Sichuan Earthquake reports recommend buying parents’ silence

Raj

This is the likely conclusion of reports produced by at least local Chinese administrations in regards to the May earthquake – if indeed any of the promised investigations were ever held.

China buys the silence of grieving parents

“We were rounded up and ordered to sign the contract if we wanted to collect the government’s gift of free life insurance,” Liu explained. “They also said we would get £5,000 in cash as compensation for our dead children.” Some parents were already signing their forms.

“How do we even know if it is real life insurance?” he said. “If we accept the cash, my wife and I want to use it to take the local government to court over the death of our daughter, but we’re afraid it is not enough to cover the legal fees.

“If we don’t sign the contract, we are afraid we will be left with no children and no money to look after us when we grow old.

“We’re thinking about having another child to safeguard our future. Eventually that child will also have to go to school and we’re afraid if we don’t cooperate with the government now they will cause problems for the child later on.”

If the central Chinese government wants to say that the parents are taking the money willingly, they are suggesting Chinese people put a cash value on their children that can supercede a fair and open investigation into their death – would this be the “modern China” the CCP is building? Personally I would suggest the authorities are coercing parents into agreeing to take hush-money through lies (such as “everyone else is going to sign, so you can achieve nothing by yourself”) and threats (“take the money or you get nothing, and if you protest you will be arrested and beaten/imprisoned for causing unrest”).

The “official” report that was disclosed in relation to Hanwang stated that the school had collapsed purely because of the earthquake.

On Monday, the parents from Hanwang met for the fourth time with the deputy mayor of Deyang, which administrates Hanwang. The deputy mayor, Zhang Jinming, verbally delivered the conclusion of the government investigation – that the school had collapsed solely because of the earthquake – and declared the case closed, parents said.

Although some areas were very badly hit, in others it was the case that other buildings in the area were left standing when the schools collapsed. Will investigations be held by the central authorities and published in full, giving the honest answer as to why in a number of areas schools (especially those frequented by the children of poor families) were hardest hit? I would say “we can only hope”, but judging by past form it is likely that even if some people are made examples of, the central government will then seek to bury the matter by saying it has been dealt with and not hold a full, open inquiry. After all, the local authorities cannot instigate national censorship of a news item, such as gagging the official media.

UPDATE

The following is an extract of a BBC report in relation to the earthquake.

A Chinese teacher has been detained for posting images on the internet of schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake, a rights group has said. Human Rights in China said Liu Shaokun had been ordered to serve a year of “re-education through labour”. Mr Liu was detained for “disseminating rumours and destroying social order”, the group said.

The 12 May quake killed nearly 70,000 people. Many of those who died were children whose schools collapsed. The poor condition of the school buildings has become a sensitive political issue for the government, and grieving parents have staged numerous protests demanding an inquiry. Many have accused local officials of colluding with builders to allow them to get away with cheap and unsafe practices.

“Instead of investigating and pursuing accountability for shoddy and dangerous school buildings, the authorities are resorting to re-education through labour to silence and lock up concerned citizens like teacher Liu Shaokun and others,” said Human Rights in China Executive Director Sharon Hom.

Who thinks that the central government is going to ride to Mr Liu’s rescue? Because if it doesn’t then it’s another sign that at the very least it approves of the local/regional governments’ actions in suppressing reporting/calls for fair investigations into why so many schools collapsed. Indeed the central government is in many ways responsible for this and other similar human rights violations because it keeps “re-education through labour” legal – an administration that really cared about human rights would abolish it, or at least make it a punishment that can only be handed down by the criminal court.

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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: 43 Comments

yeah right, using cash to buy silence from victims… this would be the first one.
how clever for chinese to come up with this genious idea…

July 28, 2008 @ 3:07 am | Comment

No need to worry about this. Some corrupt local official will always try to escape responsibility, because it will reflect badly on his annual review if the parents move the complaints to higher levels, so they try such methods to suppress. Once this is revealed, the central government will take strong actions.

July 28, 2008 @ 3:20 am | Comment

I read this in the NY Times last week and felt it was a biased report. When accidents occur here in the U.S., it is not uncommon for responsible parties (via their insurance companies) to offer a settlement to the survivors of victims and those settlements often specify that acceptance of the offer is a waiver of further damages. They also might specify that the parties not discuss the matter publicly. We’ve had cranes fall in New York recently, for instance.

The difference from the U.S. scenario I cite, is that the Chinese government is taking responsibility, which is more than they’d do over here.

When natural forces such as earthquakes and floods occur, insurance companies call that “an act of god” and do not compensate. In that case the government usually kicks in with aid to living victims, but survivors of those killed in natural disasters are not usually compensated.

I might also offer that the construction of schools in our poor areas are not up to the standards of those in areas with a better tax base.

Doesn’t this seem like a reasonable way to manage the Sichuan disaster considering the circumstances?

July 28, 2008 @ 3:56 am | Comment

YR, nondisclosure clause is not unusual in settlement agreement. It happens all the time in the US.

But settlement agreement with “nondisclosure clause” routinely viewed as speeding up proceeding for all parties’ benefit in US becomes ugly “coercive”, “buying silence” in china.

July 28, 2008 @ 4:16 am | Comment

People feel the government should behave like a private citizen or company should try to repeal the privacy and public information laws of the US, and allow the US government to sell their information to the highest bidders. The US government should also auction off the police powers to the highest bidder too. I don’t mind buying a few judges chambers and all the authorities that goes along with it. How about the health inspection ? Any takers ? You know, for the right consideration, you can issue health certificates to anyone willing to pay.

July 28, 2008 @ 5:43 am | Comment

When accidents occur here in the U.S., it is not uncommon for responsible parties (via their insurance companies) to offer a settlement to the survivors of victims and those settlements often specify that acceptance of the offer is a waiver of further damages.

When was the last time that the US government coerced/threatened American families to take hush money after the deaths of thousands of children from collapsing schools and tried to stop the media reporting on it?

When natural forces such as earthquakes and floods occur, insurance companies call that “an act of god” and do not compensate.

Uhuh, and what about when schools fall down because of shoddy workmanship?

Doesn’t this seem like a reasonable way to manage the Sichuan disaster considering the circumstances?

Would it be reasonable for you to be threatened by the authorities if you wanted to complain after your closest family members were killed because of corrupt business practices?

July 28, 2008 @ 6:10 am | Comment

Like I said. If these incidents were true, there’ll be an investigation by the central authorities, local corrupt officials will be prosecuted. But in the meantime, we should not just create rumors and sensationalism on this topic, and allow many people with special motivations to fan this issue. We should remain calm and wait for the authorities’ investigations.

July 28, 2008 @ 7:12 am | Comment

Indeed HongXing.

July 28, 2008 @ 8:56 am | Comment

ellen, i gather you have never bought insurance? there is such a thing as flood insurance which only pays out in the case of floods. acts of god clauses are generally reserved for something like car insurance, in that the insurance co. won’t replace your car if it floats away due to a flood.
HX, let’s see that central gvmt make those investigations. somehow i doubt they will actually happen.

July 28, 2008 @ 8:57 am | Comment

Raj, take a look at the 9/11 victim compensation fund.

July 28, 2008 @ 9:51 am | Comment

No need to worry about this. Some corrupt local official will always try to escape responsibility, because it will reflect badly on his annual review if the parents move the complaints to higher levels, so they try such methods to suppress. Once this is revealed, the central government will take strong actions.

Local officials would not attempt the sort of thing HongXing is describing if they didn’t think they had a reasonable chance of getting away with it.

July 28, 2008 @ 12:12 pm | Comment

Like I said. If these incidents were true, there’ll be an investigation by the central authorities, local corrupt officials will be prosecuted.

First of all, we have no update so far about “investigations” by the central authorities. Were the parents given personal assurance by the State Council with regards to an impending investigation? Has any independent commission been set up by the State Council to look into the incident? Until these things happen, all these are merely your own wishful thinking.

And you are assuming that the central authorities have the incentive to expose corruption. If the central authorities have been corrupt themselves and those involved in this scandal have personal links with some powerful figures in Beijing, do you think they would be brought to justice? Look at the Shanghai Clique and you will know what this is all about. Was Chen Liangyu apprehended when Jiang Zemin was in power? Obviously not.

July 28, 2008 @ 12:18 pm | Comment

In case anyone had not heard, it was because word came down from on high that the local media were to stop reporting on the school collapses. But of course they were allowed to continue reporting on the heroic efforts of the PLA and local party in relief efforts.

So, no, it is not local officials taking matters into their own hands, and I would think it highly unlikely that the central government will take matters into their own hands.

Don’t want to sully China’s reputation before the Olympics, do we?! Would just ruin the government’s refrain about a ‘harmonious society.’

July 28, 2008 @ 2:42 pm | Comment

If these incidents were true, there’ll be an investigation by the central authorities, local corrupt officials will be prosecuted.

You can’t find out if they’re true or not without an investigation. And if the CCP was taking this seriously it wouldn’t be gagging the media – it would be marching in to stop the local politicians sweeping this under the carpet.

And what about central corrupt/incompetant officials who failed to oversee this mess? The buck stops at the central level, not local officials (especially those who have already fallen out of favour with Party bigwigs).

Raj, take a look at the 9/11 victim compensation fund.

What about it? No one is complaining that people are compensated, it’s that they’re being forced to take the money (which some have queried as not being nearly enough) and abandon their goals of getting justice.

To make this comparable the US compensation fund would have had to been used by the government to say “Oh dear, very sad but we don’t know who was flying the planes. Case closed, let’s focus on something else.”

July 28, 2008 @ 4:20 pm | Comment

@ lensovet –

I happen to know firsthand of Hurricane Katrina victims on the Gulf coast whose insurance companies reneged or under-compensated. I’m sorry, but in this case, I believe the parties are doing the best they can under the circumstances. China is so recently developing that it’s going to take a little time for them to catch up with all the consequences of what they are intentionally doing. When a natural disaster strikes, they’re at a huge disadvantage to respond to both rescue and compensation challenges in an institutional way.

There are plenty of things to complain about re China, but the glass is more than half full and catching up in record time. They’ll get there. It’s amazing they’ve gotten as far as they have.

July 28, 2008 @ 8:00 pm | Comment

i think we should ignore the witterings of ellen and charles liu as they are clearly not interested in debating the central point which is that families have been bought off, threatened and not allowed to protest. that is the key issue and red herrings regarding 9/11 and katrina are simply tedious. even hongxing managed to debate the point in hand.

July 28, 2008 @ 8:35 pm | Comment

Good point, Si.

July 28, 2008 @ 8:51 pm | Comment

ellen,

I think hurricane katrina is not good enough to highlight China’s “catching up” and progress in this aspect. I think Cyclone Nagris is a better case for you to defend Chinese officials. After all, by comparing yourself with the brutal way the Burmese junta handled the cyclone victims, it makes Chinese officials look like saints.

July 28, 2008 @ 10:12 pm | Comment

Imagine just how many human lives could have been saved had the 40 billion US dollars used to stage the Olympics been used instead to build sturdier school buildings that would have withstood the Sichuan earthquake.

Ah, well, guess the Chinese value an empty facade of greatness for their country more than the lives of their flesh-and-blood comrades (and children).

July 28, 2008 @ 11:07 pm | Comment

Raj, 9/11 compensation agreements also forces families to damange waiver and nondisclosure. That means if they accept the money they can’t sue anyone or talk smack about this case. Some families have elected to not accept US government’s offer.

How is that any different? Do you think our government will own up to the fact we trained and supported Osama Bin Ladin and his Mujiahadeem “freedom fighters” in the 80′s?

July 29, 2008 @ 2:06 am | Comment

BTW, here are some reports of the school construction issue in Chinese media and blogsphere. Questions regarding the school construction is continuing:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%E5%9C%B0%E9%9C%87+%E5%AD%A6%E6%A0%A1+%E8%B1%86%E8%85%90

Meanwhile, the experts looking at this have come out and said it’s not
as simple as blaming construction problem, as it is unlikely to be the
sole factor.

These articles were found from above search that speak some facts:

http://www.028fc.com/newhtml/2008529211435.html

http://www.tianjindaily.com.cn/hotnews/content/2008-06/04/content_496218.htm

- Chengdu’s building code after 1978 required quake resistance to 6.0 mag, and was updated to 7.0 after 2001. The quake struck was 7.8-8.0. Building’s quakeproof depends on the age of the building.

- Shearing effects varied throughout the region depending on soil condition, some area without rocky substrate sustained 10-11 mag. shearing force (think Kobe.)

It seems some of the same issues surrounding Katrina and levy failings that we are debating, somehow don’t apply to the Chinese – their natural disaster must somehow be faulted to their form of government or ideology.

July 29, 2008 @ 3:50 am | Comment

How is that any different?

Because for one thing, as you say, some US families did not take the money – they had a choice in the matter, whereas the Chinese families clearly are being cajoled and threatened into signing on the dotted line.

And it’s already public knowledge that the US backed the Afghanis against the Russians – there is no media cover-up in regards to that. Whereas the Chinese government has ordered the mainstream Chinese media to stop reporting this matter, unless it’s to make the CCP look good.

July 29, 2008 @ 4:12 am | Comment

C. Liu: Do you think our government will own up to the fact we trained and supported Osama Bin Ladin and his Mujiahadeem “freedom fighters” in the 80’s?

You have no idea what you’re talking about. As Raj said, this is completely common knowledge and has never been covered up or denied. It has been written about and acknowledged everywhere. The US government has covered up lots of things, but this isn’t one of them, and by saying that it is you betray a truly fundamental lack of awareness – like, where have you been since 911, when article after article came out detailing how the US once supported the mujahadeen, with no denial from the government? Have you seen Charlie Wilson’s War? And you think the government has kept this support secret?

July 29, 2008 @ 7:55 am | Comment

Richard, I’m talking about the 9/11 settlement agreement. Please read what I wrote.

July 29, 2008 @ 8:13 am | Comment

Charles, here is exactly what you said: Do you think our government will own up to the fact we trained and supported Osama Bin Ladin and his Mujiahadeem “freedom fighters” in the 80’s?

The answer is yes, they have owned up to it. That doesn’t mean they are an honest and good government, but in this case there was no cover-up.

Now, off to work.

July 29, 2008 @ 8:32 am | Comment

Charles Liu,

Meanwhile, the experts looking at this have come out and said it’s not
as simple as blaming construction problem, as it is unlikely to be the
sole factor.

By saying that, you have effectively acquitted the suspected corrupt officials before even an independent investigation commission has been formed and concluded with a thorough and transparent investigation report.

their natural disaster must somehow be faulted to their form of government or ideology.

You missed the entire point altogether. It’s neither form of government nor ideology here which led to the disaster. It’s the rampant corruption, stupid.

Do you think our government will own up to the fact we trained and supported Osama Bin Ladin and his Mujiahadeem “freedom fighters” in the 80’s?

It shows that one is either trying to derail the thread from the main issue or your only source of information is the People’s Daily since the day you have attained literacy.

July 29, 2008 @ 12:05 pm | Comment

Do you think our government will own up to the fact we trained and supported Osama Bin Ladin and his Mujiahadeem “freedom fighters” in the 80’s?

And one more thing, if you want to get on the moral high horse, please be reminded the supporting the mujahidden did not come from just Washington. The PRC, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were happy accomplices in this deadly game too as they were just too glad to watch the Soviets struggling in their Afghan misadventure.

July 29, 2008 @ 12:09 pm | Comment

Charles Liu,

And how much does the Chinese people know about the PRC’s aid to the Afghan mujahidden in the 1980s?

That’s my answer to your question.

July 29, 2008 @ 12:11 pm | Comment

sp, I’m American. I ain’t from mainland China. You can ask a PRC citizen about it.

Your “People’s Daily” insinuation shows your bigotry clearly; I’m criticizing my own country.

The title of this thread is “buying parent’s silence”, and I’ve made the comparison that we to does the same thing (9/11 settlement agreement containing damage waiver and nondisclosure clause.)

Customary settlement agreement our own government use turns into ugly “coercive”, “buying silence” in china, as it seems.

July 29, 2008 @ 2:14 pm | Comment

Your “People’s Daily” insinuation shows your bigotry clearly

I’m not sure how it does given that some American Chinese prefer to read the Chinese media because they like the articles printed there.

Customary settlement agreement our own government use turns into ugly “coercive”, “buying silence” in china

Only in this case because it is the authorities (Chinese) who are doing the coercing, justice is not being done and they are enforcing widespread media censorship. Your comparisons have been wholly inappropriate and exposed as such.

July 29, 2008 @ 2:45 pm | Comment

Charles came on, threw in a few red herrings and successfully derailed the thread. My congratulations to him

July 29, 2008 @ 4:24 pm | Comment

Charles,

Do you have anything to say with the corruption and official intimidation with regards to the collapsed school buildings in Sichuan?

How about the CCP setting up an independent commission to investigate the incident? Say let former vice premier Wu Yi to chair the commission? Publish the findings fully later on?

No answer from you on this two things? i think that settles the credibility of your comments.

I repeat: it’s the rampant corruption, stupid.

July 29, 2008 @ 5:09 pm | Comment

Customary settlement agreement our own government use turns into ugly “coercive”, “buying silence” in china

In the US, individuals can sue the government if they felt that a grief wrong has been committed on them by the government. And it is not uncommon for the US government to lose some of these law suits filed by the citizens against it.

In China, tell me if there was any case since 1949 where a Chinese citizen sued the government in those people’s courts and won.

I hide i don’t get a long dead silence from a vocal government critic like you on this.

July 29, 2008 @ 5:16 pm | Comment

“sp, I’m American. I ain’t from mainland China. You can ask a PRC citizen about it.”

You are not alone, Charles Liu, almost all the CCP apologists on the Peking Duck are Americans.

July 29, 2008 @ 6:40 pm | Comment

@sp: “tell me if there was any case since 1949 where a Chinese citizen sued the government in those people’s courts and won.”

Here’s one:

http://news.xinhuanet.com/legal/2005-03/21/content_2722269.htm

150 farmers sued the National Land Bureau and won.

Want more? There are more.

July 30, 2008 @ 1:14 am | Comment

Charles, of course sometimes a Chinese person might win against the State – but that’s a relatively rare occurance. I would be interested, though, whether or not the case was appealed and what happened subsequently.

In any case, this subject is not about whether people can sue the Chinese government, it’s whether the Chinese authorities are trying to sweep corruption in the building of schools under the carpet. Please stay focused on the main topic, everyone.

July 30, 2008 @ 2:26 am | Comment

Charles,

Yes, i want more. Like those that involved politically sensitive cases, such as whether dissidents have successfully sued the government of the PRC of stripping their civil and political rights and unlawful and arbitrary detention.

Secondly, tell us loud and clear whether the courts in the PRC have the power of judicial review.

I wasn’t really that wrong when i said that your source of information was from the officially-sanctioned media of the CCP. Look, your hyperlink was from the Xinhuanet, which is under the Xinhua News agency, one of the world’s largest propaganda machinery controlled by the Communist Party of China’s Public Information Department.Sometimes, you have to let small cases that do not hurt any Party big shots to succeed for some cosmetic purposes. I don’t see the reason to cheer about such cases that does not involve habeas corpus and political detention.

Anyway back to corruption. As expected, you mysteriously refuse to say anything about setting up an independent comssion to investigate into the Sichuan sch collapses.

A vocal government critic like you should not keep us high and dry on this.

July 30, 2008 @ 3:57 pm | Comment

We have a new character assassin here with us today whose sole purpose is of course in derailing the thread with some amazing racist slurs. Let’s us put our hands together and welcome Mr/Ms/Mdm Overseas Chinese from Malaysia!

July 30, 2008 @ 5:43 pm | Comment

They even made a movie about it called Charlie Wilson’s War starring Tom Hanks.

July 31, 2008 @ 12:16 am | Comment

Blog entry updated with new report regarding a teacher being thrown in a labour camp for a year because he put images of the collapsed schools on the internet.

Are we still going to have the CCP apologists line up to say that there will be a fair investigation and the governments (local and central) are dealing with this fairly, or will they now slink off to avoid having to justify this disgusting human rights violation or, God forbid, criticise that political party that they worship?

July 31, 2008 @ 3:09 am | Comment

This Charles Liu clown cracks me up. Here’s a post about Sichuan earthquake school building investigations and he keeps bringing up the 9-11 settlement agreement. What the 腐? Is anybody in America claiming that the Twin Towers collapsed because of shoddy construction?

Here’s a guy who goes to an obscure blog of an attorney in Makati City, Philippines just to be the one and only commenter to tell him that the official casualty figure of the Tiananmen Massacre is 241, according to a figure released by the Chinese government. This would be like Peking Duck waking up one morning and deciding to post a comment on the blog of a rabbi in Rio that the former Portuguese colony of Macau was returned to the motherland in 1999 and not 1997.

July 31, 2008 @ 12:13 pm | Comment

Blog entry updated with new report regarding a teacher being thrown in a labour camp for a year because he put images of the collapsed schools on the internet.

Raj, i will expect Charles liu to comment on this new development using Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Stay tuned for another derailing exercise.

July 31, 2008 @ 5:17 pm | Comment

[...] blog was home to a spirited argument some months ago regarding the government’s efforts to bribe and/or silence parents of the [...]

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