“Talk! Talk! All the time talk! If you cannot make a decision, why do you keep us waiting with all this talking?” one father bellowed at an education official Wednesday as he surged from a crowd of angry parents here in Sichuan province. While some in the crowd restrained the man, others pursued Zhang Qing, the Communist Party secretary of Dujiangyan’s Education Bureau, with shouts that they wanted action, not more words.
China’s government has gotten high marks for its immediate, massive rescue and relief effort following the May 12 earthquake. But parents’ rising anger at what they see as the unnecessary deaths of at least 9,000 students in schools with shoddy construction threatens to upend the goodwill that has buoyed the country even as millions of survivors huddle in tents and hundreds of aftershocks rock the devastated area.
In one of the most publicized incidents, the Communist Party secretary of Mianzhu city dropped to his knees on the street over the weekend and begged parents to stop their protest march. The parents refused and eventually met with the vice mayor of Deyang city, which oversees Mianzhu.
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While they suspect that poor construction may have been a contributing factor, their anger is muted by their daily struggle to survive, and worries about when, if ever, they will be able to return home. Their homes were toppled by the tremor and then flooded by the rising waters of the Tangjiashan quake lake.
Parents have thus far concentrated their ire on local rather than central government officials. But Beijing’s political position remains delicate. Growing numbers of Sichuan residents, relief volunteers and even soldiers, who have no personal connection to the dead children, have been making solemn pilgrimages to the ruined schools.