None of the synonyms for "anger" is strong enough to express the public's fury at the crimes committed by some brick kiln owners in Shanxi Province. As reported by the media last week, they had abducted children, forced them into slave labor, beat them and imprisoned them in the brickyards.
According to the reports, "nearly 1,000" children were abducted to be sold to brickyards in several counties in Shanxi. The teenagers were forced to labor "on all fours" 14 hours a day without sufficient food.
Nobody would believe that such atrocities depicted in movies of long-gone eras are happening in today's China - 58 years after the Communist Party-led revolution put an end to the old society.
I want to ask: What were local government officials doing when the children and other workers were tormented?
The public won't accept responses from the local administration and law enforcement authorities such as "We were not aware of the case" or "Nobody tipped us off."
These excuses stem from two possibilities. Either they knew about the cases but denied the knowledge because they had interest in the brickyards or because they were afraid of being blamed for dereliction, or they really did not know.
I don't want to discuss the suspected collaboration between the brickyard owners and local officials which is yet to be proved. But I want to emphasize that none of these arguments exempt them from charges of dereliction of duty given the fact that such blatant crimes happened under the very nose of these officials for so long a time.
As government officials who claim to be public servants, they have the responsibility to protect workers. Did the labor administration officials in Hongtong, Linyi, Wanrong and other counties where the tragedies happened ever look into these brickyards?
If they did not, they have committed the crime of dereliction. If they did, then why didn't they see the atrocities the local villagers witnessed and media reporters and the children's parents from thousands of kilometers away discovered?
The revelation of the crimes startled and alerted the nation's central leadership, who immediately ordered a thorough investigation.
Local governments at different levels in Shanxi Province soon went into action. They issued official documents requesting enquiries, formed "special task forces for rescuing (the laborers)" and sent investigative teams to the brickyards. What a hustle and bustle!
A question that automatically occurred to everybody is: Would they have responded so dramatically if the case had not startled and alerted the central leadership? I also want to ask: Aren't the things they are doing now what they should have done long ago? Aren't these their regular duties?
So far, not a single official at any level in Shanxi Province has stepped forward to take responsibility or say anything like "I feel ashamed because it happened in my jurisdiction."
The public would also be justified in wondering whether similar tragedies - and how many of them - happened in other provinces where they were covered up.
I know officials would tell me not to generalize from isolated incidents. "These are just a few rare cases," they would say. And they would demand: "Do you have evidence to prove they are common?" Of course I don't. But I also want to ask them: "Do you have evidence to prove they are not common?"
It seems to me that government officials rather than individual citizens are responsible for making sure these investigations take place before - not after - there is cause for public anger.
(China Daily 06/06/2007 page10)