Escaping the Mines

"Miracle" - China's coal miners rescued.


You may have heard the good news: 115 miners have been rescued from the Shanxi coal mine they had been trapped in for over a week. From the LA Times:

The extraordinary rescue turned into a round-the-clock reality show with state-run CCTV broadcasting live footage of the rescue workers carrying out the miners to a cheering audience. Crews were still hoping Monday night to bring out 38 more.

Although the miners had their faces wrapped with towels to protect their eyes after so many days in darkness, their elation was evident. Even lying flat on his back, one was clapping and gave a high-five to a rescuer.

“They were in high spirits,” Chen Yongsheng, the chief rescue worker, told Chinese television.

I bet they were. Miners in China die with such frequency that reports of mining disasters are white noise. Did you know there were twelve other mining related disasters in March alone? Did you know that those disasters resulted in 104 deaths and dozens more people “missing”? Did you know that there has already been a mining disaster in April (nine dead)?

Don’t get me wrong, the media elation over this rescue is totally understandable. After all, everybody loves a win, and this was one hell of a win. But peruse this site — a month by month table of Chinese mining disasters that runs back to 2005 — for a few minutes and you may start to wonder why we only hear about the miners when they live.

This rescue is a miracle, and I’m sure the miners and their families are ecstatic, but China loses a hundred miners every year for each one they save. I’m no expert, but perhaps it’s time we started talking about why.

What do you think of the rescue?


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  1. The way in which the rescue has been reported in the western media is quite interesting. Almost every media outlet and newspaper has put the word ‘miracle’ in single quotes in the headline. I wonder – are they simply quoting the spokesperson, or effectively mocking or taunting the rescue effort, betraying a certain amount of skepticism in the process?

    For example, three headlines from TIME magazine:

    China ‘Miracle': 115 Trapped Miners Rescued
    CANADA: Miracle in the Mine
    Haiti: A Miracle Rescue Keeps Unrealistic Hopes Alive

  2. Even though we share the conerns & sympathy over those miners under earth, (not the roof lvl), the accidents happens over and over again…The governers are doing nothing really help to the matter, and I am sorry to realize what I say will never make anything a little bit different.

  3. I think it’s great news but a friend of mine worried that the rescuers looked very clean for people who’d been underground.

  4. B-real

    Yeah did you guys here the story of the mine explosion in the states?

    Even after all the safety measures have been taken or put in to place, 25 didn’t make it. Indeed it was a safer mine but accidents do happen and people do die. Fortunately less frequent as china’s hazard of a country.

  5. xian

    Why? China is a developing nation. Work conditions are still abysmal, and there’s no shortage of poor people to take advantage of. I believe most countries went through a similar phase during the industrial revolution.

    • You are talking about a Communist country in the 21st Century, not a capitalist country in the 19th Century.
      Are you seriously arguing that it’s China’s right to abuse it’s poor in order to provide higher profit margins for the owners of the mines?

    • B-real

      Seriously, china’s track record has surpassed what other developed nations achieved in their history of development. In these days and time of proven technology and techniques to prevent such occurrences from happening so frequently. China is just plain negligent. The Gov is going to have to shell out some large bills for the families’ losses. That reason alone should be a good 1 to begin watch dogging more efficiently. Each event is time down from making that bottom dollar.

      My question for the flooding mine is why didn’t they have pumps stationed? Chinese mines seem to be missing the “what if this happens” plan. Lack of contingencies, preventative measures that have been used internationally .

      • xian

        I think we all know China is only communist in name. In fact, it is the opposite. Chinese society has always been a very competitive hyper-capitalist model, and no government in China has ever had full reign over the merchant class in history. Even with regulations I guarantee accidents like this will still happen as long as there are people desperate enough to work for low wages in dangerous conditions. It will only stop when the average household income increases.

        But that is besides the point. The point is that during this development stage, China is ravenous for resources. Of course, nobody wants these accidents to happen. And yes, with the kind of authority the CCP wields it could easily enforce stringent regulations. But these things take time, take money, take infrastructure. You are seeing things from a 1st world perspective. The priority for sustaining China’s growth puts material acquisitions first, and China’s leaders are fully aware of this ugly reality.

      • B-real, I don’t think the government has to shell out, much less shell out large bills, to the family. It’s the mine owner and operator who does, and there are legal maximums to how much compensation can be paid. I think several pieces on chinaSMACK (since I know you’re from there) have touched on this before.

        The amount of compensation for one miner’s life is unfortunately nothing compared to the money made mining coal overall in China.

  6. zball

    From safety perspective, my take on this are:

    1.lack of qualified Safety professionals;
    2.insufficient enforcement of Occupational Health and Safety Acts from all levels of governmental organizations; and
    3.inadequate supports from senior management who intends to regard Health and Safety as a cost rather than an investment.

    Simply put, the biggest challenge lies in cultivating HSE awareness & culture in a society that production is always the cynosure of all eyes.

    From sociology perspective, the lives of normal Chinese people just vaule less than poeple in the developed countries.

    Is it because that the total number of 1.3 billion dampen our conscience on the value of life? I really do not know and still try to find an answer for it.

  7. lolz

    Wikipedia’s entry seems to be a pretty good start:

    China currently accounts for the largest number of coal-mining fatalities, accounting for about 80% of the world’s total, although it produces only 35% of the world’s coal.[4] Between January 2001 to October 2004, there were 188 accidents that had a death toll of more than 10, about one such accident every 7.4 days.[4] After the 2005 Sunjiawan mine disaster, which killed at least 210 miners, a meeting of the State Council was convened to work on measures to improve work safety in coal mines. The meeting’s statement pointed out serious problems such as violation of safety standards and overproduction in some coal mines. Three billion yuan (360 million US dollars) were earmarked for technological renovation on work safety, gas management in particular, at state-owned major coal mines. The government also promised to send safety supervision teams to 45 coal mines with serious gas problems and invite colliery safety experts to evaluate safety situations in coal mines and formulate prevention measures.[5]

    In 2006, according to the State Work Safety Supervision Administration, 4,749 Chinese coal miners were killed in thousands of blasts, floods, and other accidents. For example, a gas explosion at the Nanshan Colliery killed 24 people on November 13, 2006; the mine was operating without any safety license and the Xinhua News Agency claimed the cause was incorrect usage of explosives. However, the 2006 rate was 20.1% less than 2005 despite an 8.1% rise in production.[6]

    The New York Times reported that China’s lack of a free press, independent trade unions, citizen watchdog groups and other checks on official power has made cover-ups of mining accidents more possible, even in the Internet age. As a result, Chinese bureaucrats habitually hide scandals (such as mine disasters, chemical spills, the 2003 SARS epidemic, and tainted milk powder) for fear of being held accountable by the ruling Communist Party or exposing their own illicit ties to companies involved. Under China’s authoritarian system, superiors reward subordinates for strict compliance with targets set from above, like reducing mine disasters. Indeed, should a mining accident occur, the incentive to hide it is often stronger than the reward for handling it well, as a disaster on a bureaucrat’s watch is almost surely a blot on his career, while successfully concealing it means that it may never be uncovered.[7]

  8. Reports from the scene suggest the propaganda department are working harder than the rescuers:

  9. hm

    Change takes time. I can only hope that China will begin to improve its safety measures, but I think it will happen… hopefully in the near future.

  10. Now that West Virgina is going through their own tragedy and or miracle… it will be interesting to see how both countries deal with it. I’d be interested to see the amount of compensation in the US to the miner families.