China’s train crash last Saturday has sparked public outrage, setting online discussion forums and social networks ablaze with news from mishandling of key evidence to the justified cost of China’s race for global supremacy. The jolt that the crash provided has caught Beijing in its tracks and derailed its international image. Seen soon after several revolutions and protests that were quickly aborted in Western China, as well as the much touted Beijing-Shanghai super speed railway launch last month, the train crash at Wenzhou, in Eastern China’s Zhejiang Province seems to have added additional fuel to the fire.
Its becoming increasingly difficult for Beijing to abate the flames of public anger that seem to be rising faster, higher and more furiously than ever before. With fortune tellers predicting a mandate from heaven for a change in leadership, the people are increasingly believing so. A Chinese quote equivalent to ‘if it snows in June, its time for a change in government’ has increasingly been making the rounds on Chinese social media networks, fueled more by the fact that hail is falling over Shanghai, not too far from the crash site in the midst of summer.
“When a country is corrupt to the point that a single lightning strike can cause a train crash, the passing of a truck can collapse a bridge, and drinking a few bags of milk powder can cause kidney stones, none of us are exempted,” wrote one Chinese user after Saturday’s accident. “China today is a train traveling through a lightning storm. None of us are spectators; all of us are passengers, ” said a subscriber on Weibo, China’s answer to twitter.
For a society that has been controlled for so long, the Chinese level of intolerance is boiling over. From unhappiness of the hukou system which restricts one to their native place of birth to healthcare policies that keep life saving drugs out of reach for so many, a lack of faith in the political system is engulfing the middle kingdom.
Nonetheless, Beijing has taken steps to quell public outrage. State media reported Tuesday that the government had reached a tentative agreement to give families of crash victims 500,000 yuan (US$77,550) each in compensation. Authorities have also fired three railways officials, and vowed repeatedly to conduct a thorough investigation and punish anyone responsible. However this has failed to cool public angst against the government as the people are sure that the ministers fired are not the main persons responsible and that the act of firing them is just a public relations statement to protect more senior officials that are behind the corruption and atrocities that have plagued China’s railway ministry.
Saturday’s crash was the latest in a series of embarrassing setbacks to China’s high-speed rail system, the world’s largest with plans for 16,000 kilometers, or 10,000 miles, of track and an estimated total cost of nearly US$300 billion. The Railways Ministry has had several senior officials, including its former minister Liu Zhijun, ousted amid a corruption probe, and several recent technical glitches have taken some of the shine off the project. A power failure on the network’s flagship Beijing-Shanghai line also left more than 20 trains stranded for roughly three hours on Monday.
The train crash has also made Chinese politicians eat humble pie, riling India for her corrupt governance and scam ridden politicians in jail of late, the middle kingdom can no longer point fingers at New Delhi’s shoddy governance. With worms creeping out of the can every now and then, China and India have to learn to work together and accept each others pitfalls as well as learn from each others triumphs.