Outcry Over China’s Cover-Up of Bullet Train Crash

39 people died and over 200 were injured — including 2-year-old Xiang Weiyi, who lost both of her parents — when two bullet trains crashed on Saturday in China’s eastern Zhejiang province. The crash happened during a thunderstorm when lightning knocked out power to one train, which was then rammed by one behind it; six rail cars were derailed, four of then plunging 20 to 30 metres from a viaduct.Public fury has grown not only about the crash, but about a possible cover-up as reports emerged about the disposal of the wreckage and about journalists being ordered to focus not on the details of the accident, but on “extremely moving” stories, such as about blood donations, with the overall theme about “great love in the face of great disaster.”

Safety concern have seemed to be given a backseat in the the Chinese government’s race to build the world’s largest high-speed network. In just a few years, 10,500 miles of railways have been completed or under construction. But Liu Zhijun, a former railway minister and one of the project’s biggest champions, was sacked in February for “serious disciplinary violations” – the latter being a phrase usually indicating corruption allegations. The Guardian Professor Zhao Jian, a prominent critic of high-speed rail at Beijing Jiaotong University, as saying that “Overly rapid development has caused safety issues. This is the result of the irrational behaviour of the former leadership of the ministry of railways.”

On Tuesday, Chinese rail minister Sheng Guangzu apologized for the crash and announced a two-month safety review of the country’s railways and trains. The Chinese government has begun compensating the families of those in the crash, with the family of a victim, Lin Yan, receiving $77,500.00 says the BBC.

Already on Monday, trains on the high-speed link between Beijing and Shanghai were delayed three hours on Monday due to a power outage caused by storms. But such outages seem to be something of the norm, as these and other malfunctions have occurred since the new line opened in June; the top speed of the trains has been lowered, from 350km/h (217mph) to 300km/h (186mph) for safety reasons.

Many have called the Chinese government on its attempts to control news about the crash, says the Guardian:

Internet users attacked the government’s response to the disaster after authorities muzzled media coverage and urged reporters to focus on rescue efforts. “We have the right to know the truth!” wrote one microblogger called kangfu xiaodingdang. “That’s our basic right!

Leaked propaganda directives ordered journalists not to investigate the causes and footage emerged of bulldozers shovelling dirt over carriages.

Wang [Yongping], the railways spokesman, said no one could or would bury the story. He said a colleague told him the wreckage was needed to fill in a muddy ditch to make rescue efforts easier.

But Hong Kong University’s China Media Project said propaganda authorities have ordered media not to send reporters to the scene, not to report too frequently and not to link the story to high-speed rail development. “There must be no seeking after the causes [of the accident], rather, statements from authoritative departments must be followed,” said one directive. Another ordered: “No calling into doubt, no development [of further issues], no speculation, and no dissemination [of such things] on personal microblogs!”

My parents were just in China on a trip last month and took a number of bullet trains; my husband and I, as regular riders of not terribly efficient New Jersey Transit trains, admitted a bit of awe at the thought of being whisked quickly from here to there shiny bullet trains. But safety always comes first: One of the bullet trains my parents took was in Zhejiang province, exactly where the accident on Saturday happened. I’d rather crawl along on the sticky-seated train cars here than risk a crash in a train traveling 200 km/h (120 mph) or higher. A frequently forwarded comment on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo service put it simply:

“When a country is so corrupt that one lightning strike can cause a train crash … none of us is exempt. China today is a train rushing through a lightning storm … we are all passengers.


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Photo by triplefivechina


Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y6 years ago

Safety concerns have taken a back seat to the Chinese govt's race to build and develop everything, not just trains. Food safety, environmental safety, building safety, human well-being, everything. In cases of food safety, that has recently been a global problem. What cave have you been living in, Christian R? Thanks Professor Chew, for all your highly thoughtful and appropriate posts.

The article is very timely since the crash just happened, and very accurate; in fact it is understated in its criticism of the Communist government's grotesque incompetence and oppression. See what famous artist Weiwei wrote about how difficult it is to live under that awful government - and he's a valuable national treasure...imagine what it's like for the ordinary person, absolutely crushing if you try to stand up to the truth. The twitter chatter on Sina Weibo reflects the agonized cry of the common man (and woman) in China today.

The Chinese are a great people with a truly profound historical heritage. They deserve a better government, or at least one which doesn't waste so much money on a Ministry of Propaganda whose sole purpose is to deceive and suppress its own people.

janet f.
janet f6 years ago

China's gov't lied? Shocking...

Christian R.
Land Lost6 years ago

Lightning knocked out power to a train and somehow the article ends on the topic of corruption.. What, and train crashes don't happen in other countries?

Would have been better to stick to facts and save us comments from the peanut gallery, like the final quotation. Not every article has to be sensationalistic.

Geraldine H.
Gerri Hennessy6 years ago

Those trains just to too faxt if you ask me...

Kristina Chew
Kristina Chew6 years ago

The Chinese government has said that the accident happened due to a signal failure.


Akin Adelakun
Akin Adelakun6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 6 years ago

Good to know. Thanks for sharing.

Loo Samantha
Loo sam6 years ago

so unfortunate and horrified !!!!

Dominic C.
Dominic C6 years ago

The problem with the Chinese Government is they are obsessed with building as many high speed rail as possible and these are their reasons:
A) To please consumers - During festivities like the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) there were insufficient transportation to cater to the millions for their trip home.
B) To be Asia's leading country in high speed rail technology - Japan still holds the No.1 spot but at the pace, the Chinese are building high speed rails, they can overtake Japan soon.
C) To be known as the provider for world high speed rails - America and Europe basically ruled commercial air transport manufacturing; vehicles, the Japanese still rule the world market; ships and containers basically the Koreans and the Northern Europeans. So what is China good in????
Definitely, the pace they are planning and securing high speed rails come with some negative impact and that impact is SAFETY! Quality assurances versus quantity justifications. And the speed to put these equipment to use. The high speed rail between Beijing and Shanghai is about 819 miles and the imaginary resources required to check every inch of the rail is tremendous. Someone did tell me that a robot or some feedback system can audit the length of the rails. But my question is to what extent and how much accuracy can be deemed satisfiable...as such human perception is still required but then again human perception has to be fresh all the time. Rail disaster is one of the major catastrophes if its

Arjen Lentz
Arjen Lentz6 years ago

Rapid growth/"development" has issues, and this is a sad example. Things have a natural speed as it allows sufficient time for the feedback loops to work and lessons to be learnt along the way. You can ignore that flow, but only to the detriment of people, environment and other things.