi, a hearing going on in far-away England has turned into a piece of local entertainment news.

But not everyone is emotional. Rational voice could still be heard amid all these gossips. Hong Kong media worker Luo Qiping commented: “This is the difference between a second wife and the natural children. The latter are natural; the former requires hard work. If she demonstrates the same courage in the bid to save News Corporation, then things may change.” Netizen Calon is even more rational. He has this to say: “A wife’s kung fu is like the personal gun of the leader. If you need to use it, it just reflects the hopelessness of the situation.” Deng’s decisive blow did nothing to save the gradual demise of Murdoch and his News Corporation. The judgment day is approaching, and everything must be paid back. However, because we are human beings, we cannot control our emotions with rationality all the time. After Deng’s strike, the share price of News Corporation reached the highest level of the day, closing at US$15.8, a rise of 5.61%. It seems that even the most rational of investors have shown their emotional side.

Conspiracy theorists say that Deng Wendi hired that man. “To ensure her inheritance, what things will she not do?” Perhaps different versions of the story will soon be written – what the tabloids under Murdoch are doing all day long. However, people will only choose what they want to hear. In the prevailing version, Deng Wendi is affectionate about Murdoch, and all husbands should sign up Taekwondo classes for their wives.

Intentionally or unintentionally, Deng Wendi has defended feelings that people cherish. No matter what happens to Murdoch and the News Corporation, today belongs to Deng Wendi.

Elections with Chinese Characteristics

Since late May this year, some 30 Chinese citizens have announced their intentions to run for the local People’s Congress elections this year. This candidacy wave has burst into nation-wide enthusiasm, not least because many of them announced their candidacy on Weibo, which means their campaigns will be followed by people throughout China. Prominent intellectuals and figures, including Han Han and Yu Jianrong, have openly declared their support.

This is not the first time that independent candidates have run. Famously, Yao Lifa won a seat in the local People’s Congress of Qianjiang in Hubei in 1998, and lawyer Xu Zhiyong did the same in his Beijing district in 2003. But they are rare cases of success. Already, officials have interpreted the laws to their own advantage, suggesting that certain bureaucratic hurdles need to be overcome for independent candidates. This was what the National People’s Congress Legal Affairs Committee said on 8 June:

In the county and village level People’s Congress elections, only parties, people’s organizations and voters can legally nominate ‘representative candidates’, who will then be confirmed as ‘official representative candidates’ after discussions, consultations or pre-selections. There is no such thing as ‘independent candidates’. ‘Independent candidates’ have no legal basis.

How far these candidates can go remain uncertain, as the Communist Party is applying various tactics to rein them in. Three independent candidates, Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua, all from the city of Xinyu, received various kinds of harassment from the local government ever since they announced their candidacy, and prior to their being disqualified for the election in late June. Another candidate, Shanghai businessman Xia Shang, was visited by the Ministry of State Security this month, and had his two companies selected for tax audit. A prominent candidate, media worker Li Chengping, also had his Internet service to his home cut off earlier this month.

In China, direct elections are restricted at county and township level People’s Congresses. In principle, everyone can run for elections. But in practice, most candidates are nominated by the Communist Party or official election committees. Independent candidates often face many significant hurdles and official interventions which undermine their electoral fortunes. This could range from official denouncements, banning of media reports on local elections, official and quasi-official intimidation and inducements targeted at voters, to manipulation and fraud at the ballot boxes.

Hu Ping, a New-York based democracy advocate, has recently written an article describing the realities of elections with Chinese characteristics. He himself belonged to the candidacy wave which prevailed in early 1980s, a by-gone era of a more relaxed political atmosphere. In 1980, as a philosophy student at Peking University, he was elected as a people’s delegate in China’s first local People’s Congress elections conducted under the then newly-in-force Election law. Sadly, some thirty years later, he still sees little progress in China’s migration towards elections of any real meanings.

Hu Ping: Better Call Them ‘Self-Nominated’ Candidates

Elections for local People’s Congresses in China are approaching. The appearance of “independent candidates” has sparked much heated debates.

The word “independent candidate” originates from elections under a democratic system. It refers to candidates who are not affiliated with any political parties. Democracy, usually described as party politics, is essentially competition for public duties. In order to win elections, you can be an independent candidate, but a better way is to utilize the resources of an organization. Therefore, people with different political stances form different parties, and put up their own candidates. Election then becomes a competition between parties. However, there are also some contestants who do not belong to any parties. We call them independent candidates.

China is a one-party authoritarian state. People are stripped of their rights to form parties and organizations. Therefore, there is no inter-party competition in Chinese elections. In the local level People’s Congress elections, the so-called nominated candidates from parties and people’s organizations are in fact candidates endorsed by the Communist Party. But even the Communist Party thinks that it does not look good if local level People’s Congress elections are tightly controlled. Hence, apart from candidates nominated by the party, a person with the recommendations of ten or more voters can also become a candidate.

According to the Election Law, the number of candidates recommended by a party cannot exceed the number of seats in that district. Furthermore, to ensure that the election is competitive, the number of candidates should exceed the number of seats by one third to double the amount. That is, if there are two seats in a district, there should be three to four candidates. As the party can only put forward at most two candidates, the remaining one or two candidates would have to be recommended by voters. There are nearly one million election districts in the whole of China, and over two million local People’s Congress representatives. Theoretically, there would also be over two million candidates who are nominated by voters.

In some districts, for example Beijing, there are specific regulations which stipulate that party-nominated candidates cannot exceed 20% of the number of seats. In such districts, the election results are usually moderated at a 20:80 ratio. In fact, in the two local People’s Congress elections held in Beijing in 2003 and 2006, party candidates did not get 20% of the seats, while voter-recommended candidates got more than 80%.

If we describe candidates nominated by voters as independent candidates, can we say that independent candidates achieve landslide victories in these elections because the Communist Party got less than 20% of the seats?

The answer is no. This is because the so-called voter-nominated candidates are in fact controlled by the Communist Party. Technically speaking, the government will divide voters into groups, and appoint a leader in each group. The leader will then chair meetings which select candidates, who will then go on and secure the required number of voter recommendations. It goes without saying that these candidates are trusted by the government, and most of them are Communist Party members. For example, in the Beijing local People’s Congress elections in 2003 and 2006, over 70% of elected candidates endorsed by voters are party members.

How about the “independent candidates” that we are all paying attention to? The important thing is not whether they are nominated by voters, but that they volunteer as candidates by themselves, and then secure enough voter nominations. They are neither official candidates, nor being recommended, but are self-nominated. It is on this point that they break the official control of the election, either in public or secret.

In other words, the so-called voter-nominated candidates can be classified into two types: one is being recommended, in fact appointed officially; the other is self-nominated. It is the latter type which is causing the controversy, and which the government is most afraid of.

Lei Tao from the Beijing Academy of Social Science’s Center of Sociology has written a book called The Logic of Participation, which tracks the behavior and participation of Beijing voters in elections. The book discusses the various names for self-nominated candidates: “independent candidates”, “people-nominated candidates”, and “self-nominated candidates”. The author thinks that the description “independent” is only relative to party-nominated candidates; “people-nominated” also fails to describe the nature of these candidates. He insists on using the term “self-nominated candidates”. I think Lei’s conclusion is logical. Let’s call them “self-nominated candidates”.

Of course, this term also has its own problems. It may cause confusions for people outside mainland China: “self-nominated candidates”? Could there be candidates who are not self-nominated? In democratic societies, even party-nominated candidates have to first declare by themselves their intention to stand for the election.

This is a so-called “Chinese characteristic”. In mainland China, most candidates in different levels of People’s Congress are not self-nominated, but recommended by someone else, mostly party leaders. In the eyes of the leaders, self-nomination is a kind of heresy. From this point, we can see how far away Communist China is from real elections.


the lawAs usual, there have been some allegations about my integrity in the wake of my failure to update this post to reflect the arrest of Wang Zhonggui on Wednesday. The reason for my silence was actually more closely related to a last-second freelance assignment that was followed immediately by a particularly brutal cold which I’m still getting over.

Anyway, yes, Wang Zhonggui was arrested on Wednesday (this article says Thursday, but I believe that is incorrect). This is good, I guess, but it was inevitable. Let’s review the timeline, shall we?

  • May 17, 2011 – Wang Zhonggui allegedly rapes Zhou.
  • May 18, 2011 – Zhou reports to the police that she was raped, the police essentially tell her not to press the issue.
  • Late May 2011 – Police allegedly investigate, state there is not enough evidence to charge Wang.
  • Early July 2011 – The case starts to gain attention on Weibo and elsewhere on the net
  • July 12, 2011 – The case is reported in the mainstream Chinese media
  • July 13, 2011 – Wang Zhonggui is arrested.

I am not a big believer in coincidences. Obviously, Wang was arrested because the local government was tired of taking heat and wanted to look like they were doing something about the case now that people (other than the rape victim and her family) were actually paying attention. To me, that just confirms that this case really is as bad as it seemed at first; the police decision to arrest or not arrest Wang obviously had nothing to do with the evidence discovered at the scene.

Given the evidence described in the original article, I am fairly certain that the police have arrested the right man. Time will tell whether or not anything will come of this arrest, but at least police are taking the case seriously. Or rather, taking public anger about the case seriously.

But why wasn’t he arrested after the crime was reported and police conducted their first investigation? They found ample physical evidence of sexual activity, and given that even their own men were present at the scene when she was essentially ordered to get drunk with her boss, it’s hard to imagine how there “wasn’t enough evidence” to at least detain Wang for a few days for questioning. Hell, they detained Ai Weiwei for two months for alleged tax evasion, and that was a week before they even started investigating!

What changed between May 18 and July 13? The evidence was the same. The witnesses were all there from the get-go. The only thing that changed was the cost-benefit analysis for the government. In May, it appeared that locking up Wang would do little to benefit the government or the Party. It would be an embarrassment, and since Zhou was a nobody with no political connections, there was no reason to arrest Wang if the evidence could be presented in such a way as to suggest the possibility of his innocence. And if Zhou really got angry, well, probably they could convince her to settle things privately, and quietly, with cash. That calculation changed when the media attention came, though. In July, it makes more sense for them to arrest Wang. With the nation’s eyes on them, it’s more embarrassing to let him walk than it is to bring him in late and pretend that’s what you were doing all along.

There was plenty of evidence to arrest Wang from the get-go. If they really thought he was innocent, they wouldn’t have arrested him on Wednesday. His belated arrest proves that local governments and the police department can respond to pressure from society and from the media, but what good is that? The media cannot be China’s police, and neither can the masses on Weibo. They may have won a “victory” here, but how many defeats evade their eyes? This sort of thing is not a freak accident, and though Wang eventually was arrested, many others remain free (and Wang may well be freed once the media’s attention has turned elsewhere).

For example: several months ago, we heard from a connection about a women whose child was kidnapped who wanted to speak with the media. Her story was worse than most — she had made a stink about it with the police in her local area, who were very annoyed by her constant demands they find her child, and finally, one of the police officers raped her. She reported this to local police at several levels, but nothing happened. For a brief moment, she was looking for media coverage of her story — this was how we found out about it — but she quickly changed her mind, deciding she’d suffered enough and a media firestorm wasn’t likely to do much more than bring more anger down on her head from the police and local officials.

China watchers will of course also remember the Deng Yujiao incident, another case of someone in a position of power attempting rape. That case gained attention only because Deng managed to kill the rapist; how many Dengs or Zhous are there out there who are raped and don’t go to the police, or take the police’s advice to heart when they’re told to keep their mouths shut? Or even who don’t keep their mouths shut but can’t get attention in the current media environment?

I’m happy for Zhou that her attacker has been arrested, and I hope that he stays in prison for a long time. But it’s not exactly time to celebrate. This case is just yet another piece of evidence that China’s justice system serves not the people but the government and the Party. And even if justice is served from time to time, it’s the right result for the wrong reason.