China Quake Parents “Scolded” for Seeking Justice
XIANG'E, China—Yang Xueshu knows he wants justice, he just doesn't know where to turn to get it.
His 14-year-old daughter, Yang Ting, died along with more than 400 of her schoolmates when the Xiang'e Middle School came crashing down in China's May 12 earthquake.
Like parents in towns across the region, Yang believes corruption in school construction was to blame for the collapse of his daughter's school and he wants answers from the government.
“We want to sue, but we can't sue. We don't have that kind of strength. We're just farmers,” he said.
Domestic media reports compiled by Reuters put the combined toll from deaths of children and teachers in the rubble of schools at more than 9,000. At least 69,000 people died in the quake.
Parents in Xiang'e, a poor farming community whose scattered, low-slung houses sit amid fields of corn and rice paddy, sought an explanation at the education bureau in the nearby city of Dujiangyan, but they haven't got the answers they need.
“No one received us. They told us the person responsible wasn't there, but we didn't believe them,” said Li Fuliang, 40, who lost his son Li Wei at the Xiang'e school.
“We waited there for three or four hours in the hot sun. After a while one person came out and started scolding us and made us go,” he said.
Eventually, village and township officials were called in and forced them to leave, he said.
Around the region, parents tell similar tales — they want answers but do not know what path to take in a country whose Communist authorities see seeking redress as subversive.
In the town of Wufu, where the Fuxin Number Two primary school is the only building that collapsed in the quake, killing hundreds of children, parents says the local government has promised them the results of an investigation by June 20.
“What do we have to be afraid of? We've lost everything,” said a woman surnamed Zheng, whose 10-year-old daughter was killed at the school.
But none of the parents , who keep a vigil in a shaded area at the edge of the rubble of their childrens' school, are clear about what to do if they don't get they're not satisfied with the response.
One said they would file a suit; another said they would petition higher authorities.
None of the parents at the schools in Wufu and Xiang'e, or at the Xinjian primary school in Dujiangyan, which was also the only building on its block to collapse, said they had been in contact with a lawyer.
Over 200 relatives of children killed in Muyu town converged in the county seat of Qingchuan to ask if a collapsed dormitory was up to standard and if any locked doors had impeded the children's escape.
The Muyu Middle School relatives were unsatisfied with an official's denial of both points and pledge of a further answer within two days.
“He only said false words… We felt we were unimportant,” said a mother surnamed Zhang, whose 15-year-old son died in the ruins of the school dormitory, a former clinic built in 1972.
Relatives took the windy mountain roads to Qingchuan, but said police had stopped one group that tried to rent a bus from a different village to the county seat.
In Xiang'e, parents say the school went up only six or seven years ago. Why should it have crumpled into rubble?
Many of the children there, they say, were found in what remained of the stairwells as they rushed to get out.
They suspect that the construction was shoddy and want to know whose pocket funds that were meant for the school building ended up in.
“100 percent of the families here want an explanation for the school construction,” said Ma Fuquan, whose 13-year-old daughter Ma Yu died in the collapse.
“In our hearts we are extremely angry, but we don't know what to do.”