What A Difference A Xinhua Line Makes…

Spring marks the start of drowning season for Chinese country kids, wont to steal off to fish or take a dip in rain-swelled rivers and lakes. Last week Thursday, after a spate of deaths by water, the Ministry of Education issued a circular ordering schools to ratchet up safety education measures to prevent further accidents. Yet just two days later, another tragedy struck. Five sixth-grade girls were washed away by the Luxi River in rural Chongqing, apparently after attending supplementary Saturday classes. An older middle-school boy died as well while trying to save them. Question was, was the school at all accountable?

One line in Xinhua News Agency’s initial report that same day strongly suggested that yes, perhaps school was accountable.

“According to the parents of the students who died, the school they attended was making up missed lessons on the day of the accident.”

But in an update the next day, Xinhua reversed its tune:

“A local government investigation has found that the drowning accident occurred on a day-off. The relevant school had not organized group activities.”

On Tuesday, a parent of one of the victims took issue with altered Xinhua copy in a post on the popular BBS forum Tianya. The parent went on to accuse local authorities of covering up their role in the incident. The post opens by citing Xinhua’s second report, and continues:

The above is the latest report on Xinhuanet. It mentions that “A local government investigation has found that the day drowning accident occurred the school had not organized group activities.” This is a serious misrepresentation. — Prior to this, the news on Xinhuanet explicitly mentioned that the victims parents said that the school was holding makeup lessons at the time. The day of the incident, the school in fact admitted it was making up missed lessons that day (we now have conclusive evidence in hand). However, in the next day’s news this sentence was missing, and the school and the board of education presiding over it have all denied what was said the day before. In addition, through certain means, they have made the parents of other children keep silent. They wish to cross the sea under camouflage, to deceive the world and the people!

The truth of the matter is like this: the five girls were all enrolled in Shiba Street Primary School, in Baisha Town, Jiangjin City. They were sixth graders in primary school. To improve advancement rates, every Saturday the school gave the students makeup lessons. It also collected a high fee (for which we also have evidence in hand). On the Saturday a week before the accident, it made up a full day of classes. But on 5.19, the school was in makeup session in the morning, and in the afternoon, without informing the parents, dismissed the students from class. As a result a number of children went outside to have some fun. Who knew that just like this they would never come back!

Why have the school and the relevant departments changed their attitude so fast? It is not simply that is unwilling to pay compensation to solve the problem, but that it absolutely must shirk its responsibility, because this is a responsibility that certain people cannot afford. It must be understood that recently, drowning incidents among primary and middle school students in Chongqing Municipality have occurred frequently. Anyone with the slightest common sense about managing a school should know what it means to let the students out during flood season between spring and summer without informing their parents! If this sort of thing happened during the normal study period, the leaders of the school on up to the higher levels in charge (the board of education) all would be laid-off and driven out. In severe cases, they would be held liable under the law — this is called “treating a case of human life with utmost care”. Secondly, the government has on several occasions banned primary and secondary schools, which offer compulsory education, from holding makeup class during the holiday period. Once discovered, this is handled rather seriously (for example, primary and secondary schools in Chengdu are very careful about conducting makeup lessons. They often do not charge, and do it on the sly).

So the school not only was making up class during a holiday period, but also committed a major blunder, a crime even more serious. We very much suspect that the reason the school unexpectedly was in a hurry to go on break that day was because it encountered a temporary spot check from an even higher department in charge of education! Unfortunately, as petty commoners, our right to information is limited, so we do not know the true situation. Some officials have told us that even if there really was makeup class, we still can say that this is not a matter of the school’s conduct, but that of the individual teachers. However, the reality is not like this. The students were in makeup class at school, using the school’s public resources. How can it be said that this is the conduct of individuals! We hope that as models of virtue, our friends the teachers who still have a trace of conscience will step up and speak for fairness.
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Right now, the final disposal plan is to pay compensation of 3,000 [yuan] per child. Nor is the compensation to come from the school or the board of education. It is so-called personal accident insurance. This means that the schools and the board of education are determined to push the blame all the way down. Their energy is very great indeed, great enough to make the authorities discard the truth, great enough to make the Public Security Bureau disregard the issue. However, we do not believe they are powerful enough to skirt Heaven, to skirt justice! We do not believe that social harmony is to hide the truth and distort the harmony of nature!
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The dead cannot be brought back to life. We would not make trouble without justification and would not make exorbitant demands, or use our children’s lives to blackmail the government. However, we must know the truth. We have to let the world know the truth. We must make those careless persons who’ve committed misconduct shoulder the responsibility they should — If we can achieve this goal, we will take the letter of responsibility (or even the court sentence) to the graves of our children to burn. At such a young, young age, for no clear reason, they have left us. We have no reason to let them become loitering spirits in heaven!
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On account of my sorrow, my writing is a bit messy. I just want to write out the true facts of the matter for everyone to read. We hope that everyone can give some ideas to help us poor parents. If you any suggestions, please contact me at [email protected] 3.com, or else attach a reply here.

For the record, a good number of respondents to the post were not at all persuaded. Herewith a taste of the to-and-fro that ensued:

Zhu Zhu Xiao Xiao:

“Anyone with the slightest common sense about managing a school should know what it means to let the students out during flood season between spring and summer without informing their parents!”
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I don’t know what you think children are? Labor camp inmates?

The truth? The truth is that the children got a half-day break without their parents being told. Whether from a legal viewpoint or a moral one, this was not the direct cause of the accident. From the viewpoint of the children, they are really the ones who wouldn’t want their parents to know. How rare it is for them to have the time for free play.

If this is nothing more than wishing for a little more compensation, is the long-winded speech really necessary?

Flying Tears 41:

I’m use this to warn all schools. Don’t blindly take money-making and advancement rates as the goals, and treat the lives of children like rice straw.

Feng Tian Yang 2002:

They’d already read through the sixth grade and middle school. They’ re not kindergarteners. The school does not have any duty or justification to inform parents at the time they dismiss class. If the school had not been making up missed lessons that day, the students could not have gotten together to go play??

An accident is an accident. Let’s not raise it to a higher plane of principle. As for making up missed lessons, that is a problem of the Chinese education system. The school is a passive player driven by pressures. It’s far from being a question of some huge mistake.

Flyingtears 41:

…The amount of compensation is not our emphasis. The school’s disregard and blind shirking of responsibility makes us very angry. We mostly want to take this as a mirror, so that the tragedy will not be repeated!

Think about the fact that the school’s one move indirectly destroyed the fortunes of so many!

Feny Tian Yang 2002:

You angry fool, the school is not to blame – it has no responsibility.

If you must say that the school has some responsibility, then it’s that the ordinarily safety education is lacking. And on this point, the responsibility parents must assume is even greater.

As of early Wednesday, it appears, other Chinese media have yet to follow up on the parents’ claims.

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