Qinghai Earthquake: Does the Government Fear the Dead?

Everyone is concerned about the victims of the Qinghai earthquake and its many aftershocks. Just as in Sichuan two years ago, many buildings — including government-built schools — collapsed due to shoddy construction. Whether this is the “government’s fault” or just a result of the region’s relative poverty is still up in the air, and obviously, the discussion about it is already pretty political.

In response the the news that the official death toll has been increased again (to 1,484 as of this writing), Olympic Birds’ Nest designer and activist Ai Weiwei tweeted a rhetorical question to the government: “You fear the living, do you also fear the dead?”

I say rhetorical because Ai is unlikely to get an official answer (to put it lightly), but it’s actually a valid question. In the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, the dead — specifically, the dead schoolchildren — became a huge liability for the government, especially when citizens like Ai Weiwei and Tan Zuoren started conducting an “investigation” in the area focused on collecting the names and birth dates of the dead students. Tan Zuoren is in prison now, and Ai was arrested dozens of times — the whole affair has become thoroughly embarrassing from the government’s perspective, especially since Mr. Ai has been especially good at making his case during his frequent international traveling and speaking engagements.

The dead — in that case, over 5,000 children crushed and buried under the remains of poorly-constructed schools — were a threat.

The jury is still out on whether this earthquake’s victims will pose any threat to the regime’s legitimacy, but the New York Times already seems to be indicating that the government is afraid of more dead students, or at least someone is:

At the No. 3 Primary School, the monks said they had pulled 50 students from collapsed classrooms but when an official came by to ask how many had died, the police offered half that number. “I think they’re afraid to let the world know how bad this earthquake is,” said Gen Ga Ja Ba, a 23-year-old monk.

Of course, it’s all secondhand information. Perhaps the monks are members of the “Dalai clique”, trying to confuse the “masses who are ignorant of the truth”. Or maybe it’s for real. Either way, when there are disasters like this, Ai Weiwei might be right. Even before real evidence is available, people — myself included — have jumped to the conclusion that at least some of the deaths are the government’s fault.

And given that Ai Weiwei walks free but there’s still not been an official public investigation into the “tofu-dreg” buildings that collapsed on students in Sichuan, it may well be that the government fears the dead even more than they fear the living.


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And if you haven’t yet, take a moment of your time (and a bit of your money) to help out the victims and rescuers in Qinghai, who are valiantly struggling despite cold temperatures and all of the problems associated with high altitudes.


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  1. roninstevie

    “Cultural differences might have contributed a sharp rise in the official death toll Friday. In a telephone call with The Associated Press, rescue officials seemed surprised to hear that hundreds of bodies were at the Jiegu monastery, taken there by Buddhist families. The new official death toll was announced hours later.”

    China Post, Taiwan

    And about Ai Wei Wei – I really, really hate this guy. He is not helping but exploiting the agony and suffering of the people. And his ass kissing in germany is really hard to watch sometimes.

    • Josh

      How is he being exploitive, exactly? By tweeting and writing the names of dead children in his blog?

      Saying he’s exploitive by raising awareness is pretty piss poor reasoning, if you’re thinking of going there.

      • I think Ai Weiwei raises awareness about important issues and problems that need attention, but I also disagree with a lot of the things he does or says. For example, I wasn’t too keen about some of the comments he made to Jack Dorsey about Twitter.

      • roninstevie

        So how is he helping raising awareness in china (sic!) by giving interviews in Germany? An interview by Ai Wei Wei in German sounds like that: “China is even more evil than Nazi Germany. The kill children for profit. Look at the pictures of the dead children in my new vernissage in munich! The pictures of the dead children say enough!
        But you Germans are enlightend and better then we chinese. I really envy you…”

        It is really disgusting.

  2. Jones

    Clicked this hoping it was something to do with zombies. World War Z first chapters kind of thing. I guess it’s back to stockpiling canned goods and ammunition.

    • Some Guy

      You mean zombie Tibetans vs brain-dead Chinese nationalists? LOL Similar to that episode of “Masters of Horror” where the dead soldiers from the Iraq war come back as zombies to vote out Bush….

      By the way Custer, to answer your question, I don’t think the Government has much to fear from the dead in this case. Not enough here to directly pin on corruption or government incompetence.

  3. lolable

    Terrible post. Some rhetorics are better left unexpressed.

    Do not see any constructive debate to go with this, and the post it self is my opinion is quite base.

  4. friendo

    The NYT article is heap of dung, for starters. Gen Ga Ja Ba? Is he related to Hut Ja Ba?

    God, NYT needs to stop making up “Asian names” when they want to prove a point.

    Next they’ll say Ching Chong Ping Pong agrees with Gen Ga Ja Ba.

    • roninstevie

      Just red the NYT arcticle. I am so fucking angry right now… Those bloody bastards are using everything they can think of for their hate speech and propaganda…

      It is so disgusting…

      • What’s wrong with the NYT article? For the most part, it’s reporting on ethnic tensions occurring at the earthquake site, so unless you are also at the earthquake site, I’m not sure how you’re so sure what they’re saying is wrong.

        And if you ARE at the earthquake site, what the hell are you doing commenting on c/d?

        • roninstevie

          What´s wrong with the NYT article? Beside that it is one of the filthiest piece of hate propaganda I have red in a long time?

          I´m fucking quite sure what they´re saying is wrong. Why? The same reason why I would be sure, that jews are not poisoning fountains. I know chinese soldiers and I know how the work, fight and help during a catastrophe like an earthquake. Those people do not think about the dalai lama or the fucking new york times, they are just thinking about saving as much lives as possible. To spit on their face for political hate propaganda is the worst thing somebody can do.

          Switch on your brain, Custer. I know that you are not a racist. Do not let the western media make you turn into one.

    • It’s probably a real name but the reporter didn’t bother to track the Tibetan down, and instead just took the transliterated Chinese name and wrote the pinyin for those characters. For example, the current DL’s name Lhamo Döndrub would come out La Mo Dun Zhu using this method. Looks fake, but that doesn’t mean it is fake.

  5. B-real

    I can’t say they fear anything but losing money and time. They have to start learning from this. Now that they play many important roles in the world China has to realize that this can’t happen every they want to make deals internationally. Hu Jin Tao had canceled a tour to Brazil to attend a disaster zone that could have been prevented by simply having an efficient monitoring system.

    Every time China is ready to make love it has to run back to the bathroom to take a shit. That has to be annoying for the country’s leaders as well as the country men and women.

    China is doing great job at beautifying its great cities and ridding the land of shitty villages for future projects but they should also think about the 10-30 year old apartments that were built and verify their safety and act accordingly to prevent such disasters in the future outside of the great cities. Or is it a risk they are willing to take to save money time and effort?

    • roninstevie

      “Hu Jin Tao had canceled a tour to Brazil to attend a disaster zone that could have been prevented by simply having an efficient monitoring system.”

      How??? Please tell me how. Or just shut the fuck up. I am so ashamed of you people. There are people dying and you just keep on bullshitting.

      • Jones

        What do you mean “you people”? Someone call the NAACP.

        Agreed, even with a monitoring system, they’d never have been able to prevent the earthquake. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of earthquakes being prevented out in California (or elsewhere) thanks to any monitoring system. Those are pretty much for research purposes.

        Now, had he mentioned just the old apartments, and shoddy construction quality, then there you go. That part is definitely true.

        • Jones

          Sorry, I meant to say “they couldn’t have prevented the destruction/loss of life”.

          • B-real

            Let me re-iterate. Not allow poor construction to be built at all. Getting real building permits, actually having qualified building inspectors come out and determine whether the places are safe to even to be built or simply tear the existing shitty ones down please. I know you can’t predict or stop an earth quake but you can take steps to lessen the blow to the lives that live there. This what I meant by monitoring system. Gov, and private watch dogs making sure peoples lively hoods are not ruined from shoddy construction.

            After the San Francisco quake, foundations for existing houses had to be retro fitted to ride out the quake and new houses followed that standard state wide. The San Andres in 94 really fucked some shit up infrastructurally but the casualties were relatively low.
            California homes are nothing but ply wood, and dry wall, With enough might you can punch threw the exterior walls. I think they are shit but its the foundation that keeps its all together. Its basic construction 101.

        • B-real

          Hahahaha, some one call Reverend Jesse jackson.

        • roninstevie

          You wise guys know, that this is one of the most isolated and poorest region in the world? Right?
          You know that tibet in the US propaganda movies are just a form of disneyland and have nothing to do with reality. Right?

          Most building in this region are made of brickearth and wood. And you guys are talking about “shoddy cunstruction quality” and “building inspectors” and “permits”.

          I do not want to insult someone. But this topic and the reactions to this makes me really angry.

          I already wrote it. If the NYT would write, that the jews are poisoning the well, would you believe them?
          Don´t you get it, that this whole topic is just shameless hate propaganda? How could a man with just one inch of decensy use an event like that to grind an axe with china?

          • How could someone with an ounce of decency not?

            As I said in the post, it’s not clear yet why the buildings collapsed, but if the region is too poor to build real schools, isn’t that the government’s fault? Isn’t it the government’s job to provide citizens with safe, free education?

            Imagine you were the parent of one of these dead students, crushed by their school building. Wouldn’t you want some answers? Wouldn’t you desperately wish that someone had properly inspected the building? Maybe — of course, we don’t know for sure yet — if the government had done a better job of building and inspecting, some of these poor parents would not have had to lose their children.

            This has nothing to do with having an axe to grind with China, it has to do with wanting some justice for some of the victims of this tragedy. I imagine if it were your son or daughter who died, you might suddenly feel like all this talk of “building inspectors” wasn’t “hate speech” but rather pretty goddamn relevant.

          • B-real

            Excuses, the houses in mexico are made of clay(use to be). Mexico is a poor country too and they had less casualties for a slightly larger quake, what is their excuse?

          • Sam

            What about all the other dead people? Their relatives want answers too. Why would they be willing to give up more funds from their already badly built housing projects to the already better built schools? Where is their justice? How many average citizens’ life are you willing to sacrifice to save one school kid?

  6. It is quite interesting to see how the New York Times is trying to influence its readers in subtle ways.

    The NYT article by Andrew Jacobs says,

    China’s leadership has treated the quake as a dual emergency — a humanitarian crisis almost three miles above sea level in remote Qinghai Province, and a fresh test of the Communist Party’s ability to keep a lid on dissent among restive Tibetans.

    BREAKING NEWS: China’s leadership called up the New York Times and said that they have treated the earthquake as a ‘dual emergency’!

    It also twisted Wen Jiabao’s comments,

    Wen Jiabao postponed his own planned visit to Indonesia and came to the quake site promising that China’s Han majority would do whatever it could to aid the Tibetans.

    Wen Jiabao had not said anything of that sort.
    Why would Wen Jiabao speak as a representative of ‘China’s Han majority’, and not as a representative of the government?

    And in another NYT article by the same author, it is alleged that,

    Prime Minister Wen Jiabao spent Friday in the Tibetan high country, comforting survivors of this week’s devastating earthquake in a prominent display of concern by the country’s Han leadership for one of China’s most troubled ethnic minorities.

    thereby suggesting that the reason that Wen Jiabao went to the earthquake site and comforted people was that the earthquake took place in a minority dominated region. The author has conveniently chosen to ignore (or he didn’t know) that after the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, a Han dominated province, Wen Jiabao was airborne within 90 minutes, headed for the earthquake site.
    Hence, the fact that he visited the site has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the fact that the earthquake took place in a minority dominated region. The author is reprehensibly trying to relate the two.

    It is downright cheap and quite frankly, inhuman, that the media is trying to exploit a natural disaster in this manner. It’s almost as if Andrew Jacobs and NYT were waiting for something like this to happen, so that they could get a chance to publish such atrocities.

    • roninstevie


      “but if the region is too poor to build real schools, isn’t that the government’s fault? Isn’t it the government’s job to provide citizens with safe, free education?”

      Yes, skyscrapers and streets paved with golds for one of the hardest to access back country in the world! And not tomorrow but know! Come on use your brain. China ist still a poor country and many regions in China will never be as developed and rich as Europe or Japan. It is not one of the poorest regions in the world because tibetans are so lazy or the chinese government is so evil, but because it is literally in the back of the beyond. There is no industry there (and not even possible), no really tourism and the mountains are not the best place for farming. Without the chinese government, those people would be even more poorer. (Remember live expectancy 50 years ago, was around 32 years in this area)

      2. Around 85% of all of the buildings collapsed. Around 50% of the school buildings. What is this telling us?

      3. They reason why there are also (!) many dead children is, that the children of nomads live in the schools. Of course, if those children would not attend school and be nomads like their parents. They might still live today. Yes you are right. The chinese state was wrong to let them go to school.

      “Imagine you were the parent of one of these dead students, crushed by their school building. Wouldn’t you want some answers? ”

      You know what. The poor parents know the answer already. The building companies usually sold the material (bricks etc.) they should use for the schools to locals. Maybe even to the parents themself who lost their kids. Everybody knew what was going on. Every Chinese knows that. As well as every Italian knows that as well, because the same bullshit happend there as well (l´aquilla 2009 earthquake).

      The problem is corruption. But you will not solve this problem by walking around in the US or in Germany and call the chinese government baby killers. This is hate propaganda not more and not less. There is only one way to diminish corruption. No – it is not fucking “democray” or “freedom speech”. No, it is economic devolpment. With economic development there is no middle class, and without middle class there is no civil rights movement. This is something you americans just do not get. And therefor you will always fail with your strategy to implement “democracy” with the help of wars and revolution. And now – Ai Wei Wei is not part of the civil rights movement. Why? Because he is spending his whole time time talking to racist foreign journalists then trying to change something in (!) china. Screw him!

      • B-real

        You make too many excuses for the wrong reasons. Neglect is neglect regardless if it rich or poor, in rich or poor countries. This should not happen. Bull shit China is still a poor country. The people are poor not the Gov. Who cares if the life expectancy of that area is only 30, years, who if the people are nomadic. Most of us in and out of China already know that China is famous for being “baby killers” as you put it above. We all know the history of China being an absent slum lord. No one is trying to enforce democracy here my friend. In my eyes communism is sort of working for this part of the world and right about now nothing is going to sway it other wise. Quit being a panda hugger and look thru the soot. This is not a matter of politics at least not 100%. Fuck what the NYT sys although if they would give access to foreign media it probably would have no better or worse. I give Ai Wei Wei props for having the bawls for saying something instead of escaping after he got his money.

        Poor countries don’t 40 billion dollars structures for a 2 week events. Poor countries displace people in the name of beautification. If the people actually had property right then I can point some blame on people but since the ultimate owner of the land is China. It is their responsibility to plot it, price it , regulate it, maintain it to make sure its suitable for its inhabitants. That includes the building too.

      • No one said anything about skyscrapers. But buildings with real foundations would be a start, no? If 85% of the buildings fell, that means some didn’t, so why were they built differently and how come the schools weren’t also built that way?

        I agree the problem is corruption, but no one is calling the Chinese government “baby killers”, and I don’t see how your approach (ignoring/rationalizing the corruption?) is going to have any positive effect whatsoever. You may not like Ai Weiwei, but at least he’s out there trying to do something (spending all his time talking with foreign journalists? He spent weeks, maybe months trudging around in rural Sichuan for his earthquake investigation last year…how much have YOU done to fight corruption lately?)

        It’s easy to throw stones, but if you’re not proposing any alternative solution, who are you helping. Just saying “the problem is corruption” is meaningless, especially if you get angry when someone tries to hold people responsible. When I say “the government’s fault”, I don’t mean the entire Chinese government. I mean the local government officials there who were engaged in corrupt practices that led to shoddy schools being built.

        • B-real

          Well said. Some one has to be held responsible to see that this doesn’t happen so often especially in quake areas. Time, effort ,money, and lives have been lost in these repeat ordeals.

        • Sam

          Apparently roninstevie did propose the alternative solution, or the only viable solution in his/her opinion: “it is economic devolpment”. Are you just not willing to see it? From your viewpoint being an activist like Ai Weiwei is doing something positive towards an alternative solution. But apparently for many others Ai Weiwei is just “throwing stones” and “not proposing any alternative solution”. It all depends on how you see it.

          One thing I learned from the Economics class is what the pressures from the special interest groups like Ai represents can do to the real world economics: they skew the demand/supply relations and disproportionally favor one group of people than the others. Nothing wrong with that if you can justify it and the society as a whole agrees with it. And the economists usually like to be more specific, explicit, and transparent about such favoritism.

          If the data from roninstevie is correct, the school children have already been better protected, given the fact that an average building is 70% more likely to collapse than a school building. Apparently it costs money to build things that can withstand any quake. Without real economic development as roninstevie suggested but only stirring things up with emotions from Ai Weiwei, all you can achieve is depriving the funds from the already poorly built civil buildings and use them on the already 70% better built school buildings. So tell me, why school children deserve to be infinitely better protected than the average citizens? I doubt the Chinese society as a whole would agree with you.

          • “that an average building is 70% more likely to collapse than a school building”

            Do you have a source for that? Because I haven’t seen that info anywhere else.

          • Sam

            I don’t. But I assume roninstevie was right about “Around 85% of all of the buildings collapsed. Around 50% of the school buildings.” 0.85 is 70% more than 0.5.

          • Jay (a different one)

            The issue is not whether this group or that group should be protected by so-or-so %. The issue is that money that should be used to make better quality buildings goes into private pockets instead and people die as a result, so that some fat local official’s kid can go drink beer in a USA frat-house.

          • Sam

            At least I have the numbers to back up my claim. Where’s your number? Who took the bribe from which collapsed Qinghai school project, and sent which kid to which frat house in the US?

          • Sam

            Or I can play the numbers to even more dramatic effects: the survival rate for an average building is only 0.15, but .5 for a school building. Assuming the same survival rate within a collapse building, a school kid’s survival rate is already 3.3 time that of an average citizen. Isn’t it?

            Be careful of what you read from the media. Data are so easily manipulated.

        • LongTian

          Excuse me, parents, your children can’t go to school for 3 years because the government is going to tear down and rebuild your school. Excuse me, parents, you have been evicted from your mud-brick home that you built with your own two hands because the caring government wants to rebuild it using your tax money into a safer structure. You’ll need to be out by tomorrow. Have a nice day.

  7. lolz

    There is no doubt that the Tibetan exile community will exploit the dead to show how the government favors Hans over the Tibetans. This sentiment is already out in some of the AP articles.

    Going back to the survey, there should be a choice for both. The dead act as the ammunition for the living to attack the government, so the Chinese government fears both parties.

    On holding the Chinese government accountable, I think the Free Tibetan people are just as much of a problem for the Tibetan Chinese. For one, these are the same people who are telling the Chinese government to stop investing in the region so to slow down the han migration; the same people who are advocating Tibetans to stop learning mandarin which will just end up limiting Tibetans’ employment opportunities. If the Chinese government goes in and build new and better schools the same group of people would say that the chinese government is trying to force the locals to assimilate. What these group want is the Chinese government to simply give large amount of money to the locals. That’s just stupid on many levels.