The Shanxi Officials In The Eye Of The Storm

(Southern Weekend)  The Shanxi Officials In The Eye Of The Storm.  By Ma Changbo (马昌博).  July 5, 2007.

The arrested subcontractor Heng Tinghan

The freed child laborer Zhu Guangfei back at home in Henan

[in translation]

It has been more than a month already, but Hongdong county (Shanxi province) is still the target of criticisms from everywhere.

"Many people called up the Hongdong county government office from the outside and cursed us angrily.  They said that there are no good people in Hongdong county."  On June 29, Hongdong county mayor Sun Yanlin told the Southern Weekend reporter.

Sun Yanlin sat somewhat nervously in front of our reporter.  Sun had been the chief editor at <Linfen Daily News> and he is now sought after and criticized by his former media colleagues.  Under his mayoralty, Hongdong has been shook up by criticisms from above as well as condemnations from the media all over the country through the entire month of June.

The "illegal brick kiln" affair which started first in Hongdong has even been called a calamity.  From June 7, the unstoppable wave of public opinion swept through this county city in southwest Shanxi and then across all of Shanxi province.  After that, even the central leadership in Beijing at the highest level issued a directive to investigate this affair at all levels of government from Beijing to Shanxi.

When the case was first exposed, people paid attention to how this the various levels of the Shanxi government that was in the eye of the storm of the public opinion wave would cope?

The Southern Weekend reporter interviewed a large number of Shanxi government officials at various levels and went into a previously unexplored subject area about the logic of response, consultation and consideration by the government.  There was a chain of reaction from the town up to the provincial government.  Along this chain, different officials showed different faces: there was the undeniable "inertia" at the base level and there was the need for Shanxi to meet the urgent crisis.  There is a broad background behind the affair which consists of various interlocking age-old malpractices.  This case was not simply the fault of one or two persons.

Afterwards, it seemed that the storm was triggered by an action in Hongdong that should have been "praiseworthy."  This action exposed the secret behind the "illegal brick kiln."  But the official who exposed the secret is being severely sanctioned.

Most people know about the details from the reports on the incident.  At 10:40am on May 27th, the Shanxi Linfen city Hongdong county Guangshengsi town police station officers went out as part of a coordinated provincial inspection of civilian explosive materials.  At Caosheng village, they found 31 migrant workers who were forced to work and subjected to abuse.  Previously, a mentally impaired migrant worker had been beaten to death there.

The militia police officer Li Ding from the Guangshengsi town police station was the one who uncovered it.  But Li Ding has been found guilty of dereliction of duty by the disciplinary committee -- he was previously aware that there were large numbers of migrant workers at the illegal brick kiln.  However, the subcontractor told Li that he was in the process of procuring temporary resident permits and Li then dropped the matter.

During the massive inspections after June 14, several hundred slave migrant laborers were rescued from illegal brick kilns.  People are wondering why it took so long to find them.

The Shanxi provincial public security bureau told the Southern Weekend reporter that the background was that the fees charged for temporary resident permits had been reduced recently.  This meant that the funding for the inspectors at the various grassroots-level public security bureaus was cut down, and many of the inspectors were laid off or re-assigned.  Since the grassroots-level public security bureaus did not have enough manpower, there was a gap in the relevant inspections.

Although the discovery on May 27 was a coincidence, the Hongdong county did so during one of its actions.  According to a local official who did not wish to be identified, the county public security bureau director Bai Bo was just transferred to Hongdong county in April.  "He wanted to come up with some accomplishments quickly and therefore he was more demanding than his predecessor."  After rescuing these migrant workers, the public security bureau wanted to publicize the action as meritorious.  Instead, "the deed of merit brought trouble."

Actually, the signs were ominous all around Shanxi province before then.  Linfen city was the first to be reported in the media, but it was actually the last place where the cases were found.

The accurate information that we received was that on April 20, the police in Linyi county, Yuncheng city, Shanxi province had received similar tips and rescued 27 migrant workers.  By May 16, two illegal brick kiln owners were prosecuted.

On May 7, the Jincheng city police received reports from Henan parents about their children working in brick kilns in Lingchuan.  The Lingchuan county public security bureau conducted an investigation but did not find any children.  On May 16, the Jincheng police inspected all migrant workers within the city boundaries and rescued 47 migrant workers.

At the end of May before the storm broke out, the Shanxi provincial public security bureau also received tip information that Yuncheng and Jincheng cities have forced laborers.  On May 28, Shanxi provincial public security bureau executive deputy director Li Lianqi issued a directive based upon letters of petition to ask the criminal investigative department to follow up.  Subsequently, from June 5 to June 11, they organized a weeklong campaign.

Generally speaking, these actions were not disclosed publicly for various reasons.  Meanwhile, from May 19 onwards, Henan TV had already broadcast the program <The evil road to "illegal persons"> about parents traveling from Henan to Shanxi in search of their children.

Subsequent investigations showed that it was a fact that "illegal brick kilns" exist in large numbers.  It was only a matter of time when these horrible case studies broke open.  The relevant Shanxi officials admitted after the fact that if they had actively disclosed the cases that they uncovered during these actions and stated their positions firmly, public opinion may not have been so bad.

On May 27, just as the militia police from the Guangshengsi town police station thought about celebrating their accomplishment, the gathering storm had found a critical turning point -- this deplorable case at Caosheng village was the worst case in the Shanxi "illegal brick kilns" affair.

Now that this horrible case appeared, a rapid response by the government might have been able to lead public opinion.  But the grassroots officials behaved otherwise.

As the principals recalled on or about May 27, the Hongdong county Guangshengsi town mayor Xu Jintie received a telephone call from the police station.  Xu Jintie told the Southern Weekend reporter that he cannot recall the exact time of the call, but he was told that there was an "illegal brick kiln" in Caosheng village.  Xu Jintie did not express any surprise at the time.

As Shanxi governor Yu Youjun told the Southern Weekend reporter, this reflected that certain local officials were "numb" and "indifferent."

Actually, during the inspections after June 14th, there were five brick kilns in Guangshengsi town and none of them had the legal papers.  There were 93 brick kilns in Hongdong county as a whole and only two of them were legal.

The local officials said that the coal mining industry has brought economic prosperity to Shanxi.  The rural villagers want to build houses, which has stimulated the demand on bricks.  This made the small brick kilns possible.  The state policy bans the production of solid bricks, so it was basically impossible for the small brick kilns to obtain the necessary papers.  As a result, there were numerous illegal brick kilns.  Under these circumstances, the grassroots officials obviously think that illegal brick kilns were "no big deal."

The town mayor Xu Jintie explained to the Southern Weekend reporter that the town government focused its work around the coal mines with very little attention to the brick kilns.  In Shanxi, coal mines are the focus for supervision because they are the mainstay of the local economy.  By comparison, the small brick kilns are low-profit enterprises.

It is certain that the local officials knew of the existence of the brick kiln in Caosheng village.  The later investigation would show that the local mining supervisory department and the environmental protection department knew about it.

That is to say, the grassroots level officials who knew about the truth did not think that this was a serious issue.  Hongdong county public security bureau Guo Tiansuo recalled that on May 28, brick kiln owner Wang Bingbing was telling the migrant workers that he would solve the problems with their wages  Then Wang went with the police to chase after the subcontractor and his henchmen.  This man who would be strongly denounced later apparently did not think that he would have to pay any price for what he did.

Strangely enough, neither the Hongdong police nor the Guangshengsi government made reports to the county party secretary and the county mayor.  The Hongdong television station aired a news report on May 28th, but it did not draw attention.

Eight days later, at 11am on June 4, the county labor department Qiao Hongji informed deputy county mayor Wang Zhenjun.  Afterwards, Wang called the county mayor Sun Yanlin who told him to go and find out more.  This was "the first time" that county mayor knew anything about the case.

That afternoon, Wang Zhenjun went to the town to understand the situation and then he made a report to Sun Yanlin the next day.  On the same day, a post appeared at the Henan Dahe Net titled: <The evil road to the "illegal people"!  The bleeding plea from 400 parents whose children were sold to the illegal brick kilns in Shanxi>.  This post was subsequently carried by many other websites.

The public opinion storm has begun.  On the outside world, the storm was brewing.  But in the eye of the storm, it was all calm and quiet.  Practically none of the Hongdong officials realized that a huge storm was heading their way.

But at this time, another critical point arrived at the right moment.  The Hongdong police were ready to publicize their roles in the case and the provincial newspapers Shanxi Evening News interviewed them about the case.

Later on, the Hongdong police would not admit that they were hankering for publicity.  But the county publicity department officials who were interviewed by Southern Weekend were skeptical about that.

Actually, the local governments were not completely "unaware."  At around 10pm on June 6th, the Hongdong publicity department knew that an article was about to be published.  So they went through acquaintances to ask Shanxi Evening News to withdraw the report.  "But they said that they have already begun their print run."  The county publicity department director said.

The Shanxi Evening News article went out on June 7th, and it contained facts that were consistent with a previous Internet post.

Not only did the Hongdong county mayor and the Guangshengsi town mayor not know about the news, they said that they don't subscribe to Shanxi Evening News and they were too busy to get on the Internet.  On that day, the county government arranged for the relevant departments to send condolences to the six injured migrant workers who have not departed yet.  But the county publicity department officials did nothing even though they learned about the matter on June 6th.

The government was trying to handle the matter at its normal speed.  Yet the public opinion storm had been rising from this day to the point that it became an "crazy tsunami."  At 8:30am on June 8th, a Linfen city party committee office worker found a report on the Internet about the illegal brick kilns.  He called party secretary Wang Guozheng who was out of town.  "Secretary Wang was somewhat shocked.  He asked, 'Is there such a thing?'"

On that morning, city party deputy secretary Zhang Keqiang called a meeting and asked for the labor union and public security bureau to proceed to learn about the situation.  The Linfen city labor union chairman Liang Chongtai took his cadres to Guangshengsi town in Hongdong county, but the Guangshengsi government and the police station did not know how much the migrant workers had been paid, or where they were, or how they were going to return home, and so on.

At noon on that day, the deputy county mayor Wang Zhenjun was planning for the "Three Advanced Environmental Protection Walk."  The Guangshengsi town mayor Xu Jintie told him that six of the injured migrant workers have been discharged from the hospital.  Wang thought that things were going fine and did not follow up.

Over the next couple of days, Wang Zhenjun stayed with the "Three Advanced Environmental Protection Walk" work group.  Meanwhile, county mayor Sun Yanlin has been in Beijing for an economic meeting since June 10th.

On the day when Sun Yanlin departed from Hongdong, Linfen city party secretary Wang Guozheng had just returned to discuss with city party deputy secretary Zhang Keqiang about how to deal with this matter.  By this time, the incident has been rising up in the hierarchy.  On June 11th, the National Federation of Trade Unions leaders had issued a directive, but the Linfen officials were still unaware.

On the morning of that day, Hongdong county party secretary Gao Hongyuan has been recovering from illness in Linfen and he received an emergency call from city party deputy secretary Zhang Keqiang.  Zhang was very nervous.  "As soon as I heard him speak, I knew there was trouble."  The nervous Gao Hongyuan called the county party deputy secretary to set up a meeting.

On that evening, county party secretary Gao Hongyuan hurried back to Hongdong and heard the relevant reports on the morning of June 11.  "I was very angry.  During the report, the public security was proud that they had solved this case.  I said that solving the case deserves praises, but the other problem is just why this horrible matter hadn't been uncovered earlier?"

By this time, the local government realized that it had better make a response.  But the affair had already fallen into the maelstrom of public opinion.

At 9am on June 13, county party secretary Gao Hongyuan held a meeting to discuss strategies.

At this time, in Taiyuan city, the provincial labor and social security department deputy inspector Kong Qifeng saw the relevant information on the internet.  "I was very shocked, because it mentioned that labor inspectors were selling child laborers."

Kong organized a disciplinary team to go and investigate.  The labor and social security department director Zhang Jian learned about it that evening.  Afterwards, he told the Southern Weekend reporter: "I learned about this quite late.  That is a lesson for me."  But he said that that they did not have a reporting system emanating from below.  "The labor department is not a strong department."

On the morning of the same day, Hongdong county party secretary Gao Hongyuan received a call from the National Federation of Labor Unions and "realized that this is a big deal now."  Gao Hongyuan immediately changed his prior arrangements and put six members of the county party standing committee into the county working group on the case.  That afternoon, the full investigative team arrived in Hongdong county.

It was only then that the public security bureau realized that things have changed.  "At first, I thought that it was glorious to break open the case.  But now it has created various pressure for various levels of government.  I am especially sorry."  Hongdong county public security bureau deputy director Guo Tiancuo described how he felt.

But the tide of public opinion could not be controlled and it drew the attention of the highest level of government.

On June 13, Shanxi provincial governor Yu Youjun was about to board an airplane for Beijing when he received directives from Chinese Politburo Standing Committee member Li Changchun as well as Chinese Politburo Standing Committee member and Central Disciplinary Committee secretary Wu Guanzheng.

Since Yu Youjun had arranged to make reports to two national-level departments already, he could not change his schedule.  So Yu kept making telephone calls during his journey.  He called the provincial party secretary Zhang Baoshun.  Then he spoke with the provincial party standing committee member and public security bureau director Tu Yulin and the executive deputy governor Shi Yanzhong about the plans to begin a province-wide campaign against the illegal brick kilns and rescue the trapped and victimized migrant workers.

On the afternoon of June 14, labor and social security department director Zhang Jian received an urgent notice to attend a meeting with the provincial party committee.  "The atmosphere was very tense at the meeting."  Zhang Jian said.  The provincial party secretary standing committee member and public security bureau director Tu Yulin presided over this meeting which decided to run a campaign against the "illegal brick kilns" through a large-scale inspection of laborers.  Suddenly, Shanxi became an activated machine.

That night, Zhang Jian did not sleep at the labor and social security department.  He was drafting a notice for a special campaign against the illegal brick kilns.

The public security bureau director Tu Yulin personally called the mayors of Linfen, Yuncheng and Jincheng to demand immediate overnight action.  From early morning to 5pm on June 15, several thousand police officers began to search.

By 11am on June 16, a draft notice was in the hands of Yu Youjun and he personally revised it, signed it and released it at noon.  In order to take the initiative for public opinion, provincial public security bureau deputy director Li Fulin held a brief press conference to announce the province has sent three investigative teams down.

Pressure from public opinion and elsewhere continue to grow rapidly.  The State President and Premier issued directives on this affair, and the joint investigative team from the State Council arrived in Taiyuan that afternoon.

All the relevant officials were feeling the pressure.  A worker at the labor and social security department said that their director Zhang Jian had not bathed for a dozen days or so.  "His hair was matted and his clothes smelled."  The public security bureau director was also in a constant rage.

The county party secretary Gao Hongyuan was feeling "the explosive pressure of public opinion."  He received calls from the provincial governor and the provincial party committee.  Previously, Gao had lashed out at his subordinates for not informing him earlier and he telephoned the Hongdong county mayor to return home from Beijing as soon as possible.

The really nervous Hongdong county government set up a thorough inspection of all workers in the entire county.  To prevent any cover-ups, the higher organizations employed secret parallel inspections.  "If some place was declared to be free of illegal migrant workers and they were found later, then there can be no excuse."  Gao Hongyuan said.  "Hongdong county cannot afford more trouble."  Afterwards, Gao Hongyuan told the Southern Weekend reporter that the various departments "had never worked so quickly before."

All eyes were turned to the Henan subcontractor Heng Tinghan.  The Shanxi province public security bureau criminal investigative director Quan Zhigao began to work on this case as of June 15.  By that time, Heng has been listed as a Class B wanted suspect by the Ministry of Public Security with a reward of 20,000 yuan.  When Quan Zhigao was asked about when the case could be solved, he said awkwardly that it depended on when Heng Tinghan could be arrested.

On the evening of June 16, Heng Tinghan was arrested by the Shiyan police in Dankou (Hubei province).  The various Shanxi departments breathed a sigh of relief.  When a public security bureau deputy director received the report at a meeting of the three state investigative work groups in Rongqi city, he cried out excitedly, "Heng Tinghan has been seized!"

All the public pressure fell upon the provincial governor.  Within the entire chain of reaction, he was the official who had to have the greatest courage.

On the morning of June 20, the 181st meeting of the State Council heard the preliminary work report about the Shanxi illegal brick kilns.  The Shanxi provincial governor Yu Youjun made the report and self-criticism.

On June 22, the three state investigative work groups and the Shanxi provincial government held a joint press conference.  During that meeting, Yu Youjun represented the Shanxi provincial government to apologize to the State Council and the people of Shanxi province, and to victimized migrant workers and their families.

But Internet public opinion was still rising, "mainly about the 400 fathers looking for their children."  According to a police officer with the Shanxi provincial public security bureau's Internet monitoring department, the Internet opinion believed that the children had been moved elsewhere.

On July 23, the State Council leaders issued a new directive on the forum post that was forwarded to them by the relevant departments.

According to the police officer with the Shanxi provincial public security bureau Internet monitoring department, they tried to contact the first person who made the forum post so that they can contact these 400 fathers.  "They can contact us directly and we will try to find the children based upon their information."  But they have not been able to find any child through this channel.

On the night of June 23, the Shangxi public security bureau issued a notice to call for information tips.  As of June 29, they received 1,883 tips about missing family members.  "But for the majority of the cases, we are not sure that the persons are actually in Shanxi."  Shanxi provincial public security bureau criminal investigative division captain Quan Zhigao said.

These 1,800 plus tips covering 30 provinces, "everywhere except from Tibet and Taiwan."  135 missing persons were under the age of 18 and 53  of them were over the age of 60.  The oldest was 86 years old.  "A northeastern citizen said that a relative of his was seized a long time ago by the Japanese to build the railroad in Shanxi and never came back.  Can we help to find him?"  The aforementioned official said.

During the inspections, the Shanxi police registered information on 290,000 migrant workers.  "We are trying to find these 1,800 plus persons by checking the data person by person.  There are many few cases -- not more than ten.  The majority of those people are not here."  Quan Zhigao said that the Shanxi police is continuing to search among the temporary and mobile populations.

"Many people cursed us when they called in to report," said a militia police officer on the case. "We asked them whether their relatives are mentally normal and they said that their relatives were mentally normal before they went missing.  They mean to say that they could not be sure that their relatives were turned into mentally abnormal after being taken to Shanxi."

Quan Zhigao also provided an explanation about the televised sentence "You cannot interfere if this is not your child" that the Southern Weekend reporter brought up.  He said, "The local police said 'You cannot interfere if this is not your child' because one cannot take away someone who is not one's child.  What happens if the child is sold once more?  What will we say when the parents come around?  It was not because the police were covering up."

On the next day after Heng Tinghan was arrested, the Guangshengsi town police station militia police man Li Ding who was sent out to arrest him was examined.  Although it was Li Ding who first uncovered the illegal brick kiln in Caosheng village, the disciplinary department determined that Li Ding was guilty of dereliction of duty.

Including Li Ding, six persons have been detained for dereliction of duty.

According to county party secretary Gao Hongyuan, three works groups including those from the highest procuratorate, the provincial disciplinary committee and the city procuratorate have been supervising the procuratorate in Hong Dong county.  The various levels of officials in Hongdong county have been asked to list what they were doing before and after the incident in order to determine their responsibility.

On June 29, Gao Hongyuan who was at the eye of the storm was interviewed by the Southern Weekend reporter.  His voice was low, he looked worried, he was sighing and his eyebrows were knitted.

"For us, what is happening now is very important."  Gao Hongyuan said.  His subordinates said that Gao could not eat.  "He cannot digest anything.  So he is relying on Chinese medicine to keep him going."

When this county party secretary by interviewed by our reporter, he found it difficult to talk about the work of many people because he didn't know whether anyone that he named would be held accountable the next day.

Hongdong county mayor Sun Yanlin repeatedly spoke to our reporter about the pressure from public opinion.  He sighed and said, "I have caused trouble for the county and the nation."  "If I am personally sanctioned ..."  He paused for a while before saying: "I will obey the decision of the organization."

On the day before, Shanxi provincial governor Yu Youjun had told the Southern Weekend reporter that "those in the county with the biggest illegal brick kiln problem will be held accountable."

Shanxi is urgently studying a long-term effective system about supervising rural labor in order to prevent similar incidents from recurring.

At a Hongdong county public security bureau meeting at the end of June, Bai Bo who had been the director for three months said: "This affair has gotten so big that I wouldn't complain if I got dismissed."

But the county labor department head could not be interviewed.  This official said that he has a bad heart and he was concerned that he might misspeak during an interview.  He has recently been questioned a lot by the disciplinary department.

Hongdong has made the preliminary decision to sanction Guangshengsi town mayor Xu Jintie.  When Xu was interviewed by the Southern Weekend reporter, he said: "We definitely have an unavoidable responsibility.  We have to accept our responsibility."

Then the Southern Weekend reporter asked this grassroots official: "If you were dismissed from your position, how would you feel?"

The mayor lowered his head for a long time and said nothing.  When he raised his head again, he was crying.

(SCMP)  Brick kiln foreman gets death penalty; 28 others are jailed.  By Alice Yan.  July 19, 2007.

A foreman at an illegal Shanxi brick kiln has been sentenced to death and 28 others have been jailed - some for life - for their roles in the abduction and enslavement of migrant workers and children.

They are among 41 owners and managers of illegal kilns in Linfen and Yuncheng who have been tried for forced labour, illegal detention, hiring child labour and murder. No senior officials in Shanxi have been punished or charged.

The brutal conditions in the brickworks and the large number of children enslaved shocked the country last month and sparked calls from the public and central government leaders for an investigation.

Liu Jimin , a deputy director of the Shanxi Higher People's Court, said the Linfen Intermediate People's Court had imposed the death sentence on Zhao Yanbing , supervisor of a kiln in Hongtong county, for beating a worker to death with a shovel.

Zhao and others buried the man in an abandoned grave after he died on a dormitory floor.

Heng Tinghan , a foreman at the kiln, was sentenced to life imprisonment for allowing his overseers to inflict severe beatings on workers who were underperforming or who tried to escape. He also used underground head hunters to abduct 31 migrant workers, including nine with mental disabilities, from railway stations in Henan , Shanxi and Shaanxi . Mr Liu said Heng offered 350 yuan per head.

"Kiln slavery cases have seriously infringed workers' lives, health and freedom. They have disturbed society's order and created a bad impression at home and abroad," Mr Liu said. "We must punish culprits seriously and hold trials quickly. Only by doing this can we frighten criminals."

Of the 29 men sentenced in Shanxi courts, two were convicted of hiring a child worker. Mr Liu said verdicts for 12 other kiln owners and managers were due soon.

A Henan reporter and parents whose search brought the exploitation to light estimate there were up to 1,000 children working in the kilns.

Nearly 100 low-level Shanxi officials have been punished.