Officials: shoddy schools not at fault
Fifty miles northeast from here, Xiong Yonghao, whose daughter was killed when the Fuxin Elementary School collapsed, says he has also been banging his head against a wall of official indifference.
"I gave up several months ago," he says, despairing that he will ever learn why his daughter died. "It is pointless, meaningless. There has to be a truth, but until there is an authoritative report there can be no truth."
Though some officials suggested soon after the earthquake that the student death toll would have been lower if schools had been better built, such voices have been silent recently in light of the government line. Sichuan's deputy governor, Wei Hong, announced in March that expert studies had concluded that "the high magnitude and intensity" of the quake "are the main reason for the collapse of schools."
He also promised that the number of schoolchildren who died in the 7,000-plus schoolrooms that collapsed would be published, but declined to say when.
Names of dead prove too sensitive
In the absence of an official report, one of the country's most famous artists and most outspoken government critics, Ai Weiwei, has launched an effort to draw up as complete a list as possible of the earthquake's child victims.
"Our purpose is really to end the systematic cover-up," says Mr. Ai. "We are really tired of their bureaucratic answers and their way of trying not to acknowledge who is dead."
Teams of Ai's volunteers, numbering about 60, roaming the earthquake zone, interviewing families, visiting mass graves, and attending memorial services have so far identified 4,864 child victims. (The total death toll has been set at 69,227, with 17,923 people still missing.)
But "they have really met resistance" from the local authorities, who have harassed, detained, and expelled them, complains Ai.