Chapter 2

The Fractured Web

A young girl with the Weibo microblog moniker Smm Miao “tweeted” in the early evening of July 23, 2011, “After all the wind and storm, what’s going on with the high-speed train? It’s crawling slower than a snail. I hope nothing happens to it.” Minutes later, during a torrential downpour punctuated by thunder and lightning, the country girl watched as another bullet train rammed the stalled locomotive from behind, killing 40 passengers and injuring hundreds more. The message was the first of 26 million that would be posted and echoed throughout Chinese Internet space. Most of the microblogs were scathing about the country’s government, the quality of the railway infrastructure and its handling of the tragedy. Representative messages included:

“We have the right to know the truth. That’s our basic right!”
“In the eyes of the authorities, regular people will always be gullible three-year-old children.”
“When a country is corrupt to the point that a single lightning strike can cause a train crash, the passing of a truck can collapse a bridge, and drinking a few bags of milk powder can cause kidney stones, none of us are exempted.”
“They [the CCP] think: ‘We built this. We built that. You don’t need to care what happens along the way, or who gets the benefits, as long as you get to use it,’” Han Han, a famous blogger in China, wrote. “Why aren’t you grateful? Why all the questions?”

The high-speed train accident and the scores of fatalities resulting from ...

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