Doubts Fester Over Official Train Death Toll in China

By Jerry Li & Helena Zhu
Epoch Times Staff
Created: July 29, 2011 Last Updated: March 16, 2012
Related articles: China » Regime
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A Chinese man holds up a portrait of his relative as family members of victims who died in the July 23 high-speed train collision demonstrate in the hope of learning the truth at a railway station in Wenzhou, in eastern China's Zhejiang Province. (AFP/Getty Images)

A Chinese man holds up a portrait of his relative as family members of victims who died in the July 23 high-speed train collision demonstrate in the hope of learning the truth at a railway station in Wenzhou, in eastern China's Zhejiang Province. (AFP/Getty Images)

Nearly a week has passed since the deadly high-speed rail collision in eastern China, yet officials have provided few believable details to satisfy the public and the family members of the victims.

As early as Monday, July 25, two days after the incident, which caused six cars to derail and four to fall from a viaduct in Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Province, state-run media CCTV reported that 39 people were confirmed dead and 192 were injured. Yet three days later, on Thursday, the figures had apparently remained the same.

The never-rising toll, which also does not include the number of missing people, has raised many doubts among Chinese netizens.

“The four cars that fell off were all full with more than 400 people. … So what happened with the rest of the people?” a user asked on Sina Weibo. “Did they all fall from the viaduct after a high-speed crash without getting hurt at all?” Chinese officials have tried their best to prevent the public from knowing.

When officials at first failed to release a list of victims, Chinese netizens compiled one of their own, which included the names, ages, and even ID numbers of 40 people who died, 133 who were injured, and 43 who were missing.

Yet the effort was halted when the Chinese regime’s Internet police blocked access to the website on Monday. The Chinese public then had to wait another four days for a less complete list to be released by Chinese officials in increments.

Although all passengers were required to purchase the tickets with their real names, ID numbers, and telephone numbers, which should have made it easy for officials to work out the casualties, officials seemed to have a lot of trouble finalizing the list of victims. Even when the list just documented those who died, it was released in three parts—one on Wednesday, one on Thursday, and the last one on Friday.

When the relatives of the victims finally had the list in front of them, something was amiss. Mr. Su from Wenzhou told Radio Free Asia said that his relative Jin Xianyan and his nine-year-old nephew Jin Yangzhong were confirmed dead, but Jin Xianyan failed to appear on the list of victims published by authorities.

Jin is not the only one. Some bloggers discovered that Lin Yan, the victim whose family was the first to reach a compensation agreement with the authorities, also did not appear on the official list of 39 victims (these agreements require the signatories to forgo their right to future legal action). Another person with the same name did show up on the list, but with a different year of birth and ID number.

Distinctly unsatisfied with the official figures and names, Chinese netizens decided to take the matter into their own hands. Some joined together to help look for the missing victims, while others went about looking for more accurate death and injury tolls.

In an online alliance formed to look for the victims, over 1 million microblog posts related to the case were created within 48 hours, while others looking for their loved ones tallied as many as another 100 people who are still missing.

One netizen, calling himself “The Blog I Have Here,” shocked the gathering online community when he announced that, according to his information, 216 people had been killed in the incident.

“The latest death toll from the Wenzhou bullet train crash: 216 people! 216 people! 216 people! 216 people! The figures came from Chinese badminton player Gong Weijie, who verified the figure with his friends from an insurance company,” he posted on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

True or not, and in the absence of more credible information, the alarming figure was forwarded over 100,000 times. It came with a “hard obtained” photograph showing a smashed and flattened train car, with the user entreating viewers to imagine how any aboard could have survived.

The death toll for the incident has to remain low—at least officially—because more officials at the senior level will be punished if the death toll were higher, since then it would be considered a “major accident,” a Chinese journalist told The Epoch Times.

“An incident with a death toll of more than 100 would be considered a major accident, and any death toll of over 200 would be a catastrophic accident,” said Li Lin (alias), a reporter working for the Zhejiang-based Qianjiang Evening News.

Currently, three low-ranking officials have already been fired.


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