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Leaders first

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让领导先走 (ràng lǐngdǎo xiān zǒu): leaders first

Parents of Karamay Fire victims.
The 2011 animation “Little Rabbit, Be Good” references the Karamay Fire.

One of many infamous lines that netizens have held up as proof that Party officials put their own interests ahead of the needs of the Chinese people.

On December 8, 1994, about 500 schoolchildren gathered in a theater in Karamay, Xinjiang Province to watch a special variety show. Top students had been invited. During the performance, a fire broke out on stage. As it spread, a woman shouted, “Everyone sit down. Don’t move. Let the leaders leave first!” (大家坐下,不要动,让领导先走) 325 people died, including 288 children. 20 Party officials were said to have escaped, among them vice-secretary for educational training at the Xinjiang Petroleum Management Department Kuang Li, who was accused of giving the deadly command.

Because of the sensitive nature of the tragedy and how it reflected on the Party, then-CCTV president Yang Weiguang admitted to stopping reporters from airing a related broadcast, and described how the Central Propaganda Department later gave orders banning coverage of the incident. Beijing-based poet and folk singer Zhou Yunpeng’s song “Don’t Be a Child of the Chinese” (中国孩子) opens with this incident.

Government response and rescue efforts were the main focus of media reports on the Yunnan earthquake that occurred near Wenping in August of 2014. In what appears to be a move to prevent a repeat of the same criticism that the government received following the devastating Karamay incident, Premier Li Keqiang reportedly instructed the injured to be evacuated first while on his visit of the quake-hit area:

财经网: [Premier Li Keqiang makes way for earthquake victims during his visit of the disaster zone] “Let the wounded go first!” On August 4th, Premier Li Keqiang arrived at the earthquake epicenter in Longtoushan, Ludian, Yunnan to monitor disaster relief efforts. While Mr. Li observed the rescue missions, several soldiers rushed passed with a stretcher carrying the injured. Mr. Li actively made way for the soldiers and raised his arm to escort the team as they left.


The premier's attempt to make himself appear like he is on top of rescue efforts was greeted with skepticism by netizens. On Sina Weibo, one user parodies:

黛安-Diane: The wounded struggled to sit up from the stretcher as he called out: “Let the leaders leave first...”