What happened in Chinese cyberspace around the tragic high-speed rail crash last month was a milestone in the rising power of the Internet in China.
The apparent government cover-up, the ruthless treatment of victims (terminating rescue efforts only hours after the crash in order to restore the railway line), and the arrogant attitude of the Ministry of Railways angered much of the country. As a result, protest messages overwhelmed the capacity of the world’s most sophisticated and technologically-advanced censorship mechanism, forcing an opening for free expression and political participation not only on the issue of railway safety, but also over demands for political reform to address the fundamental questions of China’s model of development.
“China’s high-speed railways that were built by the people under the supervision of the Party are a modern miracle. They are a symbol of this nation’s capabilities. Every Chinese person deserves to be proud of, and pleased by this.”
The questions raised by the crash are: Who benefits from China’s modern “miracle” and who pays the price? Is China’s breakneck speed of development worth the inevitable cost in human life and dignity? And most of all, why does the Chinese government behave as if it is not accountable to the Chinese people?
This train is not really a train at all. It is the nation’s totem. This nation is after all, a “miracle.” This nation needs a constant series of miracles to prove its superiority. That is because it understands that in a nation where very few have seen the ballot box; where internet browsers often say, “the page your looking for does not exist”; where most rural people don’t know the difference between the courts and the prosecutors; where we watch movies the glorify the founding of the party but where we can’t follow the founders’ examples and establish another party . . . in this kind of a nation, the only way we can prove our superiority is by an ever-increasing GDP.
The powerful message from the public can be heard through the nation’s increasingly non-compliant media, including print media articles (many of which are censored before being printed), but far more overwhelmingly on the Internet, through blog commentaries, micro-blog posts, jokes, images, artwork, lines of clothing, and endless form of creative expression by Chinese netizens, Without understanding this coded but widespread (thanks to the Internet) “Grass-Mud Horse Discourse” through the lens of censorship and resistance, one cannot fully understand the contradictions in Chinese society today, and the potential and the possibilities for tomorrow.
A new generation of Chinese musicians have also joined the chorus of this “cultural resistance” in the form of music and lyrics–which are widely spread with the help of the Internet. Examples include Zuoxiao Zuzhou, Re-TROS (Rebuilding the Rights of Statues), and Top Floor Circus.
Chuanzi (川子, chuan zi or real name 姜亚川 Jiang Yachuan) is a Beijing-based folk singer and songwriter. He became well-known in 2010 for his song titled “Zheng Qianhua,” in which he questions to what extent China’s rapid economic development has helped improve the quality of life for ordinary citizens. (See a CDT translation of the lyrics here.)
Chuanzi wrote the song “People of July” in response to the Wenzhou High-speed Train crash. This live version is so far the only available one on cyberspace. It is unknown whether there will be a studio version of this song in the near future.
CDT translated the lyrics of “People of July” and added English subtitles to the original version of the video.
七月的人民 People of July
by 川子 Chuanzi
People of July got on the train. This was his first time seeing Tiananmen.
The sunlight of July tanned his skin; he wears a shy smile.
People of July got on the train. He studies journalism at the university.*
He dreams of working for CCTV; he wants to be a badass Bai Yansong.**
People of July got on the train. He just paid his taxes.
唱着红歌 心里红 唱着红歌 心里红
Singing red songs, his heart is red. Singing red songs, his heart is red.
People of July got on the train. He brings a full box of instant noodles.
七月的阳光真浩瀚 几百个人民 他失了踪了
The sunlight of July is so bright. Hundreds of people are gone without a trace.***
挖掘机它开来了 人民的手 被挖断
The excavator is coming. People’s hands are chopped off.****
People’s heads are torn in half.*****
My people are as soft as mud.******
The media reaches out its hands; they gently pat us once again.
The People’s Daily pats us the nicest. We people have to thank the Party. *******
The sunlight of July is so bright; my people are so fucking soft.
The sunlight of July is so bright; the people of July are so fucking soft.
People of July, please take care. People of August, see you in heaven.
People of September, please take care. People of October, see you in heaven.
People of November and December, please take care. See you all in fucking heaven.
What a miracle this is! Doesn’t matter if you believe or not;
There are fools who do!
* These lyrics refer to Lu Haitian, who was a victim of the Wenzhou hi-speed train crash. Lu was a Journalism student at the Communications University of China. Instead of going back home for the summer, Lu was on his way to Wenzhou TV station for an internship. [Many thanks to longguo00 for the information.]
** Bai Yansong (白岩松) is a well-known Chinese news anchor and conscientious media personality affiliated with China Central Television (CCTV). Bai also questioned the reliability of the Chinese high-speed railway system after reporting the Wenzhou high-speed train crash. On Aug. 9th, 2011, an in-depth investigative report on the Dalian PX factory was taken off the air at the last minute. Bai Yansong is the host of the program.
*** From Sinaweibo, a netizen asked: July 25 17:40 How many people really died? Let’s read a report from the Party (sponsored) paper in Hong Kong! A total of six cars, at full capacity with 600 people, fell off a 30 meter high bridge, and so far we know 210 plus people were alive under the bridge. The Xinhua News agency reported death toll is 35. If we believe the numbers provided by Xinhua, then 600 (total) – 210 (wounded) – 35 (died) = 355. Where are these 355 people?
7月25日 17:40，到底伤亡多少人：看下香港党报报导吧！ 共6节车厢满员600人掉到30米高桥底下。桥上车厢里有多少人伤亡先不算，桥下已知活着的为210多人，而新华社报的 亡者 为35人。照新华社数据，那么，600（总）-210（伤）-35（亡）=355人，这355人 去 哪了？
**** From Sinaweibo July 25, 22:50: Mr. Yang lost four family members in this accident: wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and three-year-old niece. His wife was five months pregnant, so it can be considered that a total of five family members were lost. He wore mourning clothes and invited officials to visit the remains of his family members, caused by the ruthless excavator. The official backed off several steps: I bow to you. I am sorry!
***** From July 25, 21:39Sinaweibo: Mr. Yang Feng revealed many details on the spot: he arrived at the Wenzhou South station at 1 am, July 24. He had to go through much trouble, finally arrived at the crashed car at 2:30 am. At the time the rescue had already stopped. Staff told him that no signs of life had been detected. Bodies of his wife and his mother were dug up by the excavator on the afternoon of July 24. His wife’s body had no face. He asked in tears: Was this caused by the crash or by the excavation?”
****** From Sinaweibo: July 25 15:45 At 4 am, [The Ministry of Railways] already announced that no more signs of life were detected, and there was a child rescued 14 hours later. What has happened between these hours included: crushing the bodies of the cars which fell off the bridge, internal coordination, planning to restore the train line at 6 pm….. I am convinced: they never really tried to rescue people.
7月25日 15:45，凌晨4点宣布已无生命迹象，14个小时后又救出小孩儿，其间发生的事情有：碾碎掉落的车厢，内部协调，拟于 下午6点通车……我相信了：他们根本就没有尽力救人。
******* From Sinaweibo: July 26, 12:25 Today on the front page of People’s Daily: “The Party’s Kindness is Higher then Tianshan Mountains.”