My office’s usually chipper intern (the same one whose budget we looked at last week) surprised me on the way to lunch today when she told me she was in a bad mood.
“Our society has too many problems everywhere,” she told me in English before launching into Chinese, she had seen an old woman pick food out of the garbage can on her way to work this morning. Later she told me of seeing a patient fight with a doctor over a medical bill that he couldn’t afford. The metro crash to her wasn’t so much a wake up call as it was a painful reminder of all the problems facing Chinese society.
“In society, we are powerless to change,” she said loudly enough to cause me to check to see if anyone was eavesdropping. Usually such sentiments are whispered here at work, but that didn’t seem necessary today. It was upsetting to see a soon to be college graduate without hope for the future. It seems at times the Party maintains power not by gaining the favor of the people, but by making change appear impossible.
Everyone I talked with today seemed to be in agreement that the subway crash never should have happened (I’m not sure if that is an actual fact, but my Chinese friends seem to think it is). The line was rushed in order to be operational ahead of the Shanghai Expo, and the faulty signal that led to yesterday’s crash was manufactured by the same company that had built the faulty signal that was behind the Wenzhou train crash just two months ago (read: Infrastructure follow up: Nanjing’s brand new station needs repairs). There had been enough time to check if other signals were malfunctioning, but nothing had been done to address the actual problem. “After the train crash, people only focused on who should be punished, but nothing was actually done about the problem,” the intern groaned.
“270 people were injured, it’s so sad,” I said to another co-worker. “At least 270,” she corrected, “The gov’t numbers aren’t always correct.” She went on to explain that most people don’t believe much of what they hear from official state media. According to her, the only real source of information is Weibo. I find it funny how often I quote gov’t statistics in my medical English course only to be met with eye rolling and head shaking. I understand their skepticism better after seeing this still from last night’s CCTV coverage of the crash:
To which some netizens replied, “I am angered to a low degree.” Unfortunately in modern China, 270 (or more) injuries isn’t a shocking aberration, but simply another story that will pass through the papers in a few days, much like the rash of food poisoning cases happening in school cafeterias I reported on a few weeks ago. As long as the public sees the situation as hopeless, and feels that nothing can be changed, the Party will continue to gloss over these incidents instead of addressing the actual problems.