On Foreign Correspondent last night China – The Day the Schools Fell Down was extraordinarily moving.
In the devastating earthquake that hit Sichuan Province in May, hundreds of school buildings collapsed, trapping and killing thousands of students.
In many cases, while the schools were destroyed, surrounding buildings withstood the quake, leading many to question whether corners had been cut during the construction. Grieving parents are demanding answers but as Stephen McDonell reports, the government is doing its best to shut down the debate.
The junior high school in the town of Juyuan collapsed in less than a minute, killing hundreds of 15 and 16-year-olds. Nearly three hundred families recently joined to lodge a legal case against the school’s principal but the local judge refused to accept it for lack of evidence. One month after the earthquake, authorities prevented parents from holding a memorial service for their dead children and stopped foreign journalists from entering the town.
Already in Juyuan, Stephen McDonell and his crew were twice taken in for questioning at the local police station. At other times roadblocks prevented them reaching the site of the collapsed school. At a media conference the local government official heading the Chinese investigation refused to answer McDonell’s questions. Parents of the victims say they don’t want money as compensation for their tragic loss, but people who built the school should be punished.
The images told the story very clearly.
I have restored an excellent video on those earthquakes to the top of my Vodpod for the time being.
A couple of other things occurred to me as I watched.
First, that ABC now employs foreign correspondents in China with language skills sufficiently good as to be able to conduct interviews in Mandarin. The difference that makes was amply demonstrated in this segment.
Second, that in the face of such devastation the religious spirit surfaces, even in a notionally atheistic society such as China. Along with fierce anger against the corruption that probably led to those schools being poorly constructed.