Why is Binzhou Weiqiao Suddenly So Interesting?

Back on August 22, I wrote a lengthy post on the August 19 explosion at the Binzhou Weiqiao Aluminum Company plant in Shandong Province, which was eventually responsible for 14 deaths. At the time, I tried to call attention to three points:

1. The far worse Xintai mine disaster – which had occurred a few days earlier – was diverting media resources that would have covered the Binzhou explosion;

2. Binzhou Weiqiao was a modern, technologically sophisticated facility of the sort that the Chinese government encourages for numerous reasons, not least of which is a perceived safety advantage. It was – theoretically, at least – the preferred opposite of the small, low-tech factories where industrial accidents usually occur.

3. Shandong’s government regulators lied when they blamed the explosion on “worker negligence.”

Sure enough, one week later Beijing overruled Shandong and ruled that the accident was a result of “project design faults.” I blogged on this rebuke and the related follow-up stories on August 29.

Before last week, my two posts on the Binzhou Weiqiao disaster were some of the least-read posts that I’ve written for this blog (apparently, detailed examinations of aluminum disasters have small readerships). Then, beginning last Wednesday, those two posts began to generate dozens of hits per day and, last Friday, they were – by far – the most read posts on this blog. The WordPress software that I use to host Shanghai Scrap suggests that some of these hits are coming from people searching for information on the Weiqiao disaster (outside of China) via google and other search engines. For example, below are the top referred terms that led people to this blog, as of 8:00 AM this morning (roughly one hour after the counter re-sets).

shandong_stats2.jpg

What I don’t understand is: why now? That is, why, suddenly, is there so much interest in this particular industrial accident? I ask this question in hope that someone visiting this site for information related to Binzhou can either comment or use the contact form to explain this to me. I’m genuinely curious.

[Addendum 10/4: In answer to an email: yes, I’m aware that this site comes up high in a google search on this topic. My question is not related to my blog; rather, I’m wondering why people are now searching on this topic.

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Briefly – I think that the lack of coverage in this instance is a very interesting example of how China’s tight control of the media impacts interested parties outside of China. In this case, I’m fairly sure that there’s a group of engineers outside of China who would like – for safety purposes – to understand how on earth a massive, technologically advanced aluminum factory could just … explode. Is there any question that – if the accident happened in Europe or the United States – detailed reports (both government and private) would have already been released so as to repair and prevent similar fatal design flaws in other factories elsewhere?

Unfortunately, China just doesn’t operate that way. And, despite all of the talk about harmonious societies and responsible world citizenship, the Chinese government (and its industrialists) would rather cover up a mistake than discuss it in a manner that might save lives elsewhere.