When 115 miners trapped in Shanxi’s Wangjialing Mine were successfully rescued earlier this week, China’s state media went into propaganda overdrive [CCTV English], advertising this “miracle” as a victory for the Party and the government. The miners (“our brothers”) were lauded for their tenacious courage, and rescue workers were glorified as selfless “heroes.” But in the cracks of China’s Internet, you could uncover hints of a different story.
Here’s how the story played out at People’s Daily Online, the Internet portal operated by the official People’s Daily:

Countless Chinese have pointed to a miracle, their breasts filled with emotion. Beginning in the early morning hours of April 5, the first life that had been trapped in the Wangjialing mine disaster was brought up to safety after eight days and eight nights underground. The trapped workers, our brothers, were saved one after the other, and by the afternoon of April 5, 115 lives had been successfully saved! The rescue effort at the Wangjialing Mine established a miracle in the history of Chinese rescue efforts.
As they were glued to information about the rescue broadcast live from the scene, the masses of Internet users offered their real-time comments, giving cheers and praise for this miracle of life. Many shed warm tears for the tenacious wills of the trapped workers . . . With only a bit of effort, there is hope, and this embodies the spirit of our nation. Everyone believes that in this rescue effort, the party and government showed competence in their rescue measures, truly bringing out the spirit of people first (以人为本) and the sanctity of life. “Only with a strong state and care towards the people could we have such a miracle as this!” Internet users wish the best to those miners who were saved, offer their prayers to those awaiting rescue, and say “Go get ’em!” to the heroes of the rescue mission.

Many of postings from Internet users that trailed after the People’s Daily Online piece were so of-a-kind and so fawning of the leadership one has to wonder just how active Internet commentators have been on this story.
A Web user identified to as “lyr” wrote”: “I’m so moved. Oh, the miracle of life! Thanks to our great Mother Country, to our great Party! I hope that local governments and safety authorities act responsibly, and shoulder the burden of our nation!”
A Web user identified as “Contemplation” wrote: “The flooding incident at Shanxi’s Wangjialing Mine moved the hearts of the whole nation! When I saw the live news reports from the scene, and the saving of 115 lives, who could see the sunshine once again, my emotions were stirred, and I felt proud of the scientific and enlightened decision-making of the Party and the government! We offer our best wishes and prayers to those workers still trapped.”
An Internet user writing on the BBS at Tiexue.net read something very different from the real-time coverage being offered by state media.

The rescue effort following the flooding incident at Shanxi’s Wangjialing Mine is still going ahead. Mine rescue teams and mine workers are working night and day to accelerate the pumping out of water, and new drains are being added constantly to assist with the freeing of those workers trapped beneath. (April 4, Xinhua News Agency)
But after I read the news coming from Xinhua News Agency, I was furious.
These photos [from the rescue scene] were included:
1. There were several photos of exhausted rescue workers resting. As other personnel around them wear padded cotton coats, these workers have no mattresses beneath them and no covers over them. The fact that they still manage to sleep so sweetly indicates just how exhausted they are.

2. From April 1 on, the rescue workers were working in shifts of more than 10 hours, but all they had to eat were buns and clear soup. You can’t see any vegetables at all. Do they not have cabbage or meat in Shanxi? These men need hot meals. Do the officials handling the rescue effort not understand this?

3. A [state media] reporter revealed: “On April 1, these two rescue workers were eating a meal, having been on shift from 6am to 5pm. When I asked one of them what his name was, his eyes immediately filled with tears and he covered his face with his dumpling. I could not bear to press him further, so I simply walked behind him and patted him on the back to let him know I was sorry.”
Is it that supplies are insufficient [at the scene], or is it that no one wishes to provide them with proper food?
These men are involved in extremely difficult rescue work, and this work is very intense, and yet this is what they have to eat and drink. Even the journalists cannot stomach this, so how can our society stomach it? . . .
Every day our leaders are shouting about “putting the people first” (以人为本). But have they thought about what it means to treat rescue workers so inhumanely?
When we see that even the rescue workers are treated in this way, we can understand the underlying reasons why disasters like this occur again and again in Shanxi.

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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