Public calls for change of track following bullet train crash in China
Online messages allowed Chinese to learn quickly about an accident involving two new high-speed trains. The public has reacted furiously to a lack of transparency about the cause.
A deadly bullet train accident in China over the weekend has resulted in a media firestorm that has driven the Norwegian shootings off the front pages of Chinese papers and resulted in the removal of three railway officials and a nationwide investigation.Skip to next paragraph
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Anger, mixed with conspiratorial rumors, spread quickly online and illustrated not only the latest blow to China's bullet train ambitions but also a growing lack of trust in official media and the government.
According to Zhang Jian, a lecturer with the School of Government at Peking University, “this is definitely not limited to the Ministry of Railways. I would rather call it an outpouring of general demand for transparency of government. This accident is a just a trigger.”
Related: China's online protest movement
On Saturday evening, two of China's much touted new high-speed trains were traveling south along China's eastern coastline, both headed to the capital of Fujian Province.
According to local media reports, one train encountered bad weather and came to a halt on the outskirts of Wenzhou. Not long after, the second train plowed into the back of the stalled train, derailing two of that train's rear cars and pushing four of its own over the edge of the elevated tracks to a farm below.
At least 39 people have been reported dead, with more than 190 people injured.
China's high-profile push to build a cutting-edge high-speed rail network, and lingering suspicions about safety since the former railway minister was sacked in February for corruption, have focused significant public attention on high-speed trains.
How the news spread
The train accident has become the latest in a series of scandals that has played out on Sina Weibo, the most widely used microblogging platform on the mainland. Weibo had already become a central platform for sharing doubts about the safety of the new Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail link in the fortnight leading up to the crash.
News of the accident broke on the microblogging site, which is similar to Twitter, when passengers aboard both trains began to post messages about the accident and ask for assistance.
A series of delays and power outages hit the train service only weeks after it began commercial operations on June 30 – carefully timed to coincide with the eve of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.
Many of the reports of these delays were being posted to Weibo by passengers trapped for extended periods on trains halted at awkward angles, sometimes without electricity.