Sixty-eight people died and 100 more are trapped, almost certain to die, in a coal mine explosion in Shaanxi province over the weekend. Their deaths are part of what seems to be a never-ending stream of carnage in China’s mines; in the first nine months of this year 4,153 people died in mining accidents (amazingly, this was 13% down from 2003 figures). In October and November at least 300 more have met miserable ends at last weekend’s explosion and another accident in Henan in October.
Yet these are not the almost inevitable statistics of a Third World mining industry. China is now a middle-income country, with more millionaires than the UK, urban skylines in Beijing and Shanghai to rival Manhattan and a government that this month announced a huge investments in South America.
China’s mines are the dark side of the China’s booming private sector. Here are a couple of examples of capitalist brutality that could be straight out of Dickens:
In May 2002, according to China's official media, 21 miners were trapped by an explosion in a mine in the north-west of the country. But instead of attempting to rescue them, the mine's owner destroyed employee records and whitewashed over scorch marks, leaving them to die.
And in June 2003 in northern China, the bodies of 36 miners who had been killed in a blast in a gold mine were found to have been hidden in an attempt to cover up the accident.