China with Polish Characteristics

December 13, 2007

The goldrush

Filed under: Uncategorized — chinatalk @ 3:54 pm

Ok, I am going home for two weeks to spend Christmas with my family, which is a perfect excuse not to post anything for a while. But before my laziness takes on its full effect, I would like to bring a certain trend in China to your attention – nothing pleasant. Every week, while doing research at work, I read about at least a couple of mine accidents, and recently it seems to have been really bad – at least 105 people died in an explosion at the Xinyao mine in Shanxi. The disturbing part, as you can read in the story, is that this accident is merely a tip of an iceberg. There were several other mishaps this very week, and according to the government figures, some 5000 people are dying in the Chinese mines each year (the independent labor groups say many accidents are covered up and that it’s more like 20,000 people). But the really sad and infuriating thing about deaths like those in Xinyao, is that they could have been easily avoided – the owners disregarded basic safety procedures in order to milk the most cash possible from their business (read this). No investment was made into proper ventilation or adequate equipment, while guanxi and ordinary corruption helped everybody to dismiss safety inspections and ignore the facts. What I don’t understand is how can so many people be driven to completely disregard the lives of others – is it the history that hardened the Chinese businessmen so much, or is it really just simple greed? Although my country is in an entirely different situation, it also underwent a transition from socialism to market economy and I’m very clear about the kind of jungle which early capitalism makes of the society. Capitalism can be savage, and it often still is at home – but nothing like this. In Silesia, Poland’s major mining and industrial region where I grew up, coal-mines are a way of life for many of the people. Accidents do happen, but they are not frequent, and each one is regarded as a disaster. People are collectively mourned, the causes of their deaths investigated, and each such tragedy clearly remembered. But here, in China, the weekly mine accidents quickly fade into the news headlines and the miners simply keep dying. Why does it continue? Much more could and needs to be done to improve the safety and legal control in the industry. And more effort can and has to be put into convincing people about the need for social duty and the need of even basic responsibility for others. The government, however, focused entirely on itself, has not set a good example for its people. To get rich is glorious, that’s true. But to treat each other as human – priceless.

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