Other high speed rail lines don’t seem to have these problems. France’s TGV, for example, has not suffered a single fatality since it began operation in 1981. Japan’s Shinkansen, which has been in operation since 1964, has also never had a death with the exception of one passenger who got caught in the train’s closing doors2. Of course, China is a much larger country than Japan or France, but China’s rail lines are also much newer.
This is accident is a tragedy, and yet I find that my primary response to it is anger. Accidents in general are unavoidable, and they happen everywhere. But this accident was entirely avoidable, and in fact, railway authorities were given ample warning that something like this could happen over the last several weeks. Ultimately, poor design and construction mixed with bureaucratic lethargy and stupidity has murdered thirty-five people. This is an “accident” in only the loosest sense of the word. Those people would still be alive if railway authorities had taken the design and construction of the trains more seriously, or alternately, if they had listened to the warnings coming from all areas of society over the past few weeks and stopped the operation of high speed trains until the obviously serious problems could be fixed.
More leaked propaganda directives relating to the crash, as sent to reporters and shared on Sina Weibo:
To Central Media: Regarding the Wenzhou crash, the newest requirements: 1) Use the deaths and casualty numbers reported by authorities; they are correct 2) Do not report too frequently 3) Report more moving stories, such as people donating blood or taxi drivers not taking fares from victims, etc. 4) Do not investigate the cause of the accident, use the information reported by authorities 5) Do not do “re-thinking” or commentary.
Propaganda Notice: The name of the Wenzhou accident will be the “The 7.23 Wenzhou Line Railway Accident”. From now on, use the headline “Great love in the face of great tragedy” to report on this incident. Do not doubt, reveal, or make associations, and to not retweet things on your personal Weibo accounts. In [TV] programs you can provide the relevant information, but be careful of the music.
This is how stories get spun. At the same time, Chinese netizens seem overwhelmingly unanimous in their outrage towards the government on this one. We’ll see if the eunuch press can tamp that down or not.