China's grief turns to anger over poorly built schools

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The Independent Online

A week after the earthquake that struck Sichuan province, sorrow is turning to anger for many of the survivors, particularly the parents of children who died in poorly constructed schools.

In Wufu village, Mianzhu, a grieving father points angrily at what used to be Fuxing No 2 Primary School, a pile of rubble surrounded by slightly damaged administrative buildings. Trainers and schoolbags are sticking out of the wreckage or lying around the site.

Jiang Xujun puts down the picture of his 10-year-old son Yao briefly to rub the mortar around the bricks; it crumbles easily. "Look at this! A natural disaster I could understand, I could live with. But this was negligence. Only dust was holding this building together."

China entered a second day of mourning for the 40,000 confirmed dead, with the final toll expected to rise above 70,000. A particularly harrowing aspect has been the number of children who died; nearly 7,000 classrooms were destroyed, and the government has promised to investigate why so many collapsed. The quake struck at 2.28pm, when many students have an afternoon nap.

The parents of the scores of children, aged between 10 and 13, who died in Fuxing No 2 Primary School are gathered at the gate, amid large floral wreaths. The names of the dead are written in blood on a banner beside the rubble. And the parents are furious.

"The construction was bad," says Jiang Yiqing. "My daughter Lanlan's 11th birthday was coming up soon. We found the body on the day of the quake; my mother was injured but we had to rush to help the children. We lifted a heavy slab and found the bodies."

Beside her, Ma Ying, mother of 11-year-old Jing Xingbo, says: "They were best friends. I found my boy's body the next day at noon. He was a good boy, a very diligent student. These were our only children. We are desperate; what will we do now? Why are these offices still standing?"

We are surrounded by weeping, angry people with more photographs. "We counted 127 dead children, [but] there were 300 in the school," one father says. "This building is at least 20 years old, and we always knew it was bad. Our kids would be alive today if this building had been properly built."

Most of the community are farmers and most of the dead were single children of the one-child policy, another source of sorrow.

The problem is that many schools were built quickly during China's meteoric economic rise, feeding an insatiable need for education as the rural poor try to educate their children out of poverty.