Tag Archives: china/divide

Coal Mining Accidents, Corruption, and Complacency

If you’re not aware of the massive flaws inherent in China’s coal mining industry, it’s probably because coal mining accidents are so ubiquitous here that many people (including the media) just tune them out. I had been intending to write something about this for some time when I stumbled across this post by Zhao Shilong addressing the issue with more statistical depth and background information than I ever could have brought to bear.


“There’s been a coal mining accident in XX, several dozen people are dead. Do you want to send someone to investigate it?”

“Only a several dozen dead? It’s not big enough news, don’t bother.”

The above sentence is something I heard someone who holds a high position in the actually say once.

But we can’t just look at that sentence and condemn the cold-heartedness of the news media. There really are too many mining disasters, so many that if the number of people killed doesn’t reach a hundred, the story doesn’t interest anyone anymore. It’s been over a hundred years since the United States had a coal mining disaster in which more than a hundred people died, but for us, at most we go a year between accidents where at least one hundred die, and sometimes there are several such accidents in a single year.

A famous weekly publication in Beijing once had a debate about whether to continue reporting on coal mining disasters at all, because from their perspective, aside from the time, place, casualty numbers, and a few other details, the causes and the general story of each accident could just be copied and pasted from one story to the next.

Last week, a coal mining accident occurred in the United States, in West Virginia, and 29 people died. The US President Obama made an announcement to the country, reading a list of the names of each person who died and conveying the entire nation’s grief. This accident was their first in several decades; the last coal mining accident in West Virginia, which was in 1984, left 13 people dead.

Obama said ((I am translating his words from the Chinese, as I was unable to quickly track down a transcript of his speech at the miners’ memorial service.)), “these miners represented the best of America. Our nation cannot tolerate people losing their lives just for doing their jobs. We cannot bring back the 29 lives that were lost, so our duty here is to make sure that this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen again.”

Obama said, “I cannot accept that the lives of coal miners is just one of the prices of the mining industry.”

These words shows why America is why America is great and powerful, and why people want to go there.

America is second only to China in the world in coal mining. Because of this respect for life, in recent years, the mortality rate for every billion tons of coal produced in the US is consistently under 0.03%. Conversely, China is a “double champion”, boasting the highest overall number of coal mining deaths in the world and the highest coal mining death rate proportionally. Of the major coal mining accidents in the world (accidents where more than ten people die), 90% occur in China.

Since 2000, China has lost at least a thousand coal miners every year. In between 2002 and 2004, the number of deaths per year climbed above 6000, 200 times the number in the US for the same time period. In 2009, China lost 2630 coal miners, 77 times more than the US. In the long term, China’s output only amounts for 35% of the world’s coal, but China has 80% of the world’s coal mining deaths. Every year four times the number of coal miners die in China as die in the entire rest of the word combined. It’s clear there is a huge problem in management, stemming largely from the collaboration of government and commercial interests [that leads to] corruption and incompetence.

Pushed into a corner, the government came out with the “tied-together” system ((a State Council regulation passed on July 7th of this year.)), which requires officials and management level employers to go down into the mines with workers on a regular basis. But in the past month an accident occurred and the people have discovered that the “tied-together” system isn’t strong enough to hold down these slippery officials, who, without exception, are still completely safe.


Zhao is right, in that it’s difficult to blame the media for not constantly reporting stories that, in essence, are the same thing. And I admit that when I see a headline about coal mining, my eyes often drift away before I even get to the lede — it is a story that we all have read before.

Of course, boredom doesn’t excuse complacency in the face of what might be described as institutionalized disaster. The accident statistics Zhao lays out in his article are evidence enough that the lives of these miners are considered part of the cost of industry, and it seems clear that no one — not the government, not the media, and not us, either — cares all that much about it.

Of course, the State Council did just pass the “tied-together” regulation in early July, but as Zhao says, it hasn’t really had any effect. No officials or high-level management have died in a coal mining accident. Why not? The answer is probably pretty simple: they’re not actually following the regulation and going into the mines at all. Our ChinaGeeks Chinese editor explained it quite nicely with a Chinese idiom: 天高皇帝远. “Heaven is high up, and the emperor is far away.” In other words, the State Council can’t physically be there to force anyone into the mines. And without being forced, how many corrupt officials and wealthy businessmen do you think are going to voluntarily put themselves deep underground in a place that’s dirty, dangerous, and full of poor people?

Stan Abrams wrote a piece on china/divide some time ago called “Why Doesn’t China Respect Life” in which he concluded that these disasters ((He was talking about the melamine scandal, etc., but the logic also applies to coal mining.)) are the products of capitalism excess. He’s almost certainly right. The Yanzhou Coal Mining Co., for example, is one of the top 50 Chinese companies listed in US stock exchanges in terms of highest profit margins. There is money to be made in the coal business. Cutting corners is dangerous, but it saves money, which increases profit. And what’s the worst that can happen. When a disaster happens, as long as you only lose a few dozen miners, it’s “no harm no foul” as far as most people in China are concerned.

The government is never going to be able to force corrupt officials and businessmen into the mines, but it does have tight enough control of business that strict regulations might be able to reset the scales such that cutting corners when it comes to mining safety was no longer profitable. And going at these mining companies via business regulations allows the government to circumvent the legal system which, let’s face it, often isn’t up to the challenge of taking on corrupt local officials and businessmen.

My feeling — and keep in mind that I know almost nothing about business, so this is really just idle thought — is that these regulations should be completely ruthless, and coupled with a small but expert team of government scientists dispatched to investigate major coal mining accidents. If this team finds the accident to have been the result of negligence or incompetence on the part of management, the company should be fined. The fine should be something absolutely crippling regardless of the company’s size or strength. Perhaps for each miner killed, the company should have to pay the equivalent of 1.5% of their yearly total income (not profit). This money can go towards compensation for the families of the miners who were killed, and to pay the scientists on the government inspection teams huge salaries so that they’re difficult for local officials and businessmen to bribe. It’s not perfect, but without a real court system or a way of actually enforcing the new State Council regulations, I doubt there is a perfect way to approach this crisis.

If nothing else, it would certainly shake up the mining industry a bit, as an accident with 30 miners lost would cost a company 45% of their yearly income. Many of these companies have been making large profits for years, and could probably continue to operate through a few disasters; one hopes that by the time their mountains of profits began to run dry, they might have begun to implement some of the safety standards that make American coal mines so (comparatively) safe.

But, like I said, I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination on coal mining or government business regulation. So how can China actually fix this coal mining problem? I leave that to you, and I hope people will pick up the question in the comments section below.

Of course, what the government does is well beyond out control. As people, we can only fight our complacency when it comes to these disasters, and try to see each one for what it really is, not just another headline but a tragedy leaves families shattered and young lives extinguished. And, more often than not, a tragedy that could have been prevented if the companies involved cared a little more about life and a little less about profit.

The Truth About Foreigners

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One way or another, many of you were probably aware of the survey for foreigners I constructed over on china/divide. Thanks to links from several different places, the survey has already attracted quite a bit of attention and I think it may be time to try to analyze the results and draw some conclusions.

First, though, we must be clear on what this survey is not. It is not in any way, shape, or form scientific, and it would not hold up to the standards of a real demographic survey of China’s foreign residents. Since it was conducted on the internet, it is possible that people manipulated the results by hacking (although there is no evidence of this having happened), and, as always, it is possible, nay, likely, that at least some people lied in answering the questions. However, the survey was completely anonymous, so there was no real motivation to lie in this case. Additionally, there’s the fact that by conducting this on the internet, and specifically on websites focused on China, the audience for the survey was somewhat self-selecting and probably isn’t a wholly accurate cross-section of China’s foreign population.

Also in the interest of full disclosure, I personally have a vested interest in the belief that all foreigners are not lechers, given than I am about to move back to China and that my fiancee is Chinese.

That said, the results of the survey are still valuable, even if they aren’t really scientific. As I noted in my introduction, many of us suspect that stereotypes about China’s foreign population are untrue, but our evidence is inevitably anecdotal in nature and easily brushed aside. But the survey results reflect the collective experiences of hundreds of in-China expats. It provides a little solid data about a demographic that is often generalized about but largely ignored when it comes time to conduct actual research (later this year, China will count foreigners for the first time ever in its census). It is not, certainly, a smoking gun, but perhaps it is a first step in understanding the expat, one of China’s most esoteric creatures.

Number of Respondents

People were free to pick and choose how many questions they answered, and some questions allow more than one answer per person, which makes counting the number of overall participants difficult. Most questions received more than 350 votes, placing the probable number of respondents somewhere between 350 and 450.

Education Background and Work Experience

In contrast to widespread stereotypes that most foreigners come to China because they’re incapable of finding work at home, or have somehow “failed” in their own countries and hope to succeed in China, the vast majority of foreigners reported a high level of success in education and indicated they felt they could find jobs at home without much trouble if they needed to. 87.2% had graduated from college with a B.A. or B.S., and over 40% reported having done significant graduate work, including earning M.A.s and Ph.Ds. When responding to the hypothetical “If you went home tomorrow, could you find a decent job in your home country?”, 60% said they could, and another 31.4% said they “probably” could.

Most foreigners (39%) said they worked for foreign companies, but many also reported that they were students (19%), English teachers (17%), or members of the media (10%).

Reasons for Coming to China

Despite the belief among some Chinese that foreigners come to China to prey on Chinese women, or because they are fleeing something at home, when the respondents were given a list of reasons and asked to select those that influenced their decision to come to China, “yellow fever”, home problems, and failure to find work accounted for a very small percentage of the votes, accruing just 6%, 2%, and 3%, respectively. Instead, foreigners reported that they came to China for “a change of pace/adventure” (21%), because of interest in Chinese culture and history (19%), because of China’s economy (14%), and to study (13%).

Experience in China

Lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan once told me that foreigners are treated to all kinds of favoritism under Chinese law, but the vast majority of foreigners (69%) reported that they way they were treated by Chinese people depended on the situation, and said that sometimes they felt disrespected by Chinese, but other times, they felt as though Chinese were giving them more respect than they gave their countrymen. 33% of foreigners said they had “encountered prejudice based on [their] race or nationality” in China, and 37% said they had encountered favoritism. (For this question, respondents could select both answers if they felt both applied).

Sexual Experiences and Perceptions of Marriage (General)

Overall, foreigners reported a wide and fairly even range of sexual experience levels. Over the course of their lives to date, 16% of males reported having had 0-1 sexual partner, 20% of men had had 2-4 partners, 16% had 4-7, 16% had 8-15 partners, 14% had 15-30 partners, and 18% had had more than 30 sexual partners. Women reported very similarly spread numbers, with no one option eclipsing 20% of the vote. This confirms that the average foreigner in China has at least some sexual experience, but whether or not they have more experience than the average Chinese person is difficult to determine.

Asked about their attitudes toward marriage and divorce, 35% of foreigners said that marriage “is for life”. 21% said that divorce was permissible in the event of a major problem, such as infidelity or a conflict involving children, and 38.7% said that divorce was permissible if the two parties no longer loved each other. 4.6% said they thought everyone should get divorced, so perhaps 4.6 is our margin of error.

Sexual Experiences and Marriage with Regards to Chinese Men/Women

Foreigners have long been viewed by some Chinese people as lecherous creeps. Foreign men, in particular, have been charged with a great many crimes against Chinese women in the court of public opinion, but our survey responses show that these attitudes may be unfair. When asked whether they respected Chinese women as much as women from their own countries, 81% responded yes, and 12% said that they weren’t sure or that it was difficult for them to assess themselves. Only 8% said they respected Chinese women less.

When asked what percentage of their sexual partners to date were Chinese, very few men responded that they dated Chinese women exclusively. In fact, most men reported (41%) that only between 0 % and 15% of their past sexual partners were Chinese. Another 27% said that between 15 and 50% of their past sexual partners were Chinese, and only 12% reported that they had only ever slept with Chinese women. This flies in the face of stereotypical perceptions that foreigners come to China because they “cannot get women” in their home countries or have otherwise “struck out” with non-Chinese women. Additionally, 57% of men reported that they were not, on average, more attracted to Chinese women than to women of their own race.

75% of foreign men said they would “seriously consider” marrying a Chinese girl, despite the omnipresent “foreigners are playboys who don’t take relationships seriously” stereotype.

Foreign women reported that, in general, they had not been in relationships with Chinese men before (71%) and had never had sex with a Chinese man before (69%). Interestingly, when asked to what degree they are attracted to Chinese men, many women (36%) said that they aren’t more or less attracted to Chinese men than they are to men of their own race. But 24% said they were not as physically attracted to Chinese men as they were to other men, and 26% said that they found Chinese men’s cultural habits or general behavior unattractive.

Still, 57% of women said they would seriously consider marrying a Chinese man.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey results seem to contradict popular stereotypes about foreigners in China. There are, of course, legitimate questions to be asked about the legitimacy of the collection method and the possibility of voting fraud, but if nothing else, the survey provides a much larger sample size to draw from than most of us can find in our daily lives. Whether you believe the results reflect the entire foreign population or not, it’s clear that at least for a significant segment of it, the Chinese popular wisdom on foreigners and interracial relations is just plain wrong.

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World Domination, Part 4 of 5: china/divide

Frequent readers of this site (or ChinaSMACK or CNReviews) may be aware that I am slowly attempting to take over the planet via writing on China blogs. Today, I inch one step closer to eventual (and inevitable) dominion over all with the announcement of a new China group blog: china/divide.

china/divide is a group analysis and commentary blog that currently features Stan Abrams (of China Hearsay), Kai Pan (of CNReviews), and me. It will also — like every site I write for — feature original translations.

Why another China blog? My friends, you have got the question all wrong. This is not another China blog, this is the China blog, and the fun part is, we want you to come along for the ride. We want to pool the talent of the China blogosphere to create a one-stop site for anyone who is looking to try to bridge the gap — the divide, if you will — between China and the West (see what I did there?).

So if you write a great blog on China, expect to be hearing from us once the site gets built up a little bit, because we want you on the team. If you don’t, but you’ve always wanted to, get in touch with one (or all) of us and let us know. We want you on the team, too. Having read my history, I know that world domination is only fun when you do it with the right people, so come join us, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son!

Whoops, got sidetracked there.

Anyway, please add the site to your bookmarks and RSS readers, and check back frequently because we’ll be updating it daily. Also pass it on to your friends and readers via your own blogs, Twitter, carrier pigeon, etc., and we will be very grateful. There’s going to be some great stuff on there, so be excited. Also, feel free to add the china/divide Twitter, which will announce all new posts like some kind of robotic herald.

(And read it on the real internet, not an RSS reader. Kai has put a ton of time into the design and there’s some really cool stuff in there that will make itself known once we have a few more posts under our belt)

What does this mean for ChinaGeeks?

In short, nothing. This blog will continue to run as usual, and hopefully you won’t even notice the difference. I may occasionally point you in the direction of especially good china/divide pieces, but the two sites remain separate and will have different content. ChinaGeeks continues to grow in terms of traffic and visibility and will be here, I hope, for many years to come.

The ChinaGeeks Twitter will probably also announce my pieces on china/divide just as it announces my translations on CNReviews and ChinaSMACK.

As for the next, and possibly final part of my plan for world domination? That, my friends, you’ll just have to wait and see.