October 28, 2009

The Truth Behind "Changsha Students Who Drowned Trying to Save Children"

"Three college freshmen who gave up their lives saving drowning children" has become a hot topic at every major mainland news source. Written in the tone of traditional Chinese textbook essays, lofty, moving, full of praises for the selfless students and Chinese governmental agencies, all the articles bring tears to the readers' eyes.

Then, much to the chagrin of some, the following thread appeared on Tianya, one of the largest forums in China.

The Truth Behind "Changsha Students Who Drowned Trying to Saving Children" (Already censored, but not before a hundred other websites re-published the article)

Note: Since the original article has been deleted, it is difficult to verify the accusations against the firefighters, the Maritime Safety Administration, and the fishermen. However, judging from replies to the thread and older news reports, the fishermen part at least is likely.
I don't know anything (我啥都不知道啊)
Date: 2009-10-27

This afternoon around 2PM in Jingzhou city (荆州市), two twelve year old boys were seen floundering in the Changsha River near the river bank . More than ten college freshmen from Yangtze University (长沙大学) were at the scene and promptly decided to save the children. One by one, they joined hands to form a human ladder until the last person in queue reached the boys. Among them were female students and those who could not swim. When the second child was almost pulled out of danger, however, the ladder broke because of students' physical exhaustion and strong undercurrents. Nine freshman fell into water. A winter swim team happened to pass by the area. Several members, aged 60 and up, jumped in to help. Six freshmen were saved, but three went down. Throughout this time there were two fishing boats nearby with people on board; they never stepped out.

A firefighting team was the first one to reach the scene. Claiming they lack life vests, the firefighters said they would stay by the river bank to hopefully get the bodies (News Screenshot). When they tried to leave just after a little awhile, hysterical students stopped them, so they had to return to watch. A boat from the Maritime Safety Administration of the People's Republic of China came to take a look but then left. Finally, officials of Yangtze University arrived two hours after the drowning. They discussed with the aforementioned fishermen to find the bodies. After some haggling, the price was set to be 12000 RMB per corpse.

When the first body was pulled out of the water, every on-looker cried, because it was just three meters away from the boat. If the fishermen had just extended their paddles, the student would have stayed alive. I stood there watching, feeling agonized. The doctors rushed to the corpse with oxygen masks and pretend to perform CPR (News Screenshot)...this was more than three hours after the drowning. The boss of the fishing gang stopped after pulling out the second body, because the promised 24000 RMB had not been paid yet. Despite of criticisms and scolding, he refused to do any more work. Finally, the teacher had to kneel before them to lower the price to 10,000 RMB per count.

Right now the children who were saved are playing hide-and-seek. All the news claim that it was the firefighters and the Maritime Safety Administration who fished out the bodies. You might not believe me, but watch the news more closely, you will see five or six firefighters walking around in just knee-deep water. Furthermore, the Maritime Safety Administration is no where to be found, even though their duty is to salvage bodies!

I swear on my honor what I have written is true. I feel chilled to the bone, because none of these three should have died. Their schoolmates begged and begged those fishermen, who were all unmoved! I heard that at places where frequent drowning occurs, there is always a professional corpse-salvaging team. One body is worth 12000 RMB, so they usually sit around waiting for people to die. Because death means money!

Corroborating reply:
This tale has finally been confirmed by authorities. I am a senior student in Radio and Television Journalism at Yangtze University. Today, my teacher described what happened. His wife was the person who had to deal with the fishermen. At the time, the three heroic students were still in water, fate unknown. But the fishermen refused to act until she knelt, agreed to the price of 10,000 RMB, and paid.

More Developments (October 31)
Ever since Tianya deleted the thread, more people came forward with the same story--that the fishing boats prey on the drowning victims, waiting for payments before they will "rescue" anybody; that the firefighting team and the Maritime Safety Administration had been ineffective in their efforts. No one can be certain if there will ever be official confirmation of this story. But thus far, everything indicates that the thread was true.

The People's Daily just came out with an article detailing a police investigation of this incident. Names of the witnesses were mentioned (the students and members of the winter swimming team). However, the news focuses strictly on just the fishing boats. The concluding paragraph is particularly chilling:

Translated, it says

According to the director of the Jingzhou police division responsible for river safety, they have previously received many reports of fishing boats parking around Bao Ta Wan (宝塔湾) and making profits by extorting money from victims' families. These fishermen care nothing for the living, only the dead bodies And because they are affiliated with gangs, no one else dares to rescue the drowning victims. [because they do not look kindly to people who pose a threat to their income].
http://www.tianya.cn/publicforum/content/free/1/1723261.shtml (Original thread, deleted)
http://bbs.hsw.cn/thread-1053330-1-1.html (Re-posted)
http://www.56.com/u31/v_NDcyNjQ0Njg.html (Official Newscast)
http://www.cqkx.com/html/200905/18/071015981.htm (News in May 2009 that mentions fishermen who stood by while children drowned)
http://focus.cnhubei.com/local/200910/t846269.shtml (Mayor of Jingzhou responding to internet rumors. He basically waxed eloquent for a page about nothing. Could neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Tianya thread)
http://society.people.com.cn/GB/10286937.html (Police investigating the fishing boats)

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