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Collapse of Middle School Gymnasium, a Harsh Reminder of the Dangers CCP’s Failing Infrastructure

On July 23, a middle school gymnasium collapsed in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, China. At the time, 19 people were inside, including 17 members of the girls’ volleyball team and two coaches. Four people managed to escape initially. 15 were trapped in the wreckage, and 11 died. According to BBC, one of the coaches could be heard screaming for the children when rescue workers rushed in. Middle School No. 34, located in the city of Qiqihar, became the focal point of what has become a predictable drama on the mainland. Videos of concerned parents were widely circulated on social media. One father claimed that he and the other parents of the victims had been waiting for 5 hours, and they hadn’t heard anything from the local government or

On July 23, a middle school gymnasium collapsed in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, China. At the time, 19 people were inside, including 17 members of the girls’ volleyball team and two coaches. Four people managed to escape initially. 15 were trapped in the wreckage, and 11 died. According to BBC, one of the coaches could be heard screaming for the children when rescue workers rushed in.

Middle School No. 34, located in the city of Qiqihar, became the focal point of what has become a predictable drama on the mainland. Videos of concerned parents were widely circulated on social media. One father claimed that he and the other parents of the victims had been waiting for 5 hours, and they hadn’t heard anything from the local government or the police.

“They tell me my daughter is gone but we never got to see the child,” he said. “All the children had their faces covered with mud and blood when they were sent to the hospital. I pleaded, please let me identify the child. What if that wasn’t my child?”

Other parents in the video voiced concerns about a lack of transparency. Those commenting online echoed the same sentiment, illustrating clear dissension. One angry commenter wrote, “Do people mean nothing to them?”

In times like these, the Chinese media can usually be relied upon to remain tightlipped, focusing instead on dog tricks and lost kittens while burying the most pertinent details. But building collapses strike a deep chord on the mainland, and the press has been extraordinarily candid about the matter. They knew exactly what was happening, and they were quick to point it out.

Changjiang Daily, Wuhan’s official newspaper, questioned whether the building might have been a tofu-dreg project, referring to notoriously flimsy construction projects found throughout the country. CQ News pointed out that the students had noticed construction materials on the roof of the gymnasium.

Among those supplies were piles of perlite, a highly absorbent volcanic glass that had been left there by a crew working on a nearby administrative building. It soaked up water from recent rainstorms until it became heavy enough to cause the roof to collapse.

The construction crew was detained, and the press spoke out. The Chinese Communist Party-owned newspaper, The Beijing News stated, “Only by truly respecting construction norms, respecting safety, and strengthening the supervision and management of the construction process can we avoid repeating the mistake.”

They didn’t mince words, and for good reason. This mistake has in fact been repeated many times throughout modern China’s history. The term “tofu-dreg” was first coined by Premier Zhu Rongji in 1998 when he was visiting flood dikes on the Yangtze River. He said that they were as porous as the dregs leftover from the tofu-making process. Dike collapses have taken a serious toll on the Chinese countryside, destroying entire communities. The problem dates back to Mao Zedong and his manic push for infrastructure. According to the Ministry of Water Resources, between 1954 to 2005, dikes have failed at no less than 3,486 reservoirs, largely due to poor construction and management.

Tofu-dreg projects are an everyday part of life in China. In fact, the problem has been so widespread and so deadly that it’s become obvious to the public at large that they are in danger.

Some of the most notable incidents occurred when a magnitude 8 earthquake struck the Sichuan province on May 12, 2008. The real numbers have been kept hidden, but it is estimated that during the initial tremor and the subsequent aftershock, more than 7,000 school classrooms collapsed; another 14,000 were left damaged. Well over 5,000 children died, along with more than 3,500 of their teachers. Even the Chinese propaganda machine couldn’t possibly have covered up a tragedy of that scale, especially when young children were involved.

Chinese civil engineers and citizens were quick to point out that many older buildings remained intact while schoolhouses were disproportionately affected. Liang Wei, who served in the Urban Planning and Design Research Institute at Tsinghua University wrote, “Buildings strictly built to the specifications of civil planning would not collapse during an earthquake. Any building that collapsed instantaneously must have failed to conform to civil planning standards. Either the design was unfit, or the engineering was unfit.”

In some areas, schools were the only buildings affected. The Chinese government ordered an investigation to quell the outcry, stating that anyone involved in shoddy construction would be held accountable.

Officials in the Education Ministry were accused of stealing from the school construction budget. This forced them to purchase subpar materials, which were then sold off to the contractors and builders. This is a common narrative repeated over a period of decades. Construction budgets are skimmed. Unqualified construction crews are granted contracts, and the people are left with dangerous, crumbling architecture with the potential to kill thousands.

The grieving parents whose children fell victim to this problem in 2008 were confronted with blatant corruption in the worst way imaginable.

In an effort to prevent protest demonstrations, parents were asked to sign waivers stating that they would not hold rallies, offering them varying amounts of money if they agreed. Those who refused were threatened. Many chose to speak out regardless.

Heartbroken and angry, parents blocked major roads, swarmed school buildings, and wailed as they were dragged off by police. Roughly five miles south of Beichuan, 200 parents blocked the only local road, furious because the police were refusing to take action against the vandal who destroyed a plaque they had put up, memorializing the lost students.

To many, the events that occurred after the earthquake added flat-out insult to injury. Grieving parents were hauled off to jail, often in secret, along with the teachers. . After the roadblock had dispersed, a group of 20 volunteers were quietly rounded up after they went to attend a planned memorial at Beichuan Middle School. They were hauled off to a police station at Wenchang.

When questioned about the matter, the police refused to admit what happened. Those in mourning were concerned because there didn’t seem to be any legal grounds for the arrests. Chen Yan, a volunteer from Cheng Du gave a statement saying, “I told them they had no right to keep them because they did not disturb the social order and they were not the members of illegal organizations, and the memorial activities were not illegal.”

It’s difficult to imagine parents being rounded up for trying to grieve their lost children. Some felt like they had nothing left. Wang Ping, whose daughter was killed in the Beichuan Middle School collapse made her feelings clear. ‘‘I’m 40. All our hopes were in our children. Now they’re dead. Our future is dead, too.’’

Even in a country like China, where censorship controls the discourse inside and outside of the press, news of a catastrophe of this scale spreads. The 2008 Sichuan earthquake was seen as the final straw. People were well-aware of the dangers of the country’s subpar construction practices long before this. But they couldn’t live with what happened. Something needed to be done. It did become the source of a national debate, but very few changes were made.

On a smaller scale, contractors in certain areas have learned their lesson. They do believe in reinforcing their structures, and many do take the time to ensure that construction regulations are met. But on a larger scale, very little has been done. There are still unresolved systemic issues. Tofu-dreg projects and poor construction practices are still unfortunately part of daily life. The accident at Middle School No. 34 is a tragic reminder of that.

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The Michelin brothers created the guide, which included information like maps, car mechanics listings, hotels and petrol stations across France to spur demand.

The guide began to award stars to fine dining restaurants in 1926.

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