Monday, May 26, 2008

Sichuan Earthquake and Beancurd Schools for the Children of the Underclass in China

Among the public at large the tragic loss of large numbers of children suddenly buried in the rubble of their collapsed schools has been the most heart-rending. Many observe that the collapsed schools were surrounded by intact buildings including neighbouring schools for children of local officials located more or less adjacent. There is general consensus that the schools collapsed burying the innocent children because the schools were of substandard construction. This is attributed to high rates of corruption by local authorities in misallocation of funds for public projects combined with bribery that allows contractors to cut corners. Everybody knows that one is hard pressed to find a Communist Party official whose lifestyle and that of his family does not far exceed his state salary. They also tend to be negligent in fulfilling official duties. Schools "made of beancurd" are just one indication of a Party which has transferred its allegiance from the interests of "workers, peasants and soldiers" to the pursuit of money and raw power for the benefit of the ruling elite. As years go by the gap between rich in power grows yearly ever wider. While China's distribution of wealth was one of the most egalitarian the world over the Mao era, today China has one of the most inegalitarian wealth distributions, already approaching Brazilian-level inequity. The Government has already responded to the public outrage over this issue by promising to deal firmly with anyone found to have acted improperly with regard to construction of the collapsed schools. The Government has further committed to crack down on embezzlement of funds or illegal sale of emergency relief supplies.

But the underlying issues are systemic in nature.

As Jiang Wenran of the University of Alberta has put it with regard to the Chinese citizenry's attitude to the reports: "They don't identify with the government, but they identify with China as a nation, and they feel that it is vulnerable.”

Jiang's comment see: Geoffrey York, "Shock of consciousness' sweeps China in wake of temblor" The Globe and Mail May 17, 2008 available on-line at (accessed May 22, 2008).

Excellent account by Jim Yardley in Sunday's New York Times: "Chinese Are Left to Ask Why Schools Fell"

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