Face of Grief

coalchinaphotosgetty.jpg

A man weeps for the death of a relative killed in the gas explosion at a coal mine in Shanxi province. 105 miners have been reported dead so far. Photo from here.

The Discussion: 41 Comments

There’s one word to describe how these people are generally seen in China.

Expendable.

Sad, but true.

December 9, 2007 @ 5:00 am | Comment

And they are seen that way by their own countrymen, their government and the foreigners there to do business.

China expats should think about this guy and countless unknown others every time they use something electrical.

Hang your heads in shame!

December 9, 2007 @ 9:26 am | Comment

strange seeing pictures in this blog, but yes sometimes and image needs no words

December 9, 2007 @ 11:06 am | Comment

I believe this quote from an AFP/Reuters story sums up the whole situation so that we can move along to the next mass death “incident” here without too much heartache…

“Compensation would be arranged for relatives of the victims, Xinhua said, quoting a county official, without stating an amount.”

December 9, 2007 @ 12:49 pm | Comment

It’s true, these people are expendable, at least in the eyes of their government and their flunkies. Should every expat hang his head in shame? Maybe; I think every expat profiting from businesses that exploit and endanger the lives of their workers should hang their heads low. Those who are working for companies that are trying with everything they have to improve safety conditions and offer their workers a better life should be more determined than ever to fulfill their mission. Without them, I don’t think I’d have any hope t all. Many companies’ working conditions are improving only because they are under the eye of international scrutiny. MNCs have too much at stake to risk everything with a safety scandal. Some lessons were learned from Bhopal (though there will always be more horror stories). Just a whisper of poor labor conditions at an iPod factory this year created huge global headaches for Apple, though the claims proved false. This concern for their workers may be entirely selfish and founded only on greed and fear of consequences, but most of the MNCs operating factories in China have improved conditions. For those who are skeptical, I strongly suggest you go for a tour of some foreign-owned Guandong factories like I did a few weeks ago. Then argue about it. This has nothing to do with any government achievement. It has to do with enlightened (or practical) managers knowing it is in their self-interest to protect and retain their workers, especially as hiring skilled people in Guandong becomes ever more difficult. And maybe some of those managers are actually human being who care about their workers. Just maybe.

Then there’s the agonizing question, if you close the mines or drive them into bankruptcy, are you doing the poor a favor? My answer would always have been yes, until I listened to the other side, about how many of these workers are more than willing to work in the most dangerous mines fully aware of the mortal danger. (And even so, my answer might still be Yes.) Take that “opportunity” away and they say they’d have no options. This is a moral dilemma similar to the sex workers in Thailand; many of them are treated as celebrities in their rural villagers where they bring back badly needed money for their impoverished families and make a huge difference for them. So are we for the exploitation of women (and men) and in favor of them being used as prostitutes, with all the inherent risks? No. Will taking this away from them be to the benefit of everyone? Should the government intervene and stop it? Harder to say.

Like so much else in China, I think we’re going to see step by step improvement as China’s economy continues to lift many more ships, and brings with it the eye of international scrutiny. I’d love to say, arrest all the mine owners and bomb their unsafe mines, much as I’d like to ban all cars in Beijing except taxis and delivery vehicles. But those kinds of decisions have consequences. There’s an excellent article in today’s NY Times about precisely this issue – killer trucks emitting incredible amounts incredibly toxic exhaust in Guangzhou. Identifying the problem is easy enough. If you read the article, you will see that fixing the problem is far more complex than at first meets the eye. The trucks are a metaphor for China’s environmental crisis in which the CCP, which I blame for allowing and encouraging the pollution in the first place, is caught between a rock and a very, very hard place, with no quick or painless fixes. They dug themselves into this hole, and there’s practically no way out.

December 9, 2007 @ 2:23 pm | Comment

“bout how many of these workers are more than willing to work in the most dangerous mines fully aware of the mortal danger. (And even so, my answer might still be Yes.)”

Stuff and nonsense.
They have no other choice or opportunity. I’d bet they’d drive a bus for 10% less pay because it was clean and safe and they knew they’d see their families every night.

December 9, 2007 @ 4:39 pm | Comment

Exactly right, nanhe. No other opportunity at all. What happens if that is taken away from them? That is a question, not a statement that I think the mines should be kept open. Many of those workers travel a good distance to apply to work in those mines. Tragic, heartbreaking and completely consistent with China’s sad history in which the worker’s life has always been held to be utterly expendable, just like those who dug the graves of the emperors and were then put to death themselves. So it is the reality we are faced with, like the trucks in Guangzhou: close them down to clean the air and risk economic anarchy? Tough choice, and as with most of China’s staggering and unsolvable problems I have no fast answers, and I suspect you don’t either. I would love to be able to say “Hold an election!” and then everything would be solved, but I don’t think it is quite that simple. These are the kinds of massive problems, absolutely catastrophic, that could cause the economic miracle to shrivel up at any given moment, fragile and shaky as it is. When one of these flaws in the system ruptures and the entire economy starts to unravel – that’s when we will see if this is really a sustainable phenomenon. Lots of us thought the economy was going to overheat back in 2003-4 and the banks collapse, and the government managed to pull off a soft landing, to my amazement. That was just a dress rehearsal; after the Olympics come to an end and a lot of investment dries up and interest wanes, it will be more than interesting to see how the party keeps things moving without a crash of some sort…

December 9, 2007 @ 5:54 pm | Comment

“if you close the mines or drive them into bankruptcy, are you doing the poor a favor?”

That’s a bit like saying China can’t stop pollution because it will lead to unemployment. What about the people that have to live around these mines and coal-powered power stations – they and their kids are blighted by the pollution.

If China is the economic powerhouse everyone says it is, it should be able to find jobs when companies are closed for gross violations. Or the State could walk in, arrest the owners for breaking the law and put new ones in to sort it out.

Chinese officials are often such hypocrites. If they feel their position is threatened they’ll stop at nothing to crush the person/organisation in question, even if they have to break the law. When they’re expected to DO something it’s “no, you have to talk to another agency” or “I can’t do anything – it would be illegal otherwise”.

Pathetic.

December 9, 2007 @ 7:12 pm | Comment

Richard & Raj,

A friend of mine sent me this link:

http://www.ratical.org/corporations/LAWCAP.html

Think (US) history is being repeated here in this country?

Buckminster Fuller proposed that only an understanding of technology in the deepest sense would afford humans a proper guide to individual conduct and the eventual salvation of society. Not sure about Buckminster’s conclusion is exactly about though.

December 9, 2007 @ 8:14 pm | Comment

Agree with you about the hypocrisy, Raj.

About the government being able to walk in and arrest the mine workers – would that it were so. The corrupt local officials are owned by the mine owners, if they aren’t the mine owners themselves. And then who do you replace them with, since nearly everyone’s on the take? This is the nightmare of the one-party system. The central government has to give up certain controls on the local cadres to keep them loyal to a system that rewards only its own. There can be no real rule of law, because if there were, a large number of party officials would be the first to be indicted. And so we have an endless repetition of rules being ignored, leading to endless deaths of the endless mass of expendable Chinese workers. At least with the Internet and increased awareness, tied to increased wealth, these stories can come out and the people can comment on them and some symbolic heads will role (as they do in the US, too – just watch the scapegoating going on right now in the case of the destroyed CIA torture video). It’s still a monstrous system.

December 9, 2007 @ 8:19 pm | Comment

I love Buckminster Fuller. His theory, however, doesn’t seem to be verified by history, CK. Google around to learn about Henry George, author of the book Progress and Poverty, to read an alternative theory, i.e., as we make greater progress and develop new technologies, the number of the poor and disenfranchised tends to grow. Here is a brief introduction to the synopsis which I recommend you read:

During the 19th century the U.S. witnessed a huge increase in wealth-producing power. People naturally expected labor-saving inventions to lessen toil and improve working conditions for all; that the enormous increase in wealth producing power would wipe out poverty forever.

Instead, however, squalor, misery, vice and crime increased and are still increasing everywhere as our villages, towns and cities grow and as new technologies bring advantages to improve methods of production and exchange.

The association of poverty with progress is the great enigma of our times. I

Maybe what Buckminister Fuller is talking about is different than the mere adoption of technology, but about an “understanding” of it that somehow goes deeper.

December 9, 2007 @ 8:28 pm | Comment

Richard,

Are you really trying to defend China (again) with more Gitmo stuff? There is no comparison, and I see you leave out Europe, which had a large part to play in the middle east’s and africa’s current problems.

But again, there is no comparison. The conditions in the US 100 years ago were very bad and the workers had guns to fight back with against factory and mine owners’ Pinkerton Gaurds. The 1 billion disposables in China don’t have that handy piece of hardware.

“So it is the reality we are faced with, like the trucks in Guangzhou: close them down to clean the air and risk economic anarchy? Tough choice, and as with most of China’s staggering and unsolvable problems I have no fast answers, and I suspect you don’t either.”

Actually, all of the money that is being dumped into taking back so many supposedly lost territories like Taiwan and that joke of a space program (Russian capsules, Russian space suits, 4 decades of US/USSR and European technical data) could be better spent on floating these families so they don’t go out and riot.
If China was truly “socialist” it would taxing the crap out of your comfy expat lifestyle to do just this, and there wouldn’t be so many big, face making, shiny buildings.

December 10, 2007 @ 12:56 am | Comment

I Think This Mining Accident Is Not a Big Deal At All

Some very naive moralists want to use the worldview of a 3 year old to judge the world and study politics.

Let me ask you, all periods of history of all nations, China, England, France, Arabia, etc. Which Emperor/King/National did not have the blood many tens of thousands or millions in his hand? Which revolutionary war or war of independence was not built on the deaths of millions?

In political struggles, if you are killed, then you are just unlucky, just accept it. If you think you are wronged, then do better next time and conquer your opponent. If Germany and Japan were not defeated in WW2, if Dresden or Hiroshima was not bombed to ruins (killing many many innocents), would they regret? If millions of Indians were not massacred, will the US achieve such great status today? If those rioters on the square were not crushed into meat pies, would China have the economic stability today?

So please don’t use childish worldview to judge this world. You are too simple, too naive.

To me, I tell my son, do what is in your best interest, and don’t use morality as a yardstick.

It is in my best interest to keep the CCP dictatorship in China, anyone who is against the CCP will do a disservice to me and to China, will only cause more social instability.

If a Chinese person comes to me today and asks me for advice. If he is a student, I would advise him on how to get good grades, how to get a good job. If he is a business man, I would help him analyze the financial markets, and tell him where to invest to profit the most. If he is a policeman, I would tell him to do a good job, and try to join the CCP and get promote to police chief. If he is a high level gov’t official, I would advise him on how to best move up the rank. But I would never be so crazy as to tell them: “Go march on Tiananmen, go join anti-CCP rallies! Go write anti-CCP essays on the internet!”. These things will only get them arrested and hurt them.

So for this mining incident, I can only say “Big deal, many people die everyday, just move on!”

December 10, 2007 @ 4:57 am | Comment

Math’s most substantive post to date. That is why China is what it is and why that man in the picture is anguished and why no one else in that country, including expats making profits, gives a hoot.

December 10, 2007 @ 4:59 am | Comment

No nahe, not using Gitmo to defend China, just saying they aren’t the only ones – there’s a lot out there to complain about. (Where did I do this, by the way?My reference to the CIA was in regard to scapegoating, and the power of the people’s voice to spread news and generate a demand for justice. )

Agree about the money being wasted that could be put to better use. Again, we are even worse in the US, what with the iraq war and all, but China is a more desperately poor country.

December 10, 2007 @ 8:19 am | Comment

“Agree about the money being wasted that could be put to better use. Again, we are even worse in the US, what with the iraq war and all,” Richard

Ditto.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,520700,00.html

Americans have been living beyond their means for years. That includes both consumers, who often buy their houses, cars and other consumer items on credit, and the government, which is adding billions to the national debt to pay for its programs, especially to fight imagined terrorism and wage the illegal war in Iraq.

December 10, 2007 @ 9:05 am | Comment

We are talking about mining accident right? US mining isn’t much safer. Lack of opportunities are probably true even for a developed nation like US since although the miner got paid better but not much better. I though Nanhey’s job is related to earth, he should know better :). We lost 72 miners in 2006.

December 10, 2007 @ 9:19 am | Comment

I would disagree, Arty. I think America’s mines are much safer. I think if you compare the number of cave-ins and mine explosions you will see China’s are among the world’s most unsafe. Many Americans last year may have died in a single mining incident, but in China you read about mining deaths practically every day.

December 10, 2007 @ 9:46 am | Comment

From the Jamestown Foundation:

According to official statistics, more than 250,000 Chinese coal miners have died in mining accidents since the inception of the Peopleโ€™s Republic of China in 1949. In comparison, industrial nations and most of the developing world have dramatically reduced mining risks over the past decades by implementing advanced technologies and strict regulations. Therefore, while the official fatality rate per million tonnes (mt) of coal produced in China was 2.73 in 2005, it was a mere 0.04 in the United States

So Arty, what did you base your statement on?

December 10, 2007 @ 10:15 am | Comment

If coal mines in the US was as dangreous as those in China, no one was willing to work there. Still, working in a coal mine is much more dangerous than working in most othet places, for example, a fast food restaurant. But sine mines are paid quite well in the US, they are willing to take the risk.

I am from a coastal area in China. In the old day (before 1980), working in a state-owned coal mine was considered a good job. It provided a salary and an escape from rula life after a miner retired. Now, on none in the area is willing to work in a coal mine because there are many better opportunities. Shanxi is one of the least developed provinces in China, it is still considered an opportunity for people without much choice in life.

December 10, 2007 @ 12:45 pm | Comment

Injustices, Wars, political oppressions, economical exploitations, slavery, global warming, etc. are all man made. Now there are 6 billion of us, and within our generation the number will soar to 9.1 billion. Will our children have the hope our parents had for us?
If the ice caps melt in the next decade or so and sea level goes up 20 feet worldwide, lowlands and coastal cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, San Francisco, Miami, New York city, Bombay, Bangladesh etc will be populated by fish, seaweeds and corals. The beautiful Netherlands of course will be become the nether aqua lands.
I disagree with Math but he is only being honest.
“What millions must die in order that Caesar might be great.” That fact has never changed in human history. Can we punish and sanction America like they do to others all the time? No, not likely. So, we can only appeal to the conscience and reasoning power of the American people because thank goodness, as Al Gore put it, “the American political will is a renewable resource.”

Australia and America which together contribute to over 35% of global Carbon emissions are the only two nations not ratifying Kyoto. Hell, American cars can’t even meet the mileage standards of China and is miles away from Japanese & Korean automobile standards.

America also has the most WMD, the most well equipped war machine and its people the most gungho about going to war. It has the most wasteful culture, the most vocal though often wrong and misguided people in the world thanks to their subtle and efficient gigantic propaganda machine, the American mainstream medias.
Americaรฏยฟยฝs imperialistic capitalism which has done the greatest harm to our world’s cultures and heritages and rights to live is however also one of the most capable nations to lead the world to dothe right thing. Instead of supporting lying US politicians in going after tiny rogue nations and fascist leaders, the people of the United states ought to be shouting and rallying and voting to get rid of the same category of villains within its government American citizens are so good at identifying in others overseas.
When America obeys their own moral laws and behave responsibly, the rest of the world will fall in line without the need for war. This is my dream.

December 10, 2007 @ 12:55 pm | Comment

“In the old day (before 1980), working in a state-owned coal mine was considered a good job.”

And it still is, most of the fatalities are in private mines, many of which are illegal and barely more than a deep hole dug out with hand tools and dynamite.

As for US mines, it is a dangerous job, but pretty good paying even by urban standards. It is one of the few manual labor jobs that native born Americans will readily do, despite the potential consequences. There is no hukou keeping the American miners in their hometowns. And mining companies are financially drained and have to offer up some sacrificial management for firing and possible imprisonment whenever there is a mining accident in the US.

“Americans have been living beyond their means for years. That includes both consumers, who often buy their houses, cars and other consumer items on credit, and the government, which is adding billions to the national debt to pay for its programs, especially to fight imagined terrorism and wage the illegal war in Iraq.”

And China and SE Asia finance it by buying our debt to maintain their currency pegs. BTW, thanks!

“Again, we are even worse in the US, what with the iraq war and all, but China is a more desperately poor country”

Are we? We have more money. Iraq is a waste, but China is helping to finance it with its silly currency peg. And China could do something more productive with its forex reserves, but it doesn’t. And being much poorer, isn’t Beijing worse than the US for squandering valuable and rare resources?

December 10, 2007 @ 1:14 pm | Comment

And China and SE Asia finance it by buying our debt to maintain their currency pegs. BTW, thanks!And being much poorer, isn’t Beijing worse than the US for squandering valuable and rare resources?
Posted by: nanheyangrouchuan at December 10, 2007 01:14 PM

Nahe, I’m glad you see through it all like most of us do the global Zero Sum game. Capitalists will sell, and help each other sell, betray their own countries, oppress and kill their own kind and sell their daughters and brainwash their sons, anything,. Anything, for the Almight dollar.

December 10, 2007 @ 3:12 pm | Comment

nanhe, let’s call it a near-tie. They’re both pretty awful when it comes to waste. And under Bush, corruption has thrived as if we were back in the 19th century.

December 10, 2007 @ 5:54 pm | Comment

I think America’s mines are much safer.

Yes, Richard, however, you can still die from it for what? 63,000 a year? I am speaking in relative terms.

http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/employment/2006-02-14-miners-cover-usat_x.htm

UPS dirviers make minimum of 70,000 a year (well, you can die from this job, too, but I think is less likely i.e. traffic accident).

Also, comparing mining safty of US today with China today, is like comparing Apple and Orange. How about China today vs US 30 years ago or even 50 years ago. I also like how you use Jamestown fundation article since you seen to be more libral then I am.

Btw, human lives are absolutely expandable as long as it is the right price. That will including everyone on this board and you and me.

December 11, 2007 @ 2:16 am | Comment

Arty, here is what you said: ” US mining isn’t much safer.”

However, it is – much, much, much safer. Don’t try to weasel out of it. How droll to then see you write, “comparing mining safty of US today with China today, is like comparing Apple and Orange.” YOU made the comparison earlier on, not me or anyone else.

December 11, 2007 @ 8:15 am | Comment

However, it is – much, much, much safer. Don’t try to weasel out of it.

Not trying to weasel out. You are right and I am wrong.

December 11, 2007 @ 10:33 am | Comment

63,000 Dollars sounds like a pretty good salary to me, especially considering the cost of living in the UK. I am pretty certain many Junior ranked US soldiers don’t earn that sort of money. For sure British ones don’t…

December 11, 2007 @ 11:11 am | Comment

Life is always cheap for the underclass anywhere in the world; even in the US. Try hard not to be an underclass.

December 11, 2007 @ 11:22 am | Comment

we live in different worlds

December 11, 2007 @ 5:35 pm | Comment

Indeed we’re worlds apart culturally. The West berates and makes fun of China the same way they do their own country and idiosyncrasies. Complaining is their favorite pastime; yet at the same time they’ll preach about faith, optimism, positive mindset, etc. They lecture others of human rights when their own citizens return in body bags quietly, receiving no worthy Television coverage for the shame of being sent overseas to kill Muslims as they did in Vietnam & Cambodia, literally murdering in the millions of mostly innocent farmers, women and children with Napalms, bullets, bayonets, Agent Orange and economic strangulations etc. JFK was and now Bush are no less evil than all the tyrants of the world that their media are so apt and quick to portray.

Fact is, the people of China are no more brainwashed then any given western population. In fact, the idea of mass brainwashing has been specifically used as a euphemism to feed the god-complex monster and educated ignorance which a lot of unsuspecting complacent westerners, whatever their ethnicity, are being systematically so programed to believe.

The PR bureau of China is doing its level best to present the positive sides of facts, and to promote a harmonious society as a goal for the nation. Inevitably, sh*t happens, assh@les are everywhere, injustice is omnipresent no matter what ideology is in place or whatever the slogan and political banners say.

America has only come to be a more civilized nation in the last 40 odd years. Before the 1960s human rights such as those of women & America ‘s minorities were trampled upon. Hell, the taken for granted ‘freedom of speech’ was not in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights until the rise of the 1960’s civil movements that said right was finally secured. So, of course coal mines are much much much safer in USA.
However, as this psuedo-democratic, one corporate party two political faction Republic America is gradually being stripped of its freedom, (while Brazil has, after over 20 years of robust civil activism, risen up to become a functional democracy), citizens of the world who’ve enjoyed much less of the wealth and freedom that America has had are saying, for fack’s sake, fight back!
You, who have the biggest guns and the greatest pool of the world’s brain drains, instead of poisoning the world and killing its inhabitants, to please take the lead in saving our planet instead.

December 12, 2007 @ 10:21 am | Comment

Along that line, some good Americans are actually doing something good….

http://www.algore.com/

December 12, 2007 @ 11:11 am | Comment

And China was once a world center for science, governance and philosophy. Now all it has left are excuses for why it sat on its big fat arrogance for 1000 years and why it is such a hole now.

“You, who have the biggest guns and the greatest pool of the world’s brain drains, instead of poisoning the world and killing its inhabitants, to please take the lead in saving our planet instead.”

I could dig up some satellite photos of who is poisoning the world via air, water and food.
Bohai is over 30% covered in algea and it is visible even with Google’s crappy old satellite photos. I’m sure the Koreans are happy about the junk that comes their way.

December 12, 2007 @ 2:00 pm | Comment

Whoo-ee! Is Blue Planet one of the propaganda robots who use several different names here? I think he managed to jam in 95% of the standard propaganda lines in just a few paragraphs!

December 12, 2007 @ 4:49 pm | Comment

West Virginia 100 years ago was producing the same sort of tragic mine death headlines we see from mining regions of China now — and for a lot of the same reasons: rural poverty, education shortcomings, corrupt mine bosses, lack of other opportunity…

CCP one-party rule denies China some key tools that US and other countries’ reformists had back then: media, unions, NGOs.

December 12, 2007 @ 11:09 pm | Comment

“CCP one-party rule denies China some key tools that US and other countries’ reformists had back then: media, unions, NGOs.”

And guns. The miners throughout the Appalachian mines stood up to private security, police and national guard units with guns, forcing the President to intervene and force negotiations. The unions won hands down.

December 13, 2007 @ 12:35 am | Comment

Sam_S: “one of the propaganda robots ”

Propaganda, yes but robot, I think not.

BTW, Propaganda used to be a neutral word and in this case it is a call to save the planet. So, what is the problem?
Enough of the hypocritical “us and them” negative propaganda; together we are taking turns in contributing towards the down-gradings of our natural environment.

Speaking of propaganda robots, here’s one:

“And China was once a world center for science, governance and philosophy. Now all it has left are excuses for why it sat on its big fat arrogance for 1000 years and why it is such a hole now.”

Civilizations come and go, rise and fall. Once again China, India and Russia are rising. As for excuses, the loudest ones are coming daily from the bullies of the present world.

December 13, 2007 @ 9:14 am | Comment

“Civilizations come and go, rise and fall”

Often through their own action/inaction. I would say in China’s case it was through inaction.

December 13, 2007 @ 10:27 am | Comment

“Civilizations come and go, rise and fall. Often through their own action/inaction. I would say in China’s case it was through inaction.” nanheyangrouchuan

If “Action,” meant Lebensraum, then China had spared the rest of the world a thousand years’ worth of bloodshed and at the same time succeeded in curbing Continental geopolitical exploitations such as the subjugation of countless nations cowered by military genocides, bedeviled by divide and conquer economics and religious-cultural contamination which much of Europe and the entire continent of post Columbus Native-American Nations suffered.

On the other hand, if 1,000 years of “Inaction,” meant evil was delayed for a thousand years until the arrival of the pale horseman of the Apocalypse — coming out of the cesspools of European Industrial revolution — then it is the cross to bear for a couple of generations by the reality of having to accept the exportation of sweatshop technology, the dumping of industrial junks from abroad and suffering the lies of moral soap box rhetorics and diatribes the guilty uses to drown out the victims’ outcries by reassigning blames with the hypocritical tenets of Western ethos. But, relatively speaking, at least this will be over soon.
(Oh, sh*t what have I said? I can hear heavy breathings already, boots stomping and swords unsheathing..Oh well, okay then, bring it on boys…bring it on.)

December 13, 2007 @ 12:09 pm | Comment

@chinesepeople:

Spoken like a true “hao han”.

December 14, 2007 @ 4:57 am | Comment

Don’t forget New Orleans. It sux to be the underclass. Get no luvy from shruby. ๐Ÿ™‚

December 14, 2007 @ 10:13 am | Comment

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