China Reports Student Toll for Quake

From the New York Times:

After a year of obfuscation, the authorities on Thursday released the first official tally of student deaths from the earthquake last May, saying that 5,335 children either were dead or remained missing. An additional 546 were left disabled, they said.

Previous estimates placed the number of students who died in the collapse of school buildings during the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan Province as high as 10,000.

During a news conference in Chengdu, Tu Wentao, head of the Sichuan provincial education department, said that the student death figures were accurate.

“These numbers were reached through legal methods,” he said. “We have wide agreement on these numbers.”

The issue of student deaths remains a contentious one here. The parents of children who perished in the rubble of classrooms say the buildings were poorly constructed; the government has largely quashed the issue by harassing or detaining those who insist on pushing the matter.

The article quoted Ai Weiwei:

The newly released numbers did little to quell critics. Ai Weiwei, an artist who is one of China’s best-known gadflies, said the figures were incomplete and “meaningless” because they lacked specifics, like names, ages and places of death. Mr. Ai, who is compiling his own detailed list of the dead, estimates the final figure at around 6,000. He said more precise information from the government might shed some light on the issue of substandard school construction or at least show that the government was truly willing to tackle that fundamental concern.

“The government is trying to escape from the accountability on this matter by postponing or rejecting the publication of details,” he said.

More international reporting on this news.

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