“Grandpa Wen left helpless as internet drives wave of unrest through China”

From The Telegraph, a report about Wen Jiabao and his failure to soothe the anger this time:

Five days after two Chinese bullet trains collided in the south of the country, killing at least 39 and injuring more than 200, Mr Wen duly arrived at the scene.

Standing on a patch of gravel on Thursday that had been cleared of the wreckage, the Chinese premier promised to “get to the bottom” of what had gone wrong and apologised for not arriving sooner, blaming an 11-day illness and doctor’s orders to rest.

In the past, that might have been the end of it. But on Thursday, Mr Wen succeeded only in ratcheting up public anger a notch.

Within hours, photographs of him in seemingly perfect health at various functions over the past week had been posted on the internet and Mr Wen was accused of being a liar. His tears at the sites of various disasters over the years had already earned him the mocking title of China’s “Best Actor”.

What has changed over the past year is partly the growing inability of China’s leaders to control free speech, both in the traditional media and over the internet.

Journalists have openly defied instructions from censors not to report on the train crash and even CCTV, the state broadcaster, has turned on the government.

“Can we live in apartments that do not fall down? Can the roads we drive on in our cities not collapse? Can we travel in safe trains? And if there is a major accident, can we not be in a hurry to bury the trains? Can we afford the people a basic sense of security? China, please slow down. If you are too fast, you may leave the souls of your people behind,” said Qiu Qiming, a CCTV news anchor, live on air.

For China’s workers, the anger stems from rapidly rising prices, an absurd wealth gap, and a constant helplessness against injustice. In the past week, villagers near Foshan in Guangdong province attacked and overturned a police car before roping the policemen to the car and attempting to set it on fire.

In Anshun, Guizhou province, hundreds of rioters fought with police for hours after a disabled fruit seller was beaten to death by Chinese officials on the street in broad daylight. A similar incident, in which a pregnant worker was beaten up by city officials in Zengcheng, provoked a riot last month.

As it loses the battle to control the population through the media, and through internet and video surveillance, the government has resorted in recent months to displays of raw power, sending squadrons of paramilitary police on to the streets of several cities to prevent riots.

China now spends almost £60 billion a year on “internal security”, more than on the People’s Liberation Army. But it has not been able to stop the number of riots from tripling in the past five years to 180,000 in 2011 – or 493 a day – according to a professor at Tsinghua University.

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