The first anniversary of the Sichuan quake that killed nearly 90,000 and displaced hundreds of thousands more is upon us.
It would be cheering to think the coverage would be about a mix of remembrance and rebuilding, physical, social and emotional. While there has been some of that, and that should not be underestimated: officials are aiming to complete reconstruction by September, a year ahead of schedule, the BBC’s Michael Bristow says, the world’s attention has been drawn more to attempts by the authorities to suppress any opportunities for aggrieved parents to use the occasion to press for an official investigation into why so many of their children died, particularly in the collapse of what parents claim were shoddily built schools.
An official report, published last week, said there was no grounds for believing the school buildings were substandard, though that was based on the evidence of the original blueprints, begging any questions about construction standards. There is plenty of local anecdotal evidence that many of the schools had been badly constructed, as their disproportionate destruction compared to other buildings would suggest.
Official efforts to prevent parents pressing for recourse either through the courts or administrative channels have been severe. Control of domestic and foreign media in the run up to the anniversary has been as strict. Some foreign reporters have complained of harassment (see: China Cracks Down On Foreign Journalists); domestic press just told to avoid anything sensitive. The window of openness that occurred for a few weeks after the terrible events of May 12, 2008 is again closed, leaving sorrowed hearts in deeper shadow.