China's media makes rare show of defiance after rail crash cover-up

 

Beijing

Leading chinese newspapers have criticised the official handling of a fatal bullet-train crash, in an unprecedented act of defiance of a government ban on negative coverage of the disaster.

The Communist Party on Friday ordered newspapers to avoid all mention of the crash on 23 July that killed 40 people, except for "positive news or information released by the authorities", after the country's leadership was slated for its attempts to cover up the disaster. The edict forced some newspapers to tear up their coverage and replace it with cartoons and unrelated stories.

But in a sign of the increasing failure of central control – and reflecting a sense of outrage that has swept online forums – prominent newspapers yesterday risked censure to ignore the edict and run stories that raised safety fears over China's swift industrialisation.

The Economic Observer, a highly respected business weekly, published an eight-page special on the crash, featuring a bleak photograph of the wrecked train overlain with a blood-red logo of the Railways Ministry. The headline – "No miracles in Wenzhou" – referred to the discovery of a two-year-old child in the wreckage, 21 hours after the accident which killed the parents and after the rescue effort had been called off. A ministry official had described the rescue as a "miracle".

Other coverage carefully disguised its critical tone. The Beijing News ran a story on its front page about the breakage at the Palace Museum in Beijing of a piece of pottery from the Song Dynasty. Its coded message was clear: the bowl broke into six pieces – six train carriages were derailed in Wenzhou in China's worst rail accident – and the museum accident happened because data was incorrectly entered by a technician. The Palace Museum was "very distressed" by the incident – and denied a cover-up after the news was announced days late.

The report ran above a photograph headlined "China's Speed", which shows Chinese swimmer Sun Yuan breaking the world record at the World Championships in Shanghai, but which could also be read as a comment on the high- speed rail obsession at government level.

The ban on negative coverage came after Premier Wen Jiabao visited Wenzhou to pledge transparency and openness, promising to punish those responsible. The Propaganda Ministry issued a statement to the media banning coverage, but the online anger and media criticism continue.

"The party's information management system is broken," said Kerry Brown, head of the Asia Programme at Chatham House, the international affairs think-tank. "In an era of revolution in information technology, we are seeing a central state strategy that has fallen by the wayside."

There were similar outpourings of anger after events such as the poisoning of infant milk formula in 2008, but this time the outrage is being vented on the popular Weibo microblog service, where the rail crash was the top trending story.

Normally cowed by censors, the media has been voracious in its criticism of the government response. The crash dominated the front pages last week, with much of the coverage of strongly critical of the government's attempts to boost economic advance at all costs, including those of consumer safety.

Even the ruling Communist Party's official organ, the People's Daily, said China did not need GDP growth that was smeared with blood.

Challenges to the party

The Economic Observer occupies the role of the Financial Times in China, a weighty paper with a business-bent.

For it to focus so closely on the Wenzhou high-speed rail disaster – the section inside featured a train ticket stained with blood – is a sign of how deeply this event has unsettled people in China.

On the bottom of its front page yesterday was an editorial written in the form of a letter to Xiang Weiyi, the two-year-old girl who was discovered in the wreckage. "Yiyi, when you grow up, will we and this country we live in be able to honestly tell you about all the love and suffering, anger and doubts around us?" it said.

The Beijing News is the most popular daily in the capital, playing a similar role to the London Evening Standard. When it runs a story on a broken piece of Song Dynasty pottery, readers are going to be aware that the story has a hidden meaning.

While some commentators took a risk, most newspapers chose to tone down their coverage.

The English- language China Daily ran an editorial saying it was necessary to "plug any loopholes" in the development of high-speed rail, but that Chinese technological quality was basically sound.

Suggested Topics
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker