The Word of the Week comes from China Digital Space’s Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens and frequently encountered in online political discussions. These are the words of China’s online “resistance discourse,” used to mock and subvert the official language around censorship and political correctness.
In a press conference convened July 24, 2011 to discuss the Wenzhou train crash the day before, Ministry of Railways Spokesperson Wang Yongping was asked why a baby girl was found alive in the train wreckage after rescue efforts had been called off, and why the girl was only discovered by those who were in the process of dismantling the train (translated by ChinaGeeks):
Wang: This is a miracle. You ask why—
Reporter: This is not a miracle! [reporters angrily yelling at once] What I want to ask is this: Why, after you had already announced that there were no survivors, when you had already begun to disassemble the train? Why would there still be a survivor?
Wang: Let me answer that. This happened. We truly did find a girl who was still alive. This is the way things are.
Many netizens lashed out at Wang calling the girl’s survival a “miracle,” not only because it obscured the Ministry’s own incompetence, but because Wang had also used the term to describe China’s high-speed railways. Just weeks before the accident, Wang praised the rail system:
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.
Because the high-speed rail system had been put forward as the “miracle” poster child of the “Chinese model” of development, the crash had a strong symbolic impact. The crash raised several questions: 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?
As author and blogger Li Chengpeng mused:
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.
A total of three people were rescued from the train after the government had twice announced that there were no survivors.