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After China train crash, it's not just rail safety that worries Chinese

Last week's China train crash, which killed some 40 people, has reinforced a sense of unease with the pace of the nation's development.

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Liu's replacement confirmed to state media in April that ticket fares would be lowered and that the trains would run at slower, and presumably more manageable, speeds. The second measure brought worries that corners may have been cut during construction.

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Skepticism about the rail system shot to the fore in the wake of the July 23 accident.

Media blackout

The government almost immediately ordered China's domestic news services to avoid investigating the causes of the disaster and to emphasize the government's understanding of the tragedy in their coverage.

But the guidelines were ignored by Internet users who swarmed a Twitter-like Chinese site named Weibo with a series of damning photographs. The images included pictures of sections of a train car being buried while bodies were widely thought to be still in the wreckage.

As one passenger on the Beijing-Shanghai train put it, "I don't watch official Chinese media. I get my news on Weibo and other Internet sites."

Li Changxi, a 20-something construction equipment salesman, paused while typing on his laptop to explain that between the rumors on Weibo and official propaganda, "I need to judge for myself what is true."

Two days after the crash, a Chinese state TV anchor, Qiu Qiming, made a widely quoted on-air appeal: "Can the roads we travel on in our cities not collapse suddenly? Can we not travel in safe trains? And if and when a major accident happens, can we not be in a hurry to bury the first carriage of the train?"

Mr. Qiu concluded: "We want to say: 'China, please slow down. Don't go too fast, and don't leave the people's soul behind.' "

On Friday, the central government issued a directive that again pushed to curtail critical reporting about the railway system, and this time was more successful. Most publications complied, sticking to state news-wire coverage.

But not everyone. The Beijing-based Economic Observer ran a special section and a front-page editorial, in the form of a letter to a 2-year-old girl who was found after the government had declared that there were no more survivors. The newspaper is a weekly, and there were reports that it went to print before the government's instructions came through. Nonetheless, it was still available at public newsstands Monday morning.

"On behalf of you lying there on that sickbed and those lives buried in the ground, people are refusing to give up on finding the truth," the editorial said.

Inside the newspaper, the section on the crash began with the image of a bloodstained ticket from D301, one of the trains in the wreck.

Also on Monday, an unsigned post was spotted on a Weibo account verified as belonging to China Central Television, the state broadcaster. It said that Zhang Shuguang, a former deputy chief engineer at the Ministry of Railways who was removed from his job amid corruption allegations, is accused of having deposits abroad of $2.8 billion.

The item, which has appeared in various forms on other Chinese websites, didn't include any sourcing or proof for the seemingly outrageous figure. Still, there it was, publicly displayed on a CCTV account. And then, without explanation, it disappeared.


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