Last weekend, two high-speed trains crashed in China after one was struck by lightning, killing 40 people and causing immeasurable damage. But after the shock from the catastrophe wore off, many in China began questioning the details of the crash. For example, why were the wrecked parts of the train buried so quickly? Why couldn't the second train stop? And why have there been a string of infrastructure disasters in the country?
These questions, it turns out, were too many for the Chinese government. The New York Times is reporting that, in a sudden order sent from the Communist party late Friday, "Chinese authorities have enacted a virtual news blackout on the disaster except for positive stories or information officially released by the government."
“There were three calls,” one editor in Beijing said. “The first came around 9 p.m., ordering us to ‘cool down’ coverage of the Wenzhou accident as much as possible.” An hour later, the newspaper was instructed “to print only Xinhua’s wire and not to print anything we had gotten ourselves. No comments, no analysis,” the editor said. A third call at midnight ordered the accident coverage off the front page.
The Beijing-based Economic Observer ignored the directive, though said it was because they had already printed. The producer of one news program was reportedly reprimanded after program. But other newspaper editors followed the directions, and editors had to tear up Saturday editions in some cases and replace them with "cartoons or unrelated features."