I received an email today from Adam Minter, the freelance journalist from St. Louis Park who’s been working in Shanghai for the last five years or so. I reached him via Skype earlier tonight.
He said he was walking down the street, a thousand miles from the epicenter of the earthquake in China, when he felt the ground rumble. Workers started pouring out of the office towers in downtown Shanghai, fearing for their safety in the swaying buildings.
Thousands are feared dead already, but Minter said any number of factors are keeping the situation fogged in calamity.
An excerpt from our interview:
“One thing to keep in mind is that ordinarily in this kind of a disaster, you’ll have the information come out quite slowly. But because of where this disaster occurred in Sichuan province, it will come out even more slowly than normal. And there’s two reasons for this.
For one, it’s a very remote area. The roads are not good. I have been out there and it takes a very long time to get around. And the other thing is that the main area where this occurred… is a Tibetan area with some autonomy. And these areas, dating back to the Tibetan riots a month ago, have been off limits to foreign media. And they probably won’t be able to get in.
The Chinese media, for its part, is very tightly controlled. The Chinese have very strict rules about about how the Chinese media can report natural disasters.”
Minter also said outpourings of aid and sympathy don’t really happen in China.
“In the U.S., of course, you would have Red Cross 800 numbers on television right away. That doesn’t happen here. China lacks the U.S.’s philanthropic tradition, partly because of the nature of the government here.
And it’s always been assumed — in a situation like this, its kind of assumed that it’s the responsibility of the government above all else to aid the situation. So you’re not going to see a huge, you’re not going to see people gathering blankets and tents together and looking to give money.
That said, this morning, just from my blog I was going to post a link to the Chinese Red Cross and you can’t access it. I don’t know if that means they’re down or there’s so much traffic flowing into it.”
It’s already been a very difficult for China, by his lights: huge snowstorms blanketed the New Year. There have been widespread power outages, an alarming outbreak of foot and mouth disease in children and, of course, the Tibet riots.
You can hear a five minute interview with Minter here (It’s from a Skype call, so it’s got a little sound distortion. My apologies.)
Minter has written for the Rake magazine and other local outlets, as well as National Geographic. You can see Minter’s blog at http://shanghaiscrap.com/.