In a bid to curb rampant industrial accidents, China upgraded
its State Administration of Work Safety to General Administration
of Work Safety (GAWS) in February 2005. Since becoming head of the
newly-formed ministry-level body, 61-year-old Li Yizhong has been
leading the life of a "firefighter." No matter where a coal mine
accident has occurred, he must personally visit the site.
Otherwise, in his own words, "we cannot get to the bottom of the
case." Therefore, he has been jokingly called by some media
"China's busiest minister in 2005."
The year 2006 did not present an easier task for Li: the work
safety situation remained severe, with frequent accidents
continuing to claim lives.
On July 15, a blast took place at the Linjiazhuang colliery in
Lingshi County, Jinzhong City, Shanxi Province, killing a total of 53 miners.
The following day, Li was seen on the spot, directing rescue
operations and making an investigation into the cause of the
However, the effect of the senior work safety official's labor
proved to be confined. CCTV's "Half-hour Business" program reported
on August 9 that when Li was staying in Linjiazhuang, a couple of
illegal coal pits no more than 10 kilometers away stealthily
continued their illegal production.
Day One of Li's Inspection
At 4 PM on July 16, just hours after Li arrived at Linjiazhuang,
a motor tricycle drove into the inclined shaft of Zhangjiayu
colliery, which is said to be over 100 meters deep. With burning
fire, highly concentrated gas in the shaft easily explodes. Yet,
despite this risk, miners here still use diesel-engine vehicles for
their daily work.
Around the same time, at the Suanzaogou colliery, workers were
hurriedly loading coal into a truck bearing the emblem "Qianfeng
Coal Sales Corporation of Lingshi County," while an elevator
brought coal to the ground from the nearby vertical shaft every
five to six minutes.
Astonishingly, both Zhangjiayu and Suanzaogou are less than 10
kilometers from Linjiazhuang where the fatal blast occurred the
"Following the Linjiazhuang blast, all small coal pits in Shanxi
have been shut down," a person on duty at Zhangjiayu colliery told
reporters. "It has become a habit. Whenever an accident took place,
production will stop to help improve working conditions."
The pithead through which motor tricycles passed yesterday was
closed off, but a folding door was found behind the office
building. According to an insider, "Behind the door is another
pithead. When someone from above came to inspect, the door was
pulled down, but coal mining underground never ceased."
Reporters at the Suanzaogou site received the same answer: "In
keeping with the instruction issued by the county government, we
suspended production." However, it was discovered the owners of
both the Zhangjiayu and Suanzougou collieries were in fact one and
the same, a man named Wu Ziqing.
Day Three and Four
After three days of investigation, Li Yizhong said on July 18:
"The boss of the Linjiazhuang colliery, who dug coal excessively
without permission, must be held responsible for what happened
According to some villagers, Zhangjiayu and Suanzaogou didn't
stop production as they had previously claimed. Instead, they
continued operations in the pit during the day and carried the
mined coal to the ground at night in order to avoid being caught
What they said was soon confirmed. At 3 AM on July 19, a
fully-loaded hoist arrived at the Suanzaogou colliery pithead.
Several loaders then got going, moving coal from the pithead at
full speed to a truck waiting nearby. When the hoist appeared
again, an exhausted miner stepped down out of it, obviously against
safety operating regulations.
In May 2001, nine miners took a hoist to enter the pit at
Suanzaogou. At a depth of 135 meters, the hoist suddenly careened
out of control, and fell to the bottom of the shaft, which is
nearly 200 meters deep. Five miners were killed immediately, and
the other four died on the way to hospital. Following this accident
the Suanzaogou colliery was closed down.
Amazingly, a coal mine closed five years ago succeeded in
surviving until today. In the past, Wu Ziqing had been conducting
illegal evening mining at Suanzaogou, exposing the miners to even
greater hidden dangers.
On July 20, reporters learned that two miners were killed at
Suanzaogou that very day and the day before, but both deaths were
then categorically denied by the colliery. Villagers said Wu and
his staff lied to maintain secrecy about the accidents.
One victim was 49-year-old Zeng Wenguo from Taibai Village,
Zhongjiang County of Sichuan Province. Wu Yuanjiang, Zeng's fellow
worker, witnessed Zeng's death.
"At about 3 PM on July 19, seeing the ceiling of the tunnel
shaking, I shouted out to Zeng to dodge, but it was already too
late," Wu recalled. "A huge stone fell down and killed him on the
"After the accident happened, the pit was in great confusion,"
Wu continued. "Everybody tried desperately to escape, but the only
exit was blocked from outside. They were afraid we might tell the
truth once getting out."
Huddling in the pitch-dark shaft and constantly fearing any new
potential cave-ins, the miners were not set free until evening
According to Zeng's relatives, his family got a compensation of
200,000 yuan (US$25,091) from the Suanzaogou colliery.
Interestingly, although all interviewees pointed out that Wu
Ziqing was the real boss of Zhangjiayu and Suanzaogou, the names of
Chen Zinian and Chen Ziyu were printed respectively on the two
collieries' business licenses.
The mystery was unveiled in no time. Wu Ziqing has a total of
four brothers, including the two Chens who were adopted by Wu's
uncle when they were children and thus changing their family name.
All of them have been involved in coal mining for years.
Wu Ziqing is concurrently director of the Economic Cooperation
Council in the town of Liangdu and secretary of the Party branch in
"As an administrative official, he naturally doesn't want his
reputation to be tarnished," some villagers said. "So it's more
appropriate for him to pull strings from behind the scenes."
According to Lingshi County's work safety bureau, both the
mining and work safety permits of Zhangjiayu colliery are already
overdue; as for the illegal Suanzaogou colliery, it has never
reported the two deaths that occurred on July 19 and 20.
On many occasions, Li Yizhong has demanded: "What is hidden
behind the recurrent coal mine accidents?" According to a
conclusion made by the Standing Committee of the National People's
Congress (NPC), nine out of 10 colliery disasters result
To relieve the current grave situation, China Youth Daily
once commented: "Some people have pinned their hopes on Li
Yizhong's determination and hard work, others on input increase and
restructuring; nonetheless, excessive industrial production
continues to punish the country relentlessly."
Industrial production supervision and management is not merely
an administrative matter; it delves into legal, economic and social
issues too. Capable as he is, Li won't be able to resolve all these
problems unless he is endowed with superhuman abilities.
(China.org.cn by Shao Da, August 26, 2006)