Blueprints Reveal Construction Corruption in Quake-Damaged School Buildings

March 20, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015
A woman documents the remains of a demolished school in the devastated town of Yingxiu in southwest China's quake-stricken Sichuan province. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman documents the remains of a demolished school in the devastated town of Yingxiu in southwest China's quake-stricken Sichuan province. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

The Sichuan Earthquake on May 12, 2008 caused the collapse of many school buildings and claimed the lives of tens of thousands of students. However, the authorities have been denying that shoddy construction played a role in the disaster.

Some of the parents whose children were killed in Beichuan Middle School in the earthquake were able to access the design blueprints of the school buildings and found that thinner and fewer steel enforcement bars were used in the construction project.  The authorities in Sichuan have been interrogating and arresting some parents to stop them from exposing this information, citing that the blueprints were a "state secret."  

According to the Hong-Kong-based China Hunan Rights Information Center, some of the bereaved parents went to experts to compare the blueprints with the wreckage of the buildings and found that the construction contractors had cut corners in at least 16 places, for instance, using 4 steel bars with diameter of 16 millimeters, instead of 8 steel rods with diameter of 20 millimeters, in supporting a heavy wall.

One of the parents, Mr. Yang, said during an interview with a Hong Kong media that the two collapsed buildings were built in 1998 and 2003 respectively. He said that the one built in 2003 looked to be smashed completely with debris scattering all around, exposing very few and thin steel rods, while a neighboring old building that was constructed in the 1970’s remained intact.

For the past 10 months, the bereaved parents have resorted to means such as protesting on the street, writing and appealing to the authorities, to request for an investigation. Yet the authorities have evaded their requests, mobilized police to suppress them, and even imprisoned some of the parents.

When questioned by the media, the authorities refused to admit that shoddy construction was linked to the disaster on the ground that it was an earthquake of such a great magnitude that was beyond any earthquake prevention design.

According to an investigation conducted by some of the parents, the foreman of the construction of a collapsed school building, Lu, had sold the designated steels and cements to nearby residents to make a profit. The school responded to this finding by saying that “there was not enough money, so we had to sell some of the materials to collect money for the construction project. “

It was reported that one of the parents, Mr. Mu Yongxian, was arrested by the Mingyang City police after showing the blueprints to the Sichuan Public Security Office and requesting an investigation.  The police also threatened Mr. Mu to turn over the original copies, and that he would be “leaking state secrets” and “subverting state power” if he refused to cooperate.

Sources said that another 3 parents who were involved were also questioned by the police, and that some received anonymous phone calls telling them that a 250,000 yuan (approximately US$ 36,625) reward would be offered if they do not make the blueprints public.
China Human Rights Information Center revealed that two parents in Beichuan were arrested on the grounds of possessing "state secrets" and their blueprints were confiscated.

Fifteen hundred students and school faculty members died after school buildings collapsed in the Sichuan Earthquake on May 12, 2008.

Read the original article in Chinese