Posts Tagged ‘Chinese Stampede’

Crushed beneath my friends

December 14, 2009

There was a story floating around the other day about a school in Hunan province where students were killed in a stampede. The official line is that 400 students in Yucaj High School in the city of Xiangiang were rushing towards a staircase leading to their dormitory to avoid being rained on. As the crush entered the staircase, seven boys and one girl were killed – suffocated beneath the pack, while a further 26 were seriously injured.

It’s not really clear what caused the stampede, but blame has been placed on the narrowness of the hall (around 1.5 metres), the fact is was slippery from all those wet feet, and poor lighting.

This is not the kind of problem that you would expect to encounter in most western countries though wherever there are large crowds of people, I guess if you introduce a small element of panic or anxiety, this kind of problem can and will happen. In China it is amplified by the fact that in every situation, there are considerably more people, and in much closer proximity.

In Australia, people value their personal space and actually become irritated if you encroach on it. Unlike countries like China and India, we’re not so heavily populated that we’re used to having other people touching us – even harmless shoulders rubbing together etc. The only place you’ll likely find this kind of thing is in music concerts, and even then, people get irritated by the touch of strangers.

In China, there are so many people it’s almost impossible to enjoy this kind of personal space. Everywhere you go, from getting on and off buses to standing in queues at train stations – there are considerably more people. The schools are absolutely no exception. At Tianyi where I taught, you could walk around the grounds during classes and the place was deserted. You would be hard pressed to even guess that somewhere on the campus, some three thousand students were all hard at work.

At Tianyi, the students would start at around 6:30am and not finish until 9pm – a joke by western standards. For most of the day you would see nobody – though when that bell went, it was comparable to an African wildebeest migration. When the bell went for lunch, suddenly thousands of kids would appear from the multi-story blocks of classrooms and move towards the direction of the canteen. Many of these students would move with haste as they were given very limited time for a break. If they wanted to do something back in their dorm room or buy some snacks or stationary from the schools tiny shops, they would  need to effectively run there in order to still have time to eat.

On many occasions I walked up and down the five story flights, completely submerged in a sea of bodies. I often thought to what would happen on those stairs should another earthquake occur like in Sichuan a year earlier. Those hundreds of students in Sichuan really didn’t stand a chance – the level of panic and hysteria that would have been experienced as they all tried to flee down those stairwells as their buildings collapsed would have been absolutely terrifying. Due to the sheer number of students, it would have been simply impossible to get out of those buildings rapidly – and so it comes as no surprise that eight kids were crushed. Hopefully someone, somewhere in China sees this as a wake-up call to improve the safety standards in what one would normally assume to be a non-issue.

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