Last night Sichuan-based Sina Microblog user Dark Clouds at Midnight (子夜的昙) posted an open letter by three Sichuan journalists alerting top leaders in the city of Mianyang, near the epicenter of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, to alleged construction quality and safety issues at Wanda Plaza, a major commercial project now under construction. In the September 14 open letter, the three journalists allege substandard steel is being illegally used for the project, which is being built by a central-level state-owned enterprise listed on the Fortune Global 500.
[ABOVE: A Sina Microblog post by Dark Clouds at Midnight on September 22 at 10:19 pm shares the full text of an open letter to top leaders in the city of Mianyang.]
The Dark Clouds at Midnight post, which had 3,400 re-posts and close to 700 comments by midday today, was just one of many posts about this open letter shared on Chinese social media. It was based on this September 21 post made to a blog at QQ.com, in which the open letter was shared along with supporting photographs.
These accusations are of particular interest to many Chinese because poor construction quality, and particularly shoddy school construction, was the focus of much attention in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake. Premier Wen Jiabao pledged in 2008 that the government would look into the issue of shoddy school construction, but no action has so far been taken to deal with those responsible.
A number of Chinese activists, including Tan Zuoren (谭作人) and the artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), attempted to conduct their own independent investigations into shoddy school construction and the death of students in the quake. Tan, whose work we covered here, is now serving a jail sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” for his activism on this issue.
The social media post by Dark Clouds at Midnight (子夜的昙) reads: “For these journalists to make a report of this using their real names is quite extraordinary. [The] May 12 [quake] caused so much hurt for the people of Sichuan. We must not see a return of shoddy construction!”
Our translation of the open letter follows. Photos posted to the blog at QQ.com are pasted below.
“An Open Letter to the City Government of Mianyang and to City Residents“
A Situation Report Concerning the Medium to Large-scale Use of Substandard Steel Reinforcing Bar on the Reconstruction of the Wanda Plaza in Fucheng District
Your Honorable Secretary Wu Jingping (吴靖平) and Mayor Zeng Wanming (曾万明)
We several news journalists (being also web users) have recently received informing reports that for a priority image project (形象工程) of Mianyang city — the Wanda Plaza in Fucheng District — steel materials of inferior quality manufactured by small-scale steel works have been used on a large scale, posing a serious hazard to construction quality and to the life and safety of the people of Mianyang. We hope that we might draw the attention of the honorable city Party committee and the city government to this issue.
We have learned that the developer of the Wanda Plaza project in Mianyang’s Fucheng District is the Dalian Wanda Group, which calls itself a globally-known enterprise; the contractor responsible for the whole project is a central state-owned enterprise, China Construction Second Engineering Bureau Ltd. (中国建筑第二工程局), or “China Construction Second Bureau” (中建二局) for short, one of the world’s top 500 enterprises (世界500强) [NOTE: The company is part of China State Construction Engineering Corp, which is listed on the Fortune 500.] The supplier of steel reinforcements for this project is the 9th Metallurgical Construction Company of China (“9th Metallurgical” for short). It is these three illustrious companies that are illegally shortchanging government construction contracts (偷工减料) and falsely carrying out projects.
According to our investigation over recent months, one-third of the reinforcing steel used in this project so far was purchased by 9th Metallurgical from Jintang (金堂), Guanghan (广汉) and other small steel works, and substandard steel materials such as the “inferior steel” (地调钢) that is expressly forbidden by the state are being used [in the project]. This reinforcing steel product does not carry a steel manufacturing number from the producer, and what’s more it has not product quality certification (产品合格证), and all of it was brought on to the construction site at Wanda Plaza in the middle of the night.
The Mianyang Wanda Plaza project is massive, with a construction area of 450,000 square meters. There are a total of seven processing areas for reinforcing steel, and each of these has massive quantities of poor-quality steel. According to our careful estimates made through undercover work, we found that this steel falls below national quality standards — for example 10mm steel reinforcements, which are nationally limited to no less than 9.6mm, are only 8mm at this project site (please see the photographs following this letter).
Once we had plenty of evidence in our hands, we proceeded on September 8 at 2:30 pm to the Mianyang City Quality and Technology Supervision Bureau, located just 100 meters from the Mianyang Wanda Plaza building site, and explained the situation to Chen Changgu (陈长古), deputy chief of this bureau’s inspection office. Chen then accompanied us along with the chief of the Fourth Enforcement Division, Shao Gang (绍刚), and several enforcement officers to the Wanda Project site, where we had a look around. When we measured the reinforcing steel being installed on the face of the building we found that perhaps all of it was substandard (enforcement officers confirmed this on the scene, and made a record). After we had measures a portion of the steel, a certain Chief Li (李部长) from the contractor side and other started obstructing us from taking photographs (see photos below). After that several workers forcibly and violently grabbed our cameras and took away the memory cards, destroying the evidence. They also threatened to kill us.
As we were being attacked, the enforcement officers that had come along seemed utterly indifferent. Deputy Chief Chen even said: “We can’t control any of this, we only concern ourselves with quality issues. We asked for help in notifying the police, and Chen said: “It’s better for you to notify [them] yourselves!” Deputy Chief Chen even said: “This really should be handled by the Construction Bureau, but it falls under our jurisdiction too.” He said they often came to make selected inspections, but had never found any problems.
After risking our own lives to report the matter to police, we were finally escorted off the construction site by police patrols and some officers from the Huayuan Police Substation. That night, the contractor backed dirt up over the stores of substandard “skinny steel” (瘦身钢筋). Two or three days later, they suddenly brought in 200 tons of proper reinforcing steel in order to cover up [the supplies of substandard material]. Afterward, China Construction Second Bureau and 9th Metallurgical acted as though nothing had happened. The bosses of Wanda Plaze advertised their close relationships with many media and leaders, saying they could easily smooth things out.
Honorable Secretary Wu and Mayor Zeng, Mianyang is in the priority disaster area of the May 12, 2008, earthquake, and many people have not yet emerged from the shadow of that quake. We hope that the honorable city Party committee and government can be responsible to the people of Mianyang, setting up a special investigative team, immediately calling a halt to construction for this project and conducting a thorough investigation of building material channels and construction quality (including parts of the project that have already been poured with cement). [We hope you will] pursue the legal responsibility of government leaders and inspection bureaus whose purview this is and give the people of Mianyang back their right to know.
Chen Changchun (陈长春), Zhao Junshun (赵军顺) and Xiao Leideng (肖磊等)
September 14, 2011
(This is one corner of the A section of the Mianyang Wanda Plaza currently under construction.)
(This is a residential building in the B section of Wanda Plaza for which a lot of substandard steel reinforcement has already been used.)
(This is a corner of the A section of Wanda Plaza currently under construction. The roof covering under the tower cranes already hide a great deal of substandard steel reinforcement.)
(This is one of the processing areas for steel reinforcement. Almost all the steel under the journalist’s feet is of poor quality, and this is only 200 meters away from the Mianyang City Quality and Technology Supervision Bureau.)
(The journalist measures the insufficient diameter of the substandard steel. See pictures below.)
(This 12mm steel bar measures only 10.90mm. How far is that from the international [standard] of 11.5mm?)
(on September 8 the journalists notified the Mianyang City Quality and Technology Supervision Bureau. The man at left walking on the steel bar with a red hardhat and satchel and carrying measuring equipment in his right hand is the chief of the Fourth Enforcement Division, Shao Gang. To his right is Chen Changgu, deputy chief of this bureau’s inspection office. The journalists are crouching down and measuring steel reinforcing bar ready to be installed.)
(This steel reinforced waiting to be installed is all substandard. This one, a 10mm steel bar, is only 8.99mm thick, short of the international minimum of 9.6. This photo, which shows a 2007 date, was taken secretly, and their was no time to correct the time on the camera.)
(This 8mm rod, half of which has already been used, shows a diameter of just 6.93, short of the international minimum of 7.7mm.)
(Here Deputy Chief Chen sees for himself that the steel reinforcements do not have quality inspection stamps [合格证] or factory-issued steel numbers. To the right holding the pen is the the chief of the enforcement division, who made a record of the measurements taken by the journalists.)
(Deputy Chief Chen finally discovers the faintest of steel numbers on one bar. The hand on the left pointing at the steel is that of Deputy Chief Chen.)
(The man third from the left in the white t-shirt and white safety hat with his hand on his hip is so-called Chief Li working for the contractor. The man in the red safety hat is enforcement chief Shao.)
(After receiving a couple of phonecalls, Chief Li starts blocking our lens as we try to take photographs. Soon after 7-8 people start dealing more roughly with us, grabbing our cameras.)
(Here are two workers for China Construction Second Engineering Bureau who forcibly took cameras from the reporters.)
(Supplies of substandard steel are already covered over.)
(Here is how China Construction Second Engineering Bureau introduces itself.) [NOTE: Blue banner reads, “China State Construction Engineering Corp: Standing in the World’s Top 500.”]
[NOTE: Blue banner reads, “China State Construction Engineering Corp: Quality is Weightier than Mount Tai.”]