The Chinese regime veered into high damage control this week, trying to kill the news about five runaway boys who died in a dumpster in southwestern China while the 18th Party Congress was in session in Beijing.
The boys, cousins and brothers between the age of 9 and 13 surnamed Tao, had been trying to take shelter from the cold and lit a fire inside a large garbage bin to keep warm. Their bodies were found by a rubbish collector in Bijie city in Guizhou Province, one of China’s poorest, last Friday. They are thought to have died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Li Yuanlong, the journalist who first reported the story, was “taken for a ride” by police on Nov. 21, part of the authorities’ attempt to intimidate him and snuff out the news.
The Central Propaganda Department considered the story so sensitive that they issued a media directive on Nov. 20 to squelch the story. A netizen reported increased security and police presence in Bijei City, blocking inquiries about the deaths.
The Internet post by journalist and dissident Li went viral online, prompting nationwide sorrow for the deaths. Netizens were outraged at the squalor the children were living in, and with the official handling of the issue.
The human rights organization China Rights Observer was able to contact Li, who told them by cellphone that he was riding in police car, and had been “vacationed,” reported Radio Free Asia, after a netizen issued an alert that Li was missing.
In an effort to limit further publicity, propaganda authorities issued a media directive on Nov. 20 instructing papers to report only moderately on the story. “Do not put this news on the front page, do not lure readers to the story, do not link to the story, do not comment on it, and do not dispatch journalists to the scene,” according to China Digital Times, a website which keeps a catalogue of such notices.
A netizen who traveled to Bijie to investigate reported in a Weibo post that security there had been stepped up.
“There are uniforms and secret police everywhere around the spot of the deaths, the village, and the funeral parlor. I was questioned by police in the funeral parlor and a policeman is trying to take me to the police station.”
The anger of netizens reflects the sore points of the Chinese citizenry at large, issues that promise to go unresolved by the new regime: a lack of social services for the families of migrant workers, pervasive censorship, a political and economic structure which delivers to the officials but not to the citizenry, and unresponsive bureaucrats like the police who neglected to search for the runaways.
After the news was publicized a number of officials resigned or were fired. Yet comments on the Internet reveal the depth of persistent anger at the regime, whose social policies are blamed for this and similar tragedies. “The Chinese Communist Party is planning another assassination!” said one user. “We will all die an unnatural death if we don’t revolt!” shouted another. Yet another wrote: “Common people are boiling with resentment. Chinese communist officials, prepare coffins for yourselves!”
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