Over 10,000 Question Government's Responsibility in Earthquake Disaster

By Ye Bing, Voice of America
June 19, 2008 Updated: June 19, 2008

On June 15, over 10,000 Chinese citizens assembled to question the Chinese regime's role and responsibility in the May 12 Sichuan earthquake.

The citizens demanded to be allowed to exercise their citizens' right to oversee the official acts of the state government, and demanded a thorough investigation into whether the authorities had deliberately covered up data forecasting the quake. Further they demanded punishment for those responsible for the shoddy construction of school buildings that resulted in the deaths of many students and teachers.

Building a Civic Society

An organization called “Society of Citizens Supervising Political Affairs in China” sent a press release via the Internet, promoting public awareness of citizen rights through citizens holding officials accountable. The group aims at facilitating the growth of a strong citizen-led society in China as soon as possible, and eliminating all forms of corruption.

Collapse of Schools Raises Questions

Li Yu, a human rights activist from Deyang City, in Sichuan Province, and a participant of the joint effort explained that his 16 year-old child is attending middle school this year. As a parent, he feels extremely sorry for those students and teachers who could not escape the classrooms during the quake. He also expressed deep sympathy to those parents who lost their children in the quake. Li suggested that the poorly constructed schools might be directly linked to power-money trade.

“The magnitude of this quake is certainly a factor,” said Li, “but this construction market was already very chaotic. The bid invitation process and the bidding process in many cases are not open and transparent. There are many dirty tricks hidden throughout.”

Yang Yueyan, a retired teacher in Shanghai, also pointed out that some of the school buildings completely collapsed within 20 seconds, but noted that the Liuhan Hope Elementary School in Beichuan County was much more fortunate, surviving intact.

“Plus, Beichuan is at the center of the quake,” said Yang. “All the rest of the school buildings collapsed except this one, prompting even prime minister Wen Jiabao to bow to it. Wen said he wanted to pay his respects to the builders of the Hope Elementary School. None of the 483 teachers and students was injured or killed, but the rest of schools in the area all collapsed. Some elementary schools fully collapsed a mere 15 seconds after the quake hit. The steel reinforcing bars inside the concrete walls were extremely thin; even the local farmers said they would not use such thin reinforcing bars in building their houses.”

Li stated that the government is responsible for setting practical and executable policies to ensure the construction quality of public buildings and the effective operation of supervisory mechanisms prior to rebuilding in the quake-stricken area. He said if the rebuilding proceeds without a policy to ensure construction quality, parents still won't feel secure when children retrun to the newly built schools,.

Supervising Officials is Civic Duty

After co-signing a letter questioning the government's actions surrounding the quake, Yang Yueyan said that local police station had a discussion with her. According to Yang, police indirectly reminding her that joining such an organization could bring her trouble.

This retired teacher expressed that she supports ideas for citizens questioning and monitoring their government. She stated that China's citizenry has a duty to exercising supervision over the work of the government and its functionaries, in accordance with the law. “I read in the official newspaper that local departments didn't pay attention to the earthquake forecasts,” said Yang. “These departments should be held accountable for not taking action.”

“After we raised this issue, there was no follow up,” continued Yang. “Because the news media is run by the authorities, there is no freedom of speech. It is just government-controlled propaganda. Therefore, it can't be exposed. The Chinese communist regime continues to call for stability, and they're using this as their excuse. Those in power don't want to be removed from their posts. Once they see you demanding accountability, they are in fear.”

According to information released by the Citizens Supervising Political Affairs Society, those who participated in the campaign came from all over the country, including Beijing, Shanghai, and provinces of Guangdong, Sichuan, Shandong, Zhejiang, Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia.