American Public Radio has an interview with a correspondent in Shanghai, whose conversations with Chinese citizens about the Wenzhou crash rings extremely true:
Ryssdal: What are people telling you, Rob? When you’re out and about, what do you hear?
Schmitz: Well, two days after the crash, I was in a taxi, and he’s listening to the radio report from the scene of the crash, and he got so angry that he started just yelling at the radio. You know, you have these moments maybe when you’re in the car when you yelled at the radio. That’s what he was doing; he sort of was ignoring that I was there. And then I sort of asked him, I said, ‘Are you OK? What do you feel about this?’ And he felt relieved to be asked this: he just vented to me for about 15, 20 minutes about how corrupt the government was, how this was the government’s fault. And by the time we knew it, we had stopped about five, 10 minutes ago but he was still venting. It was like one of these — as public radio folks like to say — one of these driveway moments.
Ryssdal: Driveway moments, that’s right, except different context. But hang on a minute, because corruption’s nothing new.
Schmitz: No, corruption’s nothing new, but people talking about corruption all the time on the street with each other; journalists challenging officials, state-run press running with stories about this — that is new. Two nights ago, I was chatting with a Chinese friend and he told me he just read the news that the chief engineer for China’s high-speed rail embezzled 2.8 billion. I said, ‘How? Well 2.8 billion renminbi — that’s about $400 million, boy that’s a lot of money.’ He corrected me, he tells me, ‘No, it was $2.8 billion.’ That’s incredible. Later on, I saw it was reported this guy had just stashed the money into Swiss and U.S. bank accounts. And this Chinese official reportedly has run off with the amount of money equal to the GDP of Fiji. So this type of corruption is really unprecedented.
Worth noting, though, that the journalists challenging officials seem to have been reined in. Whether or not their sudden ferocity was approved by other factions in the government seeking to cut the Rail Ministry down to size is up for debate.