The Lifan Landslide

(Guangzhou Daily)  Reporter's Blog Exposed Lifan Landslide.  October 8, 2008.

[in translation]

On October 6, 2008, the State Council established a special investigation team for the major landslide at the Jianshan iron mine in Lifan (Shanxi province) on August 1.  The purpose is to determine whether there was a cover-up of what was originally called a "hillside landslide that caused 11 deaths."  The team leader, deputy director Wang Dexue of the General Administration of Safety Inspection, said that this incident was apparently not a natural disaster as originally supposed.  Instead, it was a major incident for which some people are accountable.  According to the information on the website of the General Administration of Safety Inspection, the bodies of 41 victims have been recovered so far.

The reason why this incident turned from a "natural disaster" into a "major incident with accountability" is due to the letter of denunciation titled <A letter to Shanxi province interim governor Wang Jun> posted by <Oriental Outlook> reporter Sun Chunlong on his personal blog.

On August 1, 2008, there was a hillside landslide at the Jianshan iron mine, Sigou village, Lifan county, Shanxi province.  According to local media reports, 11 persons were buried under.  This incident was determined by the local authorities to be a natural disaster as a result of a hillside landslide.

In late August, <Oriental Outlook> reporter Sun Chunlong and special writer Wang Xiao published: <Lifan: The Delayed Truth> and pointed out that there was a cover-up in the Lifan incident.  There had been at least 41 deaths and it was a "major incident with accountability" instead of a natural disaster.

On September 14, Sun Chunlong published the report <An open letter to Shanxi province interim governor Wang Jun> on his personal blog to point out the problems in the Lifan incident.

On September 17, Premier Wen Jiabao and State Council committee member Ma Kai issued important directives about "A blog is reporting that the number of deaths at the Lifan county (Shanxi) landslide on August has been covered-up."  They asked the Shanxi People's Government and the State Council to investigate the Shanxi province Xiangfen county Xintai Mining Company dam collapse on September 7 as well as the Lifan landslide.

The State Council investigative team determined that the Xiangfen incident will be made by a team formed by the Shanxi People's Government.  Meanwhile, the team also formed a special audit group for the August 1 incident.  Between September 22 to 29, this team checked the number of missing and dead.  In total, there were 41 bodies as well as 6 body parts.

On October 6, the State Council established an investigative team for for the August 1 landslide in Jianshan iron mine, Lifan county, Shanxi province.  This investigative team included members of the Supreme People's Procuratorate of Shanxi province.

On October 7, General Administration of Safety Inspection spokesperson Huang Yi said that the investigative team will look at the important issue of whether the incident had been covered up.

Here is the interview with reporter Sun Chunlong.  He was born in 1976 in Shanxi, and he is presently the director/leader writer of the social news section at <Oriental Outlook> newsweekly magazine.

Q: How was your attention drawn to the Lifan incident?
A: I read the report about this incident and my first reaction was to wonder whether there was a cover-up.  At the Lifan post bar on the Internet, people claimed that the number of deaths was being covered up.  My friends in Shanxi also said that.  So I traveled to Lifan to investigate.  My colleague Wang Xiao worked with me from Beijing.

Q: Can you tell us what sort of difficulties and obstacles you encountered during your investigation?
A: The local government had set up some stern measures.  If they should find out that I am a reporter, I would be 'invited' to leave Lifan.
I got off several hundred meters before the inspection station for vehicles, and I entered Lifan on foot.  After I got in, I lived on work grounds.  During the entire process, I was undercover.  On the road to the scene of the incident, there were three roadblocks to check people.  I had to take detours and walk around the roadblocks in order to reach the scene.

Q: You came up with a list of 41 deceased persons.  How did you obtain that list?
A: At the time, many of the family members were staying at the local hostels.  I asked the dozens of family members to write down the names of their deceased relatives.  To verify the lists, my colleague Wang Xiao called up the home village of each and every name to ask.  We were able to confirm that there were no errors on the list.

Q: You had previously published the article <Lifan: The Delayed Truth>.  So why did you publish a letter of denunciation on your personal blog later?
A: After the article was published, many websites carried it.  But when people tried to read those web pages, they would not open.  I was forced to publish the letter of denunciation on my blog, because I want the truth to be known.

Q: At the time, did you imagine that your blog post would draw the attention of the state leaders?
A: No.  I only wanted to expose the matter.  I remembered that when I was gathering the information, many family members were crying.  At first, they did not trust me.  They said that many reporters have come to Lifan to cover this incident but they did not publish anything afterwards.  I promised them that I would do my best to expose this matter.  I cannot forget the looks of the family members who wanted me to help them.  If I did not expose this matter, I would be derelict in my duties as a reporter.

(Sun Chunlong's blog via

Esteemed interim governor Wang Jun:

At the time when I compose this letter of complaint, your job position has just changed.  You are moving from the General Administration of Safety Inspection to Shanxi province.  This change has increased my confidence in writing this letter to you.

More than a month ago on August 1, there was a hillside landslide in Lifan county, Shanxi province that resulted in a large number of casualties.  The initial report said that there were 9 deaths.  This number was close to 10 and that aroused my suspicion [Note: an 'extraordinarily important mass incident' is 'an incident causing more than ten deaths and/or more than 30 injuries with serious impact on social stability'; an 'important mass incident' is 'an incident with more than 3 but not more than 10 deaths, or more than 10 but not more than 30 injuries.'  Therefore, reporting 9 makes it just an 'important mass incident' whereas 10 would make it an "extraordinarily important mass incident.']  My professional sensitivity and responsibility to call around about this incident.  All the channels of information suggested that at least one hundred people have died.

Afterwards, I went to Lifan by myself.  During several days of investigation, I compiled a list of 41 deceased persons.  I have their names and home villages.  I believe that this list covers only some, but not all, of the victims.

A reporter like me does not have the means to determine how many people really died.  But the number of deaths that I was able to confirm shows that this is a major incident.

Afterwards my esteemed colleague Wang Xiao made a denunciation by telephone to the General Administration of Safety Inspection.  The person on the telephone said that the number of deaths was 11, as reported by Shanxi province.  You receive many reports, but you always accept the provincial numbers as accurate.  You ask us to come again if there is some concrete evidence.  The most firm attitude comes from the Shanxi Provincial Administration of Safety Inspection when the telephone receptionist said that it was "impossible" to have more than 100 deaths.  "Someone even claimed than more than 1,000 people died, but these are all rumors."  The Lifan county publicity committee asked us repeatedly not to go to Lifan to gather information.

In late August, the article <Lifan: The Delayed Truth> by myself and my partner Wang Xiao was published by the media outlet where we work.  Many websites re-posted that report.  But something amazing happened because overnight, all those web pages either could not be opened or else they were re-directed elsewhere.

Afterwards, we faxed this report as well as use courier services to send to the General Administration of Safety Inspection.  At the time, you were still the director.  We received the response that the leader (and I don't know if it was yourself) has issued an order to re-open this case.  We were informed that the investigation may take two or three months, but we were still full of confidence in the General Administration of Safety Inspection.

But I was astonished that they later told us that the case has been handed to the Shanxi provincial government and the local government will investigate ...

The reason why I put apostrophes around "hillside landslide" is that I did not think that was the cause of the incident.  Indeed the landslide occurred on a mountain.  But this was a brownish-colored mountain that was built from the slag from the iron mine and piled to a hundred meters tall.  The landslide occurred due to manmade factors.  Regrettably, the local government only talked about "the rain being one reason" why the landslide occurred.

The same blame was used in the case of the collapsed dam in the September 8 incident in Xiangfen county, Shanxi province when the authoritative news source said it was "due to the heavy rainstorm."

Fortunately, the Xiangfen incident was managed properly with the attention from the Party and State leaders. The victims in Lifan are still buried underneath the collapsed iron mountain.  After 11 bodies were retrieved, the rescue work was inexplicably halted.

Some of the villagers are petitioning at the local government in the hope of getting the bodies of their family members back.  But many of them have been taken away by the police and detained for as long as eight hours.

This is a letter of complaint, and therefore I want to present you with the list of the confirmed deceased victims.  When you see this list of forty-one names, you will feel that 41 pairs of eyes are looking at you with expectation.

Night of September 14, 2008.

List of 41 names/villages included in the following ...