This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

March 4, 2009
China, India differ on accountability in wake of tragedies

Aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake.

Aftermath of the attacks on Mumbai.

In May, a 7.9-magnitude earthquake killed an estimated 87,000 people in China. In the aftermath of the quake, victims complained that corrupt officials weren’t properly dispensing aid and relief supplies. Last month, villagers attacked police, claiming they had been cheated out of relief.

Following the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November, there was also public outcry in India that led the government to admit to lapses in security.

A blogger at “2point6billion” compares the two countries’ attitudes toward transparency and their different approaches in the aftermath of these tragedies.

Dealing With Tragedy – China & India’s Differing Perspectives

Within just six months of each other, both China and India experienced tragedies that impacted each of the respective nations nationally and internationally. While China lost over 60,000 people in the Sichuan earthquake, India was confronted with a vicious terrorist attack in its financial capital that left close to 200 dead and over 500 wounded. Yet the ways in which the two countries have responded could not be more markedly different.

The Sichuan quake, a natural disaster, lead directly to accusations of corruption and shoddy building work across the region. The immediate response from the Government in terms of pragmatism was to send in the troops – many of whom remain there today assisting with reconstruction work and stabilizing the living conditions of the living and wounded.

International aid too began to pour in. However, in terms of dissatisfaction with the quality of buildings, locals were prevented from raising issues with the media. Additionally, aid could only be sent through official, Chinese sanctioned channels.

Today, the country has loans from the World Bank to assist with reconstruction work, but those most affected – people living there – are as effectively cut off as ever. Tourism and traveling journalists are discouraged on the grounds that it is dangerous. In more damning news, courts in China were instructed not to hear any lawsuits brought by victims of the disaster, and that the government itself would handle compensation. Any accusations of shoddy construction or corruption would therefore be kept out of the picture. The people would rely solely on the government for support, with it remaining their voice and sole provider.

Compared with Mumbai, the very nature of the event was entirely different. Terrorists landed, and machine gunned locals and visitors in hotels and bars, in a siege that lasted nearly three days. Yet the political and social aftermath was very different.

Within days, Indian government ministers had been forced to resign on charges of incompetence and the lack of any security to repel what was essentially an invading, aggressive military unit. The public, shocked and outraged, found their voice through the media. Government was held accountable by the people, and they had to respond. They did, troops were sent in and an entire reshuffle of coastal defenses and security put into place. Money was made available for victims, rebuilding and national security.

Today, Mumbai has made great strides in recovering, affected hotels and bars have re-opened. It’s an act of defiance that anyone would find it hard to imagine under similar circumstances in China. Hotels and bars where victims perish in China are shunned; superstitions still die hard in this emerging giant.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photos courtesy of Flickr users Remko Tanis and USELESSNANO under a Creative Commons license.

bookmark    print




When Lisbon shook in 1755, Voltaire asked if God was at all just. Why did he not instead shift the earth under London and Paris which were infinitely more sinful? When the earthquake hit Sichuan earlier this month, many Chinese too wondered if this was a divine intervention. Had they done something terribly wrong that such devastation should visit them? As the death toll began to mount, this sentiment became increasingly palpable all over China.

But the way the administration responded, it displaced puzzled grief with positive energy. Indeed, from the highest party level downwards, the concern for the affected people was clearly evident. To claim that this has anything to do with communism would be a red lie. There is nothing socialist about China today. From farmland to plasma TVs, private ownership thrives in that country. Yet, within an hour and a half of the earthquake, Premier Wen Jiabao was at the site. He stayed for days on the broken ground directing relief teams from the front. This level of empathy would put many democratic countries to shame.

Where was George Bush when Hurricane Katrina whipped New Orleans? When he eventually came it was a hurried wham-bam affair. He was in and out in 24 hours and off to Palm Beach. Then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a full five days before he visited Bhuj after an earthquake struck it in 2001. When Vajpayee, at long last, reached Bhuj, the security was so tight that it blocked relief supplies by air and by road.

Within five days of the Sichuan quake, Chinese relief teams had reached all the 3,669 affected villages of the region. In Bhuj, even after a full year had passed, several villages were untouched by rehabilitation efforts. They had neither seen the front nor the back of a relief worker. This prompted affected people, such as those around Khavda and Maliya, to pick up the pieces themselves. No wonder only a tenth of urban dwellings destroyed by the quake have been restored so far. The rest continue to cantilever feeble, uncertain roofs.

In China, premier Wen has vowed that new cities will be built where the old ones were destroyed. In a moving and emotionally charged statement he said that “building a new town is the best consolation for dead relatives”. To keep this promise the Chinese people have reportedly raised over $16 billion already. This does not include foreign donations which, when they come in, will be small change in comparison.

Our democratic credentials notwithstanding, Bhuj victims received less than $20 million from the West. America parted with only $5 million, Britain a little less, and many other European countries donated only in the thousands. Yet we felt beholden to them simply because our state was wanting in every department. BBC estimated that the total amount dedicated for earthquake relief in Bhuj, from all quarters, was about $1 billion. This compares poorly with $16 billion already raised in China, and that too from its own people.

Already 23 Chinese relief workers have lost their lives for their courage and commitment in helping trapped victims out of precarious structures. In contrast, relief efforts in Bhuj waited largely on external help and NGO support. Here too we bungled. Medecins Sans Frontieres was kept waiting for days to get clearance to come in. Doctors flew in from different parts of India, but most of them left before their patients could say “Aaah”.

Sensing administrative inefficiency and corruption, Gujarat’s then chief minister, Keshavbhai Patel, ordered that all relief funds be channelled through NGOs. That many of these organisations worked with a communal slant in their so-called “adopted villages” did not stop the flow of money that went to them. Scores of publicity seeking volunteers took photos of themselves doing charity work while checking their profiles in the mirror for political correctness.

It is true heads will roll once the dust and rubble settle in and around Sichuan. Builders who had done a shoddy job with substandard material will be put on trial. One can expect the numbers of executed people to rise above the current level of about 2,000 annually. The fact of execution may not sit well with many of us, but the point is that somebody is being held responsible and somebody is being punished.

Nothing of the kind happened after the Bhuj earthquake. In that case too it was equally clear that the death count would have been much lower but for corrupt builders. Surprisingly, just six weeks before disaster struck Bhuj, the BJP-led government regularised illegal construction in six municipalities of that region. This obviously delighted the construction mafia but they were not ones inside the homes that crumbled.

This then is the rehabilitation balance sheet between “democratic” India and “authoritarian” China. Does this have something to say about how democracy is understood and practised in our country? Indeed we have a number of political parties, talking shops, and intellectuals for hire and sale. But what good has all this done for the common people. SEZs are built at will, the contractor-builder-politician nexus thrives, food shortages continue, poverty levels remain stubborn, and yet we are a democratic country.

Hopefully, at some point we will realise that democracy is not just about elections. It has something to do with the state delivering to the electorate as well.

The writer is professor of sociology, JNU.


You are comparing 2 very different things. The logic behind your arguments are weird to say the least. This is not to mention that a lot of your claims are not backed up by facts.

If you have to compare the 2 as if they were similar, then you would have to also ask why India doesn’t spend hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild its ‘disaster zone’ the same way China is spending that amount to rebuild its disaster zone. Clearly we are talking about 2 very different things.

You mention that India was able to quickly refurbish a hotel and a few bars as if that was a major achievement. And then go on to say that would be “hard to imagine” if it was in China. Man!! Are you kidding??? Can you find me a major country that cannot and would not do the same.

You then insert a paragraph about superstitions when describing the Chinese governments handling of the crisis. What??? I hope you are not trying to say that the Chinese governemnt is superstitious.

PS. In fact, even if you are just comparing the Chinese population with the Indian population, rather than their governments, most would agree that Indians are a lot more superstitious than (mainland) Chinese.


Indian’s politicians have done nothing for terrorism prevention. Mumbai was shocking because it hit the elite. India is second only to Iraq in terms of terroist victims and yet the Indian government has been very incompetent in dealing with it and perhaps didn’t care because its victims were poor. The Mumbai attacks exposed the fiasco that is the Indian security forces, when the country had to fly in commandos from Delhi and waited hours for a transport. Trying to compare China’s massive earthquake to Mumbai’s attacks is like comparing apples and oranges, In fact, if India was hit with a disaster the magnitude of Sichuan, it would not have been able to cope as effectively as China did. Chinese officials who were perceived to have done a poor job were indeed sacked and Chinese leaders like Wen were exemplary in their handling of the crisis. On the other hand, Indian leaders including Singh were so inept, quick to blame Pakistan’s government of direct involvment despite lack of evidence.

Facebook Twitter YouTube

Produced by Creative News Group LLC     ©2018 WNET.ORG     All rights reserved

Distributed by American Public Television