Yesterday we heard that authorities in Sichuan were offering hush money to parents who lost children in the May earthquake. The story has been circulating widely, and more details about the government’s attempts to placate parents have come to the fore. Not only are officials apparently going door to door offering pay outs of around 60,000 RMB, they’re sweetening the deal by adding more incentives to keep up the harmonious front. The list includes pensions, free life insurance and relaxing the one child policy to allow parents of children disabled by collapsing schools to have another baby.
While some bereaved couples vocally resent what they perceive as an attempt to buy their silence, the perks of accepting the government package are obvious, and tempting. Liu Qiang, whose 13-year-old daughter was killed in the quake, explains the tension many families feel between addressing the wrongs of the past and moving on towards the future.
“We were rounded up and ordered to sign the contract if we wanted to collect the government’s gift of free life insurance,” Liu explained. “They also said we would get £5,000 in cash as compensation for our dead children.” Some parents were already signing their forms.
“How do we even know if it is real life insurance?” he said. “If we accept the cash, my wife and I want to use it to take the local government to court over the death of our daughter, but we’re afraid it is not enough to cover the legal fees.
“If we don’t sign the contract, we are afraid we will be left with no children and no money to look after us when we grow old.
“We’re thinking about having another child to safeguard our future. Eventually that child will also have to go to school and we’re afraid if we don’t cooperate with the government now they will cause problems for the child later on.”
Liu’s voice strained as he mentioned the possibility of having a new child so soon after his daughter died. He added quietly that his wife was already 34 and they had little time to decide.
“They’re trying to buy our silence,” he said, his voice cracking. “All the people in our village are poor, but how can the money they are offering make up for the losses we have suffered?”
While emotions might be conflicted, the ramifications of making the wrong choice are perfectly clear. Parents in many areas were asked to give contact information and informed that phone lines might be tapped, and some reported that extra police had been deployed in the area to “watch” wayward individuals thinking of pressing charges. The blow of losing a child is a brutal one, but it may be minor compared to the hardships that lay ahead for those who refuse to cooperate.
Photo from Photograffiti Shanghai