Chinese official media joined the global joy at the rescue of 33 Chilean miners on Thursday, but avoided drawing awkward comparisons with the fate that trapped miners face all too often in China, the most dangerous country in the world for underground workers.
That was left to bloggers and chat-room participants on China’s lively Internet. "Chile, great!” read one anonymous post on Sina.com. “That shows real respect for life…not like here.”
An average of more than seven Chinese miners died each day last year, totaling 2,631, according to official figures. That makes their profession 100 times more dangerous than it is in the United States.
China gets serious about safety
But even that death toll is a remarkable improvement on the situation in 2005, when nearly 6,000 men died, mostly in coal mines that caught fire, exploded, collapsed, or flooded.
The government launched a crackdown a year ago on illegal mines, closing 1,250 of them, in a bid to improve the industry’s safety record.
And in an eye-catching rule that came into force last week, Chinese coal mine managers and engineers are now obliged to go down the mines they supervise at least five times a month to give them a personal interest in ensuring safety levels.
40 percent of the world's coal
China has 25,000 mines feeding an economy that depends on coal for 74 percent of its electricity. The mining industry employs seven million men – more than in all the mines in the rest of the world put together. China produces 40 percent of the world’s coal, but its mines account for 80 percent of fatalities worldwide.
Mine disasters are so common in China they are reported only when the death toll is higher than a dozen. Even then the only detail generally released is the number of dead.
An exception occurred last April, when China’s mining sector enjoyed its own miracle: Eight days after a coal pit in Wangjialing, Shanxi province, flooded, 115 men were pulled to safety. They had strapped themselves to the side of the mine and eaten sawdust during their ordeal, mine officials said later. 38 men died in that accident.