Chinese media express unusual outrage at benzene spill

Very interesting, and very encouraging (if, of course, they don’t get into trouble for it).

A 50-mile stew of toxic benzene floated up the Songhua River for 10 days before Chinese authorities acknowledged the severity of what has been the most serious river pollution in recent memory here. Not until the dense mess hit the major city of Harbin last week was it no longer possible to cover up the catastrophe – highlighting a penchant for secrecy that has characterized political behavior here for decades.

Yet in a twist whose significance is still unclear, once the crisis was public, Chinese state media roundly and sharply attacked the fear, sloth, and mendacity that lay behind the coverup.

While no culprits were named in newspapers from Beijing to Shanghai and Hong Kong – pending an investigation by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao – the language was, in Chinese terms, severe. Lies, failure of public trust, unjustifiable – are words and phrases rarely used in state-run media here regarding business and leadership issues. One Shanghai paper even called for a “transparent public information system.” A Beijing journal declared, “Those who have lied irresponsibly will certainly be punished severely.”

Is it a turning point? Another pseudo-turning point, like SARS? Just a one-time fluke? Or maybe a prelude to scapegoating some lowly officials while the higher-ups walk away? As always, we’ll have to wait and see. But once more, it’s good to see the media expressing outrage over the incompetence of their boss, the government.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 20 Comments

If you believe such story would happen in China, then definetly you are too naive. like a freshman coming into a complicate political school. transparence is our dream but i bet it would never happen as long as CCP hold its power. transparence needs freedom of speech. without the freedom of speech, how do the transpance work? do you really think that CCP will tolerate freedom of speech? CCP knows that the day tolerating freedom of speech is the last day they can hold their power.

November 29, 2005 @ 1:06 am | Comment

I gotta go with Jeffery on this one. There have been far too many times where I’ve come to the conclusion that “now is a turning point” only to be completely disappointed. So maybe once some heads start to roll and some real reporting occurs, I’ll be happy. But as said above, that’ll probably only occur in the “last days.”

November 29, 2005 @ 1:46 am | Comment

It’s more naive to be looking for a turning point — the point is, there is no turning point. Nothing happens overnight in China. But gradual changes do occur, and you continue to push the line.
So, instead of hoping for the hopless and whine about and doubt everything, I admire people who actually try to do something, however little it is. It’s just too easy to be cynical, but we Chinese can’t afford that.

November 29, 2005 @ 2:51 am | Comment

Well, this is what Hu said on Sept. 29. 2004 at a conference of the ministry of propagand concering the media policy:

??????,???????????? ????????????,??????? ????

My rough translation:

What concerse the control of the ideological conciousness we want to learn from Cuba and North Korea. Though North Korean economy encounters temorary problems, in politics it was correct all the time.

Doesn’t sound as if he had plans for springtime in Beijing.
I espacially like the phrase “temporary problems”. I don’t want to know what Hu would call big problems.

November 29, 2005 @ 3:13 am | Comment

sorry should read a Beijing spring.

Doesn’t this blog like Chinese characters? How to post in Chinese?

November 29, 2005 @ 3:16 am | Comment

Well, here is the link to the source:
Open Magazine (HK, Dez. 2004)

November 29, 2005 @ 3:35 am | Comment

Shulan, not sure how to post in Chinese but it’s done here all the time…

Uleewang, even China has it’s turning points – many, in fact. There will be more, for better or worse.

November 29, 2005 @ 4:15 am | Comment

Russia is moving thousends of tones of charcol filters to purify the spill as it heads into Russian teretory.

China on the other hand cut off tap water and tried to cover things up.

November 29, 2005 @ 5:06 am | Comment

It only goes to show ACB, the more information you have about an imminent crisis the more able you are to act to rectify the problem – and in this case try to prevent it from getting worse.

November 29, 2005 @ 5:13 am | Comment

I would like tell you what’s the TURNING POINT in our govt’view:

1.First our govt goes ahead 1 step; I would like tell you what’s the TURNING POINT in our govt’view:

1.First our govt goes ahead 1 step; <—this 1 step we call it “TURNING POINT”. we see this as “our govt is doing sth for our democracy/transparence in4mation system although it’s a very small step.
2.Then we go back 2 steps IN A SILENCE WAY; <—usually this 2 steps would be ignorred by most of chinese.

for the first 1 step, our propaganda machine will make it widely known, especially let the foreign govt and human-right goups known. some naive western jounalists and some chinese will regard this step as “TURNING POINT”. they will cheer and applaud for the “brave”"unprecedented” “turning point”; but they don’t realize that the second step(going back 2 steps) is upcoming. and this 2 steps will plunder any achievement made by the first step;

for the second 2 steps, our propaganda machine will do nothing. if some information about this 2 steps is leaking , our officials will try to do anything to remove it from web site or other media.

maybe my explanation is too hard to understand. so pls let me cite two examples which occuring in history.

sample 1: in the early 1960′s. Mao told chinese that the govt welcomed all kinds of literary and artistic creation. the govt calls this movement as “one hundred sorts of flowers are blooming,one hundred family are ringing”. this movement really gave some chinese one big illusion. they did many literary works including pro right-wing works. from these works the govt understood who was left-wing, who was right-wing, who is pro-goverment, and who is anti-goverment. Mao used this strategy to persecute many chinese who are not in favor of his policy or him. he call this strategy as “lure snake coming out of the hole”;
Sample 2: internet control in this country this year.

November 29, 2005 @ 5:54 pm | Comment

“:one hundred family are ringing”
——————————————-
sorry. this translation is too vague. maybe “one hundred kinds of thoghts are competing”

November 29, 2005 @ 5:58 pm | Comment

Jeffrey, that’s interesting – you know, in English, they usually call that movement, “Let a Hundred Flowers Blossom, Let a Hundred Schools of Thought Contend.” I’ve been studying Chinese (I’m still not very good), and it’s always interesting to see how different the translations are from the original.

November 29, 2005 @ 6:38 pm | Comment

Jeffrey, if you want to write posts as a guest blogger, please let me know. Just email me the content and I will post in so everyone can see it. A lot of people don’t read all the comments, but look at the posts.

November 29, 2005 @ 7:00 pm | Comment

Richard,
thank you for you providing such wonderful web site. it’s my honor to speaking without fear here.

thanks again.

will email you as soon as i want.

Other Lisa,
Please let me know what i can do for you in your chinese studying.

November 29, 2005 @ 7:58 pm | Comment

This is not a turning point by any stretch. Criticism is being allowed against against the provincial leaders who screwed things up royally – also against lack of transparancy, corruption etc. Nothing directly attaching the central government or the system that fosters the kind of mentality that allows things like this to happen. Harbin is just the most glaring example that they can’t hide and must be seen to be taking a “responsible” approach to. The government definitely cares about these problems – - but don’t expect a Kartrina-esque outcry to be allowed anytime soon.

November 29, 2005 @ 7:59 pm | Comment

Thanks for your kind offer, Jeffrey – I’d love to see the Chinese for the 100 Flowers slogan – not sure if characters will post or not but the pinyin would work…

November 29, 2005 @ 9:59 pm | Comment

as i remember, 100 flowers is:
bai hua qi fang,
bai jia zheng ming.
°Ù»¨Æë·Å£¬°Ù¼ÒÕùÃù

November 29, 2005 @ 11:48 pm | Comment

nevermind about the characters…!

November 29, 2005 @ 11:48 pm | Comment

Kevin, the Pinyin will do fine! Thanks…

one time I messed around with the characters – I’m on a Mac – and I can’t remember whether i got them to display properly on Safari or on Firefox.

November 30, 2005 @ 1:17 am | Comment

In the depths of my computer illiteracy, I still don’t understand what firefox is…
i’m still working on understanding that program they all call “microsoft office.” whew, what a doozy!

November 30, 2005 @ 7:13 pm | Comment

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