Identities of Shanghai Fire Victims Kept Secret

By Rona Rui, Epoch Times
November 30, 2010 10:58 pm Last Updated: October 1, 2015 6:21 pm

Shanghai residents come to the ruined building to mourn the Nov. 15 fire disaster victims with flowers (Photo provided by Shanghai resident Zhang Junwei)
Shanghai residents come to the ruined building to mourn the Nov. 15 fire disaster victims with flowers (Photo provided by Shanghai resident Zhang Junwei)
Famous Chinese artist and civil rights activist Ai Weiwei called for a “Citizen’s investigation” to reveal the names of victims of the Shanghai high-rise fire, which claimed 58 lives in mid-November.

On Nov. 21, the seventh day after the fire and a day when in traditional Chinese belief the spirits of the deceased return home, nearly 200,000 Shanghai residents went to pay their respects to the victims—partly out of mourning, and partly to demonstrate their disgust at official corruption and incompetence that contributed to the deaths.

Despite intense public pressure Shanghai authorities still refuse to reveal the victim’s names, insisting that one-third of the victims’ families are unwilling to have their relatives’ names publicized.

Chinese Express Frustration

This practice—which is common in China, but does not accord with international standards—has been widely questioned on the Chinese Internet. Some mocked, “People are asked to provide their ID card and must register with their real names when they go to buy kitchen knives or surfing on the Internet, now when they are killed, their identities suddenly become private. What’s the logic behind this?”

On Nov. 24, Ai Weiwei initiated a civilian investigation to reveal the victims’ names on Twitter. He received much support and gained the information of the 59 victims in one day, including 44 confirmed dead and 15 others whose statuses are unknown.

"I'm doing this because in China for every disaster—whether it's an earthquake, a mining disaster or a fire—they never publish the names of the victims," Ai told AFP.

Officials Refuse to Answer

Liu Wei, a human rights lawyer from Beijing who responded to Ai’s call, told The Epoch Times that she was ignored when calling Shanghai 11.15 Fire Disaster Aftermath Handling Team to verify the victims’ names she collected. “I asked how they determined the opinions of one-third of the families. They refused to reply. I then asked, 'How about the two-thirds of families who were willing to make public the victims’ names?' They didn’t reply to that either. Now they refuse to respond to anything. I don’t know whether the one-third is true or false, but they are using that as an excuse to violate the public’s right to know.”

Liu made clear that it is not a Chinese custom to keep the names of the dead secret, and indicated that the authorities have their own political motives.

Workers Blamed

The fire started during the daytime on Nov. 15 when welding sparks ignited the nylon netting draped over bamboo scaffolding around the 28 story building, quickly engulfing it, according to state media.

Authorities hastily initiated and concluded an investigation: Within 24 hours of the fire's conclusion the investigation team from Beijing announced the arrest of eight unlicensed welders who, according to Xinhua News Agency, were to blame.

Mourners, witnesses and bloggers suspected that system-wide fire code violations did much to contribute to the tragedy, and many have blamed the authorities.

Read the original Chinese article.