On the Wenzhou train crash

Just wanted to make a quick point on the Wenzhou train crash. People are livid, and government — that is CPC — response has never seemed so inadequate or out of touch. Minitruth directives that have been leaked — and to be fair, all governments try to set agendas and frame news coverage, though they are often more delicate about it — reinforce the stereotype that China is shady and the people are blind followers.

But this may become a potential turning point for China’s social reforms. Despite government attempts to frame and kill news coverage (the angle is “In the face of great tragedy, there’s great love”), many media outlets did not follow orders. Via Shanghaiist, the front pages of some city dailies the day after the crash:

Click to enlarge. (Weibo/lishacn)

Over the following week, several notable people in the state media began speaking out, as well, voicing their disapproval and beseeching the government to answer questions.

Finally, after a late Friday night directive that essentially banned any non-positive story that didn’t come from official sources (i.e., a newspaper’s own investigative reporting) and that led to dozens of papers scrapping hundreds of pages, one leading weekly went ahead with their original copy. The front page featured a letter to the “miracle” child, a 2-year-old girl who was found hours after the government had called a stop to the rescue searches. An excerpt, translated by the WSJ’s China Real Time Report:

To live – to live with dignity – is that rainbow you get to see only after suffering through the wind and the rain. Yiyi, when you’re older maybe you’ll realize that dark night of July 23 was when things started to change. After that day, we won’t simply complain, but instead learn how to advocate and act. We understand that we have rights, we respect these rights and are will spare no effort to protect them.

The Internet has revolutionized the way the Chinese interact with their government and arguably has given them a platform to express themselves more freely. It has led to acts of advocacy in such cases as animal welfare and environmental protection. But whether the Weibo fury over the train crash will translate into real “change” and teach the Chinese how to “advocate and act” won’t be known for a few years.

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