After a blaze swept through a dense residential area populated by migrant workers on the outskirts of Beijing, killing at least 19 people, there was speculation online that the fire might have been caused by the use of electrical heating owing to a recent government ban on the residential burning of soft coal. News coverage has been severely curbed in the wake of the tragedy, with only a smattering of reports outside those of the official Xinhua News Agency.
Cylinders of soft coal like those in the image above have for decades been an essential source of heating fuel for homes in both urban and rural areas in China, and have been particularly crucial for poorer Chinese in the cold winter months. But the government has recently introduced restrictions on the use of soft coal in hopes of improving air quality — and at the same time has been pushing installation of gas heating.
The following post by Weibo user “Qian Popo Xian Lai” (錢婆婆先來), made at around 11:22AM today, November 20, was deleted just four hours later. It discusses the problem of access to reliable sources of residential heating as the new restrictions on soft coal come into play, and it shares a screenshot of another since-deleted Weibo post by Song Yingjie (宋英杰) that discusses the issue in some detail.
So this was deleted. “The issue of winter heating that effects countless people has gone wrong, people are freezing, but there is nothing at all in the media about this, only angry voices online. For the sake of environmental protection, the government has prohibited the use of the soft coal for heating, and is carrying out [a policy of] replacing coal with electric. But 1) many poor people can’t use it [electric], and go cold; 2) they pay but it’s not yet installed properly, their heaters don’t work, and they go cold; 3) they are installed, but the gas company doesn’t supply them with gas, and they go cold; 4) because the work, materials and installation are of inferior quality . . . [See Full Text]