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On the 8th Anniversary of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake

June 9, 2016

How Long Do The Children Still Have to Wait?

Citizen Proposal Concerning the Investigation into the Sichuan Earthquake School Disaster          

Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China; Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council; Zhang Dejiang, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress:

Wang Qishan, Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection:

I am Tan Zuoren, a citizen from Chengdu. I hereby present the following citizen recommendations to the nation’s leaders to address the problems caused by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. 

It has already been eight years since The Great Wenchuan Earthquake that shocked the world. However, the many related problems that were revealed by this earthquake still have not been properly dealt with. For example, the great number of teacher and student deaths that resulted from the collapse of school buildings has, to this day, not attracted adequate attention by all levels of government, leaving behind many political and social problems.

From 2008 to 2009, through a three-month independent citizen investigation, we found that in the worst-hit areas of Sichuan, the more than 20 school buildings that collapsed entirely in an instant due to fragile construction accounted for only one percent of the total of number of more than 2,000 schools damaged in the earthquake. Yet, the casualties from the collapse of these schools constituted as much as 85 percent of all casualties in the earthquake.

The preliminary results of the independent citizen investigation showed that the main causes of these casualties included inadequate building fortification standards, substandard construction quality, aging structure, the collapse of structural components, inappropriate building sites, as well as other problems related to management responsibilities. In particular, criminal liabilities resulting from individual substandard engineering projects cannot be eliminated. To this day, no effective investigatory study has been conducted regarding the above issues, in order to sort out and rule out causes, and to come to scientific conclusions. Therefore, it is impossible to begin judicial proceedings, and no one has taken responsibility either.

During a great earthquake, the collapse of buildings and casualties is unavoidable. Yet how these tragedies are managed and dealt with reflects a government’s capacity to respond and standard of governance. Three days after the February 6, 2016 earthquake in Taiwan, the government arrested the developer of the collapsed Wei-Guan Golden Dragon apartment complex on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter, in an act that reflected the essential characteristics of a government and society with a rule of law. By contrast, after the 2008 Great Wenchuan Earthquake, the local government failed to investigate or look into the related responsibilities of the people involved. Further, it fabricated excuses; carried out “stability maintenance” through violent means; and arrested, suppressed, controlled, and persecuted victims who were lawfully defending their rights, cutting off their path to lawful rights defense. All of this engendered opacity in the judicial system in the disaster area, a rampage of violence, political deterioration, and societal instability—with serious negative impact on the overall quality of post-earthquake reconstruction.

During the 5.12 earthquake, the Zhou Yongkang[1] era’s model of stability maintenance by violence not only caused severe political and economic losses to the Party and government, and great losses to society, but also inflicted deep psychological trauma on the population in the damaged area—especially the parents of the deceased students—with long-lasting evil consequences.

As “ruling the country in accordance with the law” has been established as the current national policy, I hope the state leaders can listen to the people, understand their circumstances, alleviate their anguish, and comfort their hearts. As the 8th anniversary of 5.12 is approaching, I urge our state leaders to organize, with the spirit of seeking truth from facts, a state-level special investigation into the 5.12 earthquake, shed light on the real causes of the 5.12 school collapse disaster, and offer reasonable and fair state compensations to those affected in accordance with laws and regulations.

The establishment of a special investigation into 5.12 school disasters should become a symbolic event for “ruing the country in accordance with the law,” as well as a cornerstone for China’s judiciary construction. We have all the reasons to believe that this is the collective wish of most of the people inside and outside and system, and among local and overseas Chinese people. We hope that this investigation—conducted with scientific and rational objectivity, strict judicial fairness, uncompromising political probity, and a government’s love and protection of the people—would embody the genuine uprightness of the country and of the people, and would rebuild the people’s confidence in the principle of “ruling the country in accordance with the law” and judicial justice.

For eight years, the little students who were buried but have not achieved peace, and their parents, families, and friends who cannot forget about them, are still hoping for the arrival of fairness and justice. Fairness and justice are the essence of governance, and the foundation of a nation—both are indispensable. A responsible government should provide the basic public service of protecting fairness and justice. Each and every citizen of the republic has the right to demand this service from the government.


Tan Zuoren

Citizen from Chengdu, Sichuan Province

ID number 51010219540515611X

[1] As the Secretary (2007-2012) of the Communist Party of China’s Central Political and Legislative Affairs Commission, Zhou Yongkang was the nation’s top law enforcement official.

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