Village School Explodes

At least 41, and possibly up to 60 primary school students and three
teachers died in a fireworks explosion at a school in Fanglin village,
Wanzai County, Jiangxi Province.


Wanzai County has dubbed itself China's 'fireworks capital'. Subcontracted
production of fireworks is the major source of income for Wanzai farmers.
Despite complaints from parents, local school children were also forced
to assemble fireworks while at school and it was this activity that caused
the tragic explosion on March 6th.


Over the past decade, many head teachers have started to force their
pupils into often dangerous economic activity in order to make up school
budgets starved of central government funds. The proportion of total gross
national product invested in education in China is one of the lowest among
developing countries at 2.4%. In the Wanzai case, the pupils, aged between
eight and nine, were putting fuses into firecrackers in their classroom
when the explosion occurred. The work was unpaid and one local parent
claimed families were fined if children refused to participate in the
work.


The government's reaction to the accident has been shameful and callous.
Premier Zhu Rongji announced to reporters that a 'madman' caused the explosion
and that firework production was not responsible. Distraught local villagers,
many of whom had lost children, denied this and were consequently told
to stop speaking to reporters. Police sealed off the whole area although
some reporters did manage to get through and interview locals. Despite
official claims of a bomb, the headmaster and local Party Secretary have
been arrested.


(HK: various sources 06/03/2001)

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