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.

0 thoughts on “Death on the High Speed Rail, Day 2”

  1. Great line fm. the Global Times: “China lags behind advanced countries in overall social management.” You think? Also, “All those responsible for the deadly crash should be exposed and punished.” If that were to happen they’d have to first approve a multi-party system, since everyone right up to Hu and the Standing Committee would end up “exposed and punished.” Frank Zappa stated it most succinctly: “One day everyone of those cocksuckers will get caught.” [Stinkfoot, fm Make a Jazz Noise Here]. Call me an optimist, but I believe that exposure will someday actually happen, and that even the Chinese twisted version of history will have to come clean on just how nasty the first 62 years has been. These guys might have barrels of money, but skeletons in the closet eventually make more noise when they finally start walking around.


  2. I can’t say I’m convinced we can “clearly” see a body falling. Something fell, for sure, but it’s hard for me to say with any certainty what it was. How are you so sure?


  3. To me, it clearly has a human shape, enough that I can’t imagine what else it could be. Also, the title of the video mentions “finding another dead body,” and I assume the original uploader was looking at the (presumably) much clearer and higher fidelty original video. It is still a bit of an assumption though; I will change that wording the next time I update.


  4. The “Ministry of Truth’s” instructions on how the media should report this accident is the only real and correct news I have read so far.


  5. Yeah, have to say that it could be anything falling from the train. Whatever fell would have landed just behind or on top of the car lying on the ground – but more to the point there is no reaction from the people watching.


  6. @ FOARP: There’s a scream when the “body” falls, or so it sounds like to me…

    Anyway, if you keep watching there’s clearly a body pulled out of somewhere later in the video, so I’ve edited the post to reflect that and took out the bit about there clearly being a falling body at 0:09


  7. Hey Charles – you might be better informed about this, but I heard another rumour today that the reason the death toll is rigidly stuck at 35 is because if it rises any higher, then a kind of disaster ‘classification’ system means that some senior officials need to lose their jobs. Don’t know how true that is, it comes from a Chinese friend here in Fuzhou, I haven’t checked it.


  8. The information control stuff is priceless.

    The HSR is taking China to the next level, and they are in a league of their own. That also means they’re not in league with France and Japan yet.


  9. There are too many reasons (just to start: the problems on the Shanghai-Beijing line and Li Zhijun) to think that this has been a normal “accident”. China has too often too many problems with the buildings, roads and trains they have just built. There are obviously problems with the materials they use, the people in charge and the use of money.

    And yeah, people are really really pissed on Sina Weibo.


  10. @ westiseast: I haven’t heard that, and I’d be very surprised if there was some hard-and-fast rule about when officials need to get fired. I don’t know for sure though.


  11. Has the video been edited? Because I was trying to see a falling body at 00:09 but the video suddenly makes a jump and I can´t see anything falling at all (aside from the train)?


  12. To read the comments on Sina Weibo on events like this is to see how poorly served the Chinese nation is by the nationalistic commenters who dominate Chinese responses on English comment boards of leading Western media outlets and blogs.


  13. @Slim – I’ve been spending some time on the Huanqiu page looking at comment after comment gloating over the massacre and bombing in Norway (“This person is excellent! Must give him a Nobel Prize!” and so forth). What you say is true, but it is not the whole truth.


  14. Watching the press conference was annoying as all hell. Real questions could have been asked, real pressure could have been put on ensuring an open investigation. Instead, thanks to endless retarded rumors, that’s pretty much all that was asked and all that was addressed.

    Fuck facts about what exactly caused this and putting pressure on ensuring it never happens again, lets talk about foreigner payouts, burying trains and getting belongings back. And then you wonder why the government prefers to squash rumors from flying around… in a country of 1.3 billion, even if a tiny mentally challenged percentage believes them, it creates a problem.


  15. @Slim – I’ve been spending some time on the Huanqiu page looking at comment after comment gloating over the massacre and bombing in Norway (“This person is excellent! Must give him a Nobel Prize!” and so forth). What you say is true, but it is not the whole truth.

    And I’ve been reading comments on 2CH full of schadenfreude over the deaths. What’s your point?


  16. @Keisaat – If 2CH was a major government-owned website which operates a strict censorship policy, you might have more of a point. It’s rather like comparing a bunch of commenters on to 4Chan’s /b/


  17. The list of named dead is now up to 38 so far on that document. Awkward.

    I know, right? “Awkward” is the perfect and most humane word to describe a rising death toll.


  18. To keisaat:

    Why is it that types like you can’t read and/ or integrate context. The toll rising to 38 is awkward based on the suggestion by westiseast that 35 is the threshold above which heads will roll. (although that suggestion itself is as yet unsubstantiated).

    Reading comprehension. Not that hard when you put your mind to it.


  19. To foarp:

    These people are advanced pavlovian test subjects.

    Nobels go to people we don’t like. Therefore we will hate on nobels. Thus we will hate on nobel’s host country. Naturally we will hate on citizens of said country. Consequently we will celebrate when innocent citizens of that country are killed by a lunatic.


  20. I’ve just heard the same thing about the 35 dead threshold. Apparently beyond that, someone at the mayoral level needs to get the axe, but like the others who’ve said it, I haven’t confirmed anything. Apparently, there were lots of other accidents in the past, all of which had the same suspiciously low death toll. The death toll here seems especially low for a high speed train going hundreds of kilometers per hour to be slamming into a stationary object of approximately equal mass.


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