Archive for May 19th, 2008

Monday, May 19, 2008

LiuHan Hope Elementary School students’ Survival a Miracle?

I have no idea as to how authentic the different takes of these stories is.

This is CCTV’s story: “With the care and love of the local community, the students were given a new home, temporary but warm.”

A blogger at sina.com gives kudos to two teachers in particular: Xiao Xiaochuan (肖晓川) and Shi Shaoxian (史少先). He has no idea how the teachers could organise the escape of all 483 elementary students in such a “scientific” way. After all, he adds, neither of them had been trained for such emergencies, and, according to an expert, they had still acted according to all the standards of an emergency handbook.

Many students were picked up by their parents after the quake, but 71 remained at school, and it was likely that they had lost their parents. As everyone was busy with rescue work, the teachers had to take care of them, and take them to another place. According to the blog, It became a march of nine teachers and 71 children to shelter – a long, two days’ and one night’s march through wilderness and rubble, hearing but not seeing stones coming down the hills at night.  Just the right stuff for a heroic saga. But the blogger isn’t in the mood for a heroic story. The group, he describes, acted according to the handbooks, but they did not feel the way the news coverage has described them. They were, naturally, afraid.

And the heart of the matter isn’t the day when the students left the school, adds the blogger. The matter that decided their fortunes happened ten years earlier. The school building is still standing. A “Hanlong Corporation” had funded building and repair works on the building. The name of the corporation’s supervisor on the ground is not mentioned, but his story describes how donations usually go to the “departments in charge” (authorities) first, and only then to the construction company. The story also describes how the donating corporation’s supervisor makes sure  that the money gets to the construction company, and how he makes sure that the quality of the construction material used for the school is actually according to standards – something that only happens after numerous interventions from his part.

The supervisor, ten years later, does not want his name to be mentioned, and he cautions the blogger whenever the latter uses language that he finds too strong (“It may create unnecessary trouble”). The blogger isn’t explicit here – but one gets the impression that a school like LiuHan Hope Elementary school – built according to standards – is an exception, not the rule.

Is a supervisor who cares a miracle? Is it a miracle that a corporation doesn’t only donate (with the press taking a photo of its generous gesture), but also makes sure that its donation is used properly?

During the first half of the week, the Chinese will mourn the victims. But questions are already being asked. If the story written there at sina.com is true, I feel it is both encouraging and dispiriting. Encouraging because the man did what he was paid for, and didn’t shy away from quarrels with people who gave a damn. But it feels dispiriting, too – why does a man who did the right thing back then, hide his name now? For fear of what kind of “unnecessary trouble”?

There is another encouraging aspect: the blogger who went to great lengths to find “the story behind the story”. If shoddy schools (and buildings in general) become rare exceptions in the future, it will be because the media will care, rather than turning a blind eye to it.

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