Corruption. Greed. Government Censorship.
Local Chinese officials took bribes given by building contractors. These bribes are paid to officials so that inspectors will not report construction that does not meet existing building codes. The practices are not a secret, not in China, not in other nations.
Greedy Communist Party officials used that blood money to build fabulous homes for themselves, to buy new cars, and to buy luxury goods. In some cases the actual building materials like steel re-bar were diverted to other buildings that still stand in the earthquake zones.
Many parents are now marching in protest, despite being offered bribes of less than $5,000 for them to remain silent. They are publicly protesting even though many know they may be arrested and given long jail sentences for doing so.
It is illegal to protest in Communist China. The police will beat you mercilessly if you march down the street holding a sign, especially a sign that accuses the government of corruption.
Those consequences are not stopping the parents of the children that died in poorly-built schools.
A Preventable Tragedy
Yes, the earthquake was massive, over 7 on the Richter scale. However the Chinese have long known their country sits atop many faults in the Earth's crust. Chinese architects and and builders know how to build structures that can at least remain standing long enough for the people inside to evacuate.
Perhaps some school buildings were older structures. Nevertheless, Chinese building inspectors have known for years how to identify older structures that cannot withstand earthquakes. China is currently building massive new roads, ports, and airports all over that nation. The government could have identified the poorly-built schools and built replacements. If it wanted to, China could have built earthquake-resistant schools, instead it decided to build earthquake-resistant Olympic Stadiums and skyscrapers in Shanghai.
Out of Sight Out of Mind
The fate of the school children appeared to be of little concern to greedy Communist Party officials. This kind of callous disregard for human life is only possible over the long term when a regime censors all negative reporting and serious analysis of major issues like the Chinese government. The U.S. government censors all reporting of the returning remains of U.S. service personnel to Dover Air Force Base for the same exact reasons.
The new Ministry of Propaganda building is almost finished in Beijing. China's propaganda machine is already working hard to cover-up the issue of government corruption. This author would be jailed for writing this story inside China.
People in Western nations will quickly forget the reasons for this tragedy. Wal-Mart needs you to keep buying their goods and supporting the Chinese manufacturers that supply them. Sponsors of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games want consumers to think good thoughts about the Communist Chinese government (Note: The government of Cuba is also Communist but Americans are not allowed to visit or buy products from that poor nation.).
The grieving parents of so many children in Sichuan will be left to suffer in silence while millions are spent on the Opening Ceremonies of the Summer Games.
If China's leaders do jail the grieving parents the silence of the young lambs sacrificed for greed will only grow louder. Governments cannot censor grief. Governments cannot squelch the absent voices of little children.
Architects Question School Construction
Disasters Highlight Government Corruption
New York Times article
Washington Post article