Economic Observer Front Page
Remarkable, powerful, and moving – there’s no other way to describe this. While most Chinese newspapers buckled under the censorship edicts issued for the seventh day coverage of the train crash, the Economic Times refused and published an eight page spread on the disaster. The graphic on the front page drove the point home: the emblem of the Chinese Ministry of Railways superimposed over a photo of the crash. Perhaps even more startling is the text underneath the image which takes the form of a letter written to the two-year old child, Xiang Weiyi, who was rescued some twenty hours after the accident. The rescue was rolled out as a public relations coup by the government but quickly backfired on the Sina Weibo social network site where it was seen as more evidence of government incompetence and the desire to cover-up the accident. Indeed, it was around this time after the accident that the railway employees at the crash site started burying equipment, fueling the perception that they had something to hide. For all one knew, they could have been burying victims with the destroyed equipment.
The letter is titled: “Yiyi, When You’ve Grown Up” and I’ll reproduce a portion of it here. You can read the full text on The China Realtime Report in the Wall Street Journal. Not surprisingly, the Journal is reporting in an update that the text has been removed from the Economic Observer’s Website. I’m sure that will be followed by removal of the staff responsible for the coverage as you just do not come across this in China’s mainstream media.
Yiyi, when you’ve grown up and started to understand this world, how should we explain to you everything that happened on July 23, 2011? That train that would never arrive, it took away 40 lives that loved and were loved, including your parents. When you’re grown, will we and this country we live in be able to honestly tell you about all the love and suffering, anger and doubts around us?
How do we tell you that, even as they’d declared there were no more signs of life in the wreckage and had started cleaning up the site, you were still there struggling in the crushed darkness. Do we tell you that, with the truth still far off in the distance, they buried the engine; that before any conclusions had been reached, the line that had given birth to this tragedy was declared open. They called your survival a miracle, but how do we explain it to you: When respect for life had been trampled, caring forgotten, responsibility cast aside, the fact that you fought to survive – what kind of miracle is this?
. . . . Now, Yiyi, on behalf of you lying there on that sickbed and those lives buried in the ground, people are refusing to give up on finding the truth. Truth cannot be buried – no one plans to give up the inquiry. We know that anything we take lightly today might lead to our rights being violated and our lives being ignored again tomorrow. We reap what we sow. If every fact we seek becomes a secret, we’ll never know the truth. If we keep giving up half way in our pursuit of dignity, we will never be treated with dignity.
To live – to live with dignity – is that rainbow you get to see only after suffering through the wind and the rain. Yiyi, when you’re older maybe you’ll realize that dark night of July 23 was when things started to change. After that day, we won’t simply complain, but instead learn how to advocate and act. We understand that we have rights, we respect these rights and are will spare no effort to protect them.
“. . . that dark night on July 23rd when things started to change” – one can only hope that this would be the case, that the crash and her recovery serves as a catalyst, a Rosa Parks moment if you will, for far more sweeping change, a “Chinese Spring” long desired and repeatedly postponed. The skeptic in me argues otherwise, argues that the sheer complexity of China’s traditions, society and economic development will soon force this quietly seep under the surface. And of course, there is never one single event that instigates change, but a confluence of dynamics that the one event draws upon if the time is ripe. Perhaps the time is not now, perhaps not this year, but soon, definitely soon if the sentiments expressed here are widely held.