Coal Mining in China By The Numbers

This morning I came across this story on Twitter about China’s most recent coal mining disaster, with forty miners trapped. Coal mining accidents are common here, so common in fact that this is not even the first major accident of this month. A cave-in in Henan trapped 45 miners underground a few days ago, although luckily thanks to a daring rescue only eight people died.

That and the ensuing discussion led me to this post, which cites that between 2001-2011, 47,676 coal miners died in accidents in China. That number is striking, especially given that few among us is likely to be able to recall many of the specifics or details of any of these mining disasters.

As an experiment in comparisons, I decided to try to create an infographic that compared the death toll from coal mining accidents in China over the last decade to events that, at least for Westerners, probably stick more solidly in our memories.

Now, a few disclaimers:

  • Yes, obviously I am aware that coal mining accidents are not the same as any of the other events I use here, for a plethora of reasons. This is a comparison of relative numbers, period.
  • I’m not an expert in coal mining or disasters, but I understand this is getting better, although obviously not nearly fast enough.
  • Shut up, I’m not a graphic designer, and I did this on a computer without Photoshop!
  • If you’re going to repost this, please at least link to ChinaGeeks!


Puts things in a slightly different perspective, doesn’t it? Somehow, we glaze over these mine accidents, but something tells me if there had been 1,288 Ted Bendys running around over the past decade, we’d be pretty aware of that.

UPDATE: A way better infographic on coal mining in China.

0 thoughts on “Coal Mining in China By The Numbers”

  1. In a distant past when I worked for state media here in China, we would hear about these events seemingly every week. What was really remarkable to me at the time (especially when I first moved to China) was how the newsroom would respond to these events.

    Especially, at the 10:00am and 4:00pm budget meetings – where editors decide what goes where and what goes at all/what gets cut: If less than 20 people weren’t killed or trapped it wouldn’t even make the paper, unless it was a real slow news day. Editors would glaze over the information with apathetic desensitized expressions.

    When it happens every week — its not really “new.” Unless of course, people were saved … then it might warrant a mention in a brief.

    I think the actual number of deaths that are reported (both in the media and out) when it comes to mining accidents could be so far off, the reported number becomes just a placeholder.


  2. Yeah, but they also have mining accidents in America, so what’s all the fuss about?

    Added bonus for pro-CCP trolling:

    – Find whether there was any foreign involvement in any of the mine disasters. Unfortunately this is kind of different as China’s main coal companies all appear to be SOEs, and China is a net importer of coal nowadays, but maybe you can blame this on foreign equipment?

    – Point out that the coal is being burned to produce power for factories making stuff for export. Therefore foreigners are responsible.

    – Bloviate about relative stages of development, the economic necessity of roughly 0.4% of China’s coalmining workforce dying in accidents per year (20,000 estimated yearly deaths for a workforce of 5,000,000).

    – Talk about India, even though India’s mines are actually far safer (~100 fatalities per year 2000-2004 v. a 600,000-strong workforce).

    – Try to play it off that this is a good thing.

    – Accuse the OP of racism.

    – And, if all else fail, resort to intentionally misreading other people’s comments and replying with illogical nonsense.


  3. Plus, Custer, you really need to work on your localisation a bit more. Let me help you out:

    ” . . that’s about equivalent to any of these:

    – 15 Tiananmen Square massacres

    – 52 SARS epidemics

    – Anything from one to 50 year’s-worth of Chinese state executions

    – 158 Burnings of the Summer Palace

    – 241 Urumqi uprisings

    – 594 2008 Tibetan Uprisings”


  4. Sobering stuff. As Jonah suggests, I guess it is such a sad but routine occurrence that Chinese people have long been desensitized to it, unless it was a true disaster and not just one of these garden-variety ones.

    Nice Thermopylae reference. Haven’t seen that in quite some time.

    I think foarp has covered most of the eventualities. But somehow, I doubt that and your disclaimer will adequately discourage the usual suspects.


  5. A few years ago, I spoke to a US mine safety official involved in cooperative projects with China to reduce the carnage. He said that places like Pennsylvania and West Virginia produced the same grim headlines you see from China 100 years ago and had similar factors: rural poverty, uneducated male miners with few options, and corrupt mine owners who cut corners on safety.


  6. @SKC.Desensitized???? That still indicates a degree of empathy, when in fact we are talking about distinct parallel universes.

    Feudal rural wage slaves versus comfortable urbanites who undertake the annual name brand shopping expedition os.


  7. To KT,
    I’d like to think that there would be some empathy for a fellow human being losing their life all in the name of putting food on the table, let alone a countryman. It would be a sad state of affairs if Chinese urbanites weren’t even capable of that, and I’d like to give them the benefit of doubt.


  8. @SKC I would like to think so also, by my brutal realism above is pretty well the reality without the crocodile tears.

    It’s a pretty Hobbesian world out there.

    Empathy. Forget it.

    Greed, lust, gluttony and name brand western products are the ruling urban virtues. And for those who can afford it, a western passport.

    I wouldn’t bet the farm on an early judgement day, but you never know. Who would have predicted the Arab Spring two years ago.

    Anyway, I’m quite certain that there are really pissed off farmers etc out there, quietly sharpening their farm implements and nursing cold hatred in their hearts. I leave the outcome to your imagination, even if it will be localised, sporadic and without direction or platform.

    Chickens, pigs and a hop step to hated local cadres. Once you cut one you are doomed anyway, so you might as well go for the Rwanda solution.


  9. You’re right, never would’ve predicted the whole jasmine stuff. In some ways, pitting urbanite vs rural farmer is somewhat reminiscent of the whole occupy 99 vs 1 bit, though of course the math doesn’t work out quite as conveniently.


  10. I was imprecise, so lets clarify. I said parallel universes and was not suggesting some urban-rural type conflict. I suspect urban China will hang with the Party, but who knows.

    And I was definitely not thinking about the Wall Street thingy moving to the Middle Kingdom.

    I was envisioning a peasant jacquerie in the more aggrieved rural areas. If you are looking for historical examples, think about what took place in rural Russia after 1917 or rural France after 1789. Lots of burning and looting, inchoate destruction and general mayhem. No real political agenda or coordination across regions. Strictly localised cutting down of Party cadres and their cronies. Burn the beemer, loot selective properties-type of thing.

    It is easy to talk of future domestic conflict in Sino land: it is much harder to specify its shape or form. Most people operate with a total conflict model covering every part of the social formation. Such an approach is beyond hopeless and deserves all the derision directed at it.


  11. C Custer,

    One thing you didn’t point out is that while there are many people died every year due to coal mining accidents, number of deaths is actually decreasing while the coal production is increasing. Many of the deaths are due to underground mining which is cheaper, but unsafe. Some of the large scale mining used in China today are open pit mines which is safer, but it requires more heavy machinery. Perhaps within a few years more of these mines will use machinery will be used and deaths will be reduced even more.


  12. @ Pugster:

    You really are a piece of work. Allow me to direct your attention to the second of my disclaimers. I can see how you missed it, seeing as it’s in a nicely formatted list and the words “a few disclaimers” are in bold!

    I’m not an expert in coal mining or disasters, but I understand this is getting better, although obviously not nearly fast enough.

    Just to be safe, I’ll repeat that again with some bold emphasis for you:

    I’m not an expert in coal mining or disasters, but I understand this is getting better, although obviously not nearly fast enough.

    Like I said, things are getting better, but not fast enough. There have been two major accidents this month that I know of, and that’s just from browsing the Western press, so I assume there have likely been additional smaller accidents at least. (Say what you will about the biased Western media, but they gloss over these accidents as much as anyone else, because you sort of have to, otherwise you’d just be writing the same story every day).

    One of my favorite regulations the government has ever introduced, at least in principle, was the one that required coal bosses to go down into their own mines. Of course they haven’t been capable of enforcing it in any real way, but I thought it was a pretty clever idea in theory, at least.


  13. Of course, these statistics only feature deaths caused by accidents, and do not include deaths due to black lung, lung cancer etc. There’s also the strong suspicion that the official stats are rigged.

    Actually, even the 20,000 figure is only an estimate of the number of accidental deaths produced from figures provided by officials.


  14. To foarp,
    One also wonders about Chinese deaths from lung disease in general, given the advent of phenomena like “Beijing fog”, which is an example of how not all fog is created equal. Beijing authorities also say cute things like “the time is not ripe” for the general public to be informed of levels of small particulate pollution, the type of thing that the monitoring station atop the US embassy measures but which Chinese authorities would rather not hear about. I guess that’s understandable. There is probably no good time to tell your citizens that the air they breathe is akin to sucking on an exhaust pipe.


  15. No use of debating with C Custer because the only thing he seems to want to talk about is the 47676 people died over the last 11 years.


  16. Ah gee Pug. At least Custer was diplomatic enough not to mention those numerous instances of coalmine worker slavery/employment of disabled/stolen etc.

    Have a happy day.


  17. “No use of debating with C Custer because the only thing he seems to want to talk about is the 47676 people died over the last 11 years.”

    Yeah, I mean, it’s not like we’re commenting under a post on that subject, on his own website, are we? And anyway, who gives a rat’s ass about a bunch of miners being crush/suffocated/drowned to death?

    PS – Pro-tip: 2011-2001 = 10


  18. Dear pug,
    Lol. What is the only thing you want to talk about? That it is getting better s…l…o…w…l…y…? You should really pay better attention to disclaimers. They’re there for a reason. And if you don’t like how Custer debates, I can think of one extremely effective solution for you, considering that this is his blog and all. Can you think of what that solution might be? Oh, if only we’d be lucky enough for you to figure that out.


  19. @S.K. Cheung

    I think if the government would actually acknowledge how bad the air pollution really is it would cause a run on air purifiers (which of course need even more energy).
    Still, I can’t help but think that people in Beijing are pretty stupid when it comes to this. People give me extra-funny looks when I wear my mask. You can’t see the buildings you saw yesterday buddy, that should give you some hint that wearing a mask is a good idea..


  20. To Ben,
    Speaking of air purifiers, the central party honchos have those bad boys fired up around the clock. I guess they deserve cleaner air than the average Zhou. And of course it’s that beautiful paternalistic attitude they like so much. It’s better for the people to not know how crappy the situation is. After all, the Ccp knows best.


  21. I hadn’t heard about the air purifiers – anyone got a link? If it’s true, it’s as least as bad as the leadership-only organic farms. Maybe worse.

    I mention black lung because I come from a mining area where there was a lot of it about, and even now nearly all the mines have been closed down for decades there still is a lot of it about. Of course, the National Union of Miners, under the leadership of Arthur Scargill (who now is a star member of the British Stalinist Association), opposed modernisation that would have made the mines safer. They then managed to totally screw the miners over by taking a huge slice out of the compensation funds for sick and injured miners.


  22. 47,676 is about one third of gun related murders in the US in the past decade. It is approx. one tenth of civilian deaths in Iraq since American invasion in 2003. It is also about 3% of civilians killed by American forces in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war.

    As for air-purifiers for Chinese officials, it is just another example of elite privileges. It is same thing in every country. The super-rich in America see their private doctors anytime they want, while the mid class and poor people die because they cannot afford the medical care they need. The corporation elites enjoy relatively “healthy” and “high grade” prostitutes in their corporation parties at stockholder’s expense, while the mid class and poor contract STD and HIV from “low grade” hookers all the times. Actually, the mortality and morbidity rates are stratified according to socioeconomic status in every country.

    In China, the life expectancy keeps raising and infant mortality keeps dropping. They are comparable to other countries with similar socioeconomic status. The effects of pollution have been greatly exaggerated by Western media. As China develops, more and more money and resources will be spent on healthcare, public safety, and pollution control and clean up. The situation in China simply improves overtime.


  23. Oh, here we go again. More comparisons. So tell me, do those comparisons mean that the Chinese coal mining industry is doing just fine in terms of its safety record? If not, then how do those comparisons contribute to the topic at hand?

    The elite do have privileges, no doubt. But it’s unusual for those privileges to extend to the air they breathe. Doctors and health care might be a reasonable comparison in terms of rights in the broad sense ( ie right to breathe clean air vs right to good health care). But hookers? Seriously? You’re comparing access to hookers with access to clean air? You guys have funny wiring in your brains.

    Life expectancy has improved greatly, partly because it was starting from such a low point previously. And the effects of pollution take years if not decades to manifest itself in terms of chronic diseases. So the reckoning for current pollution issues in china will not be known for a very long time. I’m also not sure how one “exaggerates” small particulate levels in Beijing. But to each his own.


  24. Next time a group of Chinese miners get trapped underground by an explosion, instead of sending rescue squads and food and water, just comfort them by recounting statistics from the Vietnam War so they understand how fortunate they are.


  25. @ scl:

    47,676 is about one third of gun related murders in the US in the past decade. It is approx. one tenth of civilian deaths in Iraq since American invasion in 2003. It is also about 3% of civilians killed by American forces in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war.

    I’m sure the coal miners will be happy to hear that safety in their mines sucks because as long as the US has, at some point in history, done something that killed more people, there’s no need to worry about whatever safety issues might exist. Great point….

    Also, couldn’t you have made your point without ridiculous exaggeration? For example, your “3%” Vietnam number is, I assume, based on the civilian deaths estimated in the 1990s by the Vietnamese government. But that number is of total civilian deaths, including those caused by NVA/VC, South Vietnamese troops, Chinese troops, etc.

    This is not to say that the US didn’t cause a massive number of civilian deaths. I’m just saying, if you’re going to make a dumb comparison that ignores the point of the original article, at least be straightforward with your stats instead of intentionally trying to mislead people (which I can only assume is what you’re doing, unless you were under the impression that only Americans are capable of causing civilian casualties).


  26. In China, the life expectancy keeps raising and infant mortality keeps dropping. They are comparable to other countries with similar socioeconomic status. The effects of pollution have been greatly exaggerated by Western media. As China develops, more and more money and resources will be spent on healthcare, public safety, and pollution control and clean up. The situation in China simply improves overtime.

    Would love to hear what you think, specifically, has been exaggerated by the Western media. Or see some third-party evidence that things are getting better.

    Life expectancy is obviously going to rise when the economy improves. But China’s life expectancy is actually rising more slowly than it should be given the speed of its economic growth. For example, in the last decade, life expectancy in China did grow, but it grew more slowly than Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Korea, and Sudan (for example). Developing countries and developed countries both outpaced it for growth. Why? Lots of reasons, but low safety standards is one, and pollution is another.

    The real effects of pollution on mortality rates likely won’t kick in for another few decades, though. When the children who were raised from birth in hyper-polluted cities start hitting middle age and older, I have a feeling we’re going to start seeing some pretty ridiculous cancer rates as well as the expected respiratory issues.

    You can say I’m wrong all you want, but you might want to look at the numbers first. China’s life expectancy has certainly increased since the 改革开放 but so has it’s cancer rate (even the People’s Daily says it’s increased by 80%, lord knows what the real number is).


  27. Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sudan started at a lower base than China, while South Korean is much richer than China. None of them are strictly comparable to China. As for the long term effects of pollution, we can look at the situation in Shanghai. Shanghai is the oldies industrial city of China. Presumably the population has been subject to pollution the longest. Yet life expectancy in Shanghai is about 82 years, and infant mortality rate is relative low at 2.9 per 1000 live births (average was 5 in OECD countries in 2008). Although the long term effects of pollution is certainly bad, how bad it will be is difficult to estimate. On the other hand, how bad it is now should be reflected in infant mortality rate. At least in Shanghai, it is not that bad so far.

    As for civilian deaths in Vietnam and bordering countries, agent orange alone was estimated to cause half million deaths.


    Good thing you are not a Chinese mine rescuer. None would survive if you were one.


  28. “Presumably the population has been subject to pollution the longest. ”
    —do you have any basis for this presumption? Cuz being industrialized the longest doesn’t mean shanghai residents have been exposed to the most intense levels of pollution in china. Even if we restrict the discussion to air pollutants, they become hazardous only above a certain concentration. That concentration is reached and exceeded not only based on duration of activity, but intensity of activity. Ultimately, if you want to float the bizarre suggestion that shanghai pollution has been safe for shanghai people, you need to provide figures of just how much pollution shanghai has been exposed to. And how it compares to what people in Beijing are sucking on now. And not just the sanitized government numbers, you’d even need the numbers that are supposedly not yet ripe for public consumption.

    If you acknowledge that long term effects are difficult to estimate, then on what basis do you say that they’ve been exaggerated?


  29. Look, the happy and sexually fulfilled citizens of tubbyland have caught the Beijng and Shanghai weather reports in the past week and, given a choice, we are now applying for Albanian visas for our xmas holidays.

    However you look at it, PRC air quality is beyond shyte.

    Cough your guts out, companeros.

    Whatever your income band, you are heading towards total infertility and cancer of the colon.

    You are also producing retard offspring and forget about the retirement super scheme.

    I walk out on the verandah. Gentle breeze, no traffic noise and the smell of the neighbours flowers. Unadulterated nature versus chemical soup, stale perspiration and collar grime.


  30. @S.K. Cheung,

    I did not say Western media exaggerated the long term effects of pollution. But they do talk like China will never control and eventually reduce pollutions. As for Shanghai government fudging numbers, there are life and medical insurance companies selling policies to Shanghai residents. Any sane person in the government would not dare to make some numbers that are significantly different from those in the actuarial tables.


  31. “I did not say Western media exaggerated the long term effects of pollution”
    — ” The effects of pollution have been greatly exaggerated by Western media ” (scl nov 14 0700hrs). I will let you reconsider that one yourself.

    China had yet to show a willingness and the ability to control and reduce emissions. If and when she does do, then perhaps she can expect to be given credit for same.

    I am not sure how government “official ” numbers have anything to do with actuarial tables used by bean counters in insurance companies. I doubt actuary data is much of a deterrent to local officials striving to make themselves look good by fudging numbers. And I don’t imagine insurance companies challenging government numbers is a good business model in china. At the very least, they run the risk of being charged with tax evasion. Who needs that, right?


  32. Indeed, the number of casualties in Chinese mining industry is catastrophic.
    But if we judge from figures – there seems to be a clear improvement in the overall safety.
    Since the beginning of 2011 there were “just” 468 deaths + 163 missing (possibly also dead) which makes it 631 overall.

    Anyway, here is a site where I try to collect the reports about mining accidents in China for this year –>


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s