The outrage that has been directed at Chinese mine bosses and authorities in Shandong is incredible to watch (see the BBC video on Youtube). But it is even more incredible when contrasted with the bewilderment of people in Huntington, Utah, who seem unsure whether to buy the words of Crandall Canyon mine co-owner Bob Murray or the United Mine Workers---and seem, understandably, just weary above all else.
Time and again, there seems to be LESS tolerance for elites misbehaving in China than there is in the U.S. This is, of course, not what one would expect of an authoritarian country where, it is assumed by outsiders, the government exists only because people never do anything about it and are scared as lambs.
Maybe it's the incredible power of American spin to place seeds of doubt in even the most commonsense reaction to events that makes us tired and confused. The U.S. media is cowed by press secretaries and dithers over torture or wire taps or unsafe mines--"Was something wrong REALLY done? Or do we just not understand the complexity of the issue?"
Or perhaps the boldness with which China's revolutionaries once pledged themselves to "serve the people" still resonates back over the ages, casting into sharp relief today's dull, selfish bureaucrats and spurring Chinese to rally against polluting factories, refuse to leave condemned homes to make way for shopping centers, fight with thugs for fields, and smash every piece of glass in the mine company's office.
Or maybe there is simply a stronger tradition of challenging authority---really spitting on it and dragging it through the streets--- in China than in the States, absurd as this may sound to some. And the Chinese government is lucky to have stayed on top of the wave as long as it has.
At any rate, the facts are there, brutal in both countries, in both mines.
No word yet on 181 miners in China who were trapped in a flooded mine several days ago; the government's most recent statement suggests they were victims of a "natural distaster." Meanwhile, Boss Murray is about to give up on recovering the miners in Utah or even their bodies. Documents obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune show the risks that his mine took before the tragedy:
Records of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) show that, after Murray acquired a 50 percent ownership in the mine on Aug. 9, 2006, his company repeatedly petitioned the agency to allow coal to be extracted from the north and south barriers - thick walls of coal that run on both sides of the main tunnels and help hold up the mine.
That stands in stark contrast to statements Murray made Monday asserting that his company's mine plan, and that of the previous owner, were one and the same.
So, what should we do?
[The above photos are from China Digital Times and Fox News].