China Tightens Control on Corruption, Quake Stories After allowing an initial openness when a deadly and powerful quake struck China's Sichuan Province, government officials tightened access for news media publishing stories about the corruption that led to the collapse of so many schools.
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China Tightens Control on Corruption, Quake Stories

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China Tightens Control on Corruption, Quake Stories

China Tightens Control on Corruption, Quake Stories

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block


And I'm Michele Norris.

BLOCK: One month ago, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck China's Sichuan Province, killing at least 69,000 people. Some 18,000 are still missing. There was praise for China's initial response, but as NPR's Rob Gifford reports, the longer, harder part of rebuilding isn't going nearly as well as many had hoped.

ROB GIFFORD: Walking around the site of a Red Cross sanitation plant just north of Chengdu, Red Cross representative Hosam al-Shakawi(ph) has plenty of praise to what China has done.

Mr. HOSAM AL SHAKAWI (Red Cross): The Chinese government seems to have prioritized a really comprehensive or complete shelter solutions from the onset. Public health and disease prevention have been incredible. Their teams are out there in the tens of thousands. The Chinese actually have a lot to teach the world about how to respond to this scale disaster.

GIFFORD: Al-Shakawi admits, though, that the task is massive, and there's still much to do. Five million people - that's roughly the population of Colorado - have been made homeless by the quake, and he says there are many in the outlying areas whose still need to be reached. You don't have to go far to see what he means.

(Soundbite of car engine, crowd chatter)

GIFFORD: In the town of Wintuan(ph), the whole populations is living in tents and cooking outside on tiny stoves. The Chinese Government says one million tents have been distributed, but that is far short of the three million it says it needed.

The tents are baking hot, and there is growing frustration of one issue: the lack of longer term housing.

WONG: (Foreign language spoken)

GIFFORD: They say they're relocating us to prefabricated housing - says one man, whose name is Wong - but we don't know when, and we don't where.

In the long term, the government of Wintuan is deciding whether to rebuild the city somewhere else, away from the earthquake fault line.

Ms. YANG YUNSHU(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

GIFFORD: Fifty-five-year-old Yang Yunshu supports that idea, as do most in this camps. Yang says, meanwhile, all they can do is wait. If you come back in three months, she says, we'll probably still be here, in these tents.

On top of the basic living conditions, there are almost daily aftershocks that can damage already-weakened housing and cause even more landslides on the roads of Sichuan, that for the most part cling to a steep cliff face on one side, and drop down to a river on the other.

Okay, well, this is how bad, it's got. We've got out the car, and I'm looking up at the (unintelligible) above us, and there is a lot of dust falling around. And there's a lot of stones that have come down on the road. And our driver here is now shifting stones out of the way, and I'm just going to help him here so that we can get through (unintelligible) okay, okay. (Foreign language spoken). So that we actually get through.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

GIFFORD: (Foreign language spoken)

I don't fancy getting one this coming down on my head.

(Soundbite of banging)

GIFFORD: Further north, in the town of Namba(ph), residents are retrieving waste metal from what used to be their homes. They're taking it to be weighed in order to earn themselves some money from the wreckage. Up here, towards Sichuan's famous Jiuzhaigou National Park, now empty of visitors, hundreds, possibly thousand died in the quake - at least a 170 in the elementary school alone. The builder who constructed the school is on the run.

Ms. YANG SUCHUN(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

GIFFORD: The complaint is familiar. We need houses said local resident Yang Suchun. There's anger at the lack of housing and at alleged local government corruptions. But unlike the town of Wintuan, people here don't want to leave. They say this has been their home for generations. And amazingly, here amidst of ruins, people seem to maintain some kind of dignity, some kind of optimism.

Mr. YEN KHUN(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

GIFFORD: We Chinese are very tough, you know, says one man named Yen Khun. He says, he has set up a television in his tent, and he and his family are going to watch the Beijing Olympic Games from there.

Mr. KHUN: (Foreign language spoken)

GIFFORD: The fact that China is hosting the Olympics, he says, gives me encouragement as we rebuild our homes. And hopefully, we'll win lots of gold medals.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Rob Gifford. He's been reporting from Chengdu, China for the past two weeks. He's getting ready to leave. And Rob, stay with us a few minutes to talk about this last month since the earthquake and the changes you've seen. I'm very curious to hear about people and what they're doing for money. You describe people selling scrap metal, but is there any self-organized government compensation? Any talk about a, a jobs program, public works program being planned? Anything like that?

GIFFORD: There are government handouts, actually - cash handouts. People are being given 10 remimbi every day. That's about $1.30. And this is very important for most people because they're relying on that and on government food hand outs to survive. They've also interestingly set up job markets in the refugee camp, so companies from Eastern China are coming over. They need workers. And some of the people I've talked to have been applying for jobs in the east and already heading over to the eastern part of the country to work.

BLOCK: Which seems to indicate that there's going to be an even greater dislocation of people than we've already seen. We hear all the time about China's million of migrant workers, and it just seems that with this earthquake, so many people are now out of their homes, out of their cities and they're just going to be elsewhere.

GIFFORD: That's absolutely right. People are - some of them are going to live with relatives in other parts of Sichuan or other parts of the country. And on top of that, we've got a situation where one of the most influential Chinese news magazines has this week reported that 30 of the towns that are located along the fault line are actually going to be rebuilt elsewhere. So there's going to be local - a lot of local movement, as well.

BLOCK: There were pledges by the Chinese central government very soon after the earthquake that there will be investigations into construction in particular, shoddy constructions at the schools, the many schools had collapsed all over Sichuan Province. What's happened with that, Rob?

GIFFORD: Well, I think this is a very delicate situation because in a lot of these cases, local officials were complicit where they may have given the construction deal to a relative or some such situation. So there is a line here that the government won't cross. It will allow some investigations, but for instance, it's not allowing any further reporting on this issue. And it's very difficult for them to pursue investigations when local Communist Party officials are known to be at fault.

BLOCK: Are you saying that across the board with Chinese media, Rob - there was of initial blossoming of Chinese news coverage in the days after the earthquake. Are you seeing that being dramatically scaled back now?

GIFFORD: Very much so. I mean, there still is a lot of coverage of it, but they are trying very much to focus it on the good news of what's going on. And while the Chinese media in the early days basically just flaunted the laws - they were told enough to go, and they went and they reported it. Now, a month on, it's tightening. The government knows that it can't get, let this thing get out of control and for there to be too much media freedom. The big question, of course, is to what instinct can you go back to the exact situation that it was before?

BLOCK: That's NPR long-time China correspondent Rob Gifford, who's getting set to leave Sichuan province after spending the last two weeks reporting there. Rob, thanks very much.

GIFFORD: Thank you very much, Melissa.

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