Communities blighted by industrial disasters normally have to wait decades for the government to put up a memorial. It took 40 years for the city of Minamata in southern Japan to get a sculpture and a museum dedicated to the thousands who died from mercury poisoning.
It took four years for Chernobyl to erect its first statue.
And the people of Bhopal in Central India are still lobbying for a museum and park of remembrance some 30 years after a Union Carbide factory exploded, killing over 3,000.
So perhaps the government of Tianjin thought it was doing the right thing last week when it announced a plan to turn the site of the recent warehouse explosion that rocked the port city into an eco-park. The park will cover 43 hectares and a statue to those who have lost their lives will be given “pride of place”, Xinhua said.
The local authority – which also claimed the clean-up at the site was almost complete – said the new park would be finished by July of next year. It also published an artist’s rendering of what it would look like, featuring a lake that appears to be made out of the enormous crater made by the deadly blasts.
Many Chinese netizens were outraged. How, only three weeks after the blasts, could the clean-up be nearing completion, they asked?
Was it really right for the government to be thinking about what to do with the land when hundreds are in hospital and thousands are still living in temporary accommodation?
Some suspected a cover-up and an attempt to make money. “They have a design for the park already, doesn’t anyone else find that odd?” asked one weibo user. “What are they trying to bury under these hastily planted trees and grass?” asked another.
The precise cause of the August 12 blast has yet to be established but Tianjin authorities have confirmed the presence of nearly 3,000 tonnes of hazardous chemicals, including sodium cyanide, at the storage facility. Sodium cyanide and its by-products are deadly even when ingested or inhaled in small doses.
As recently as a week ago pockets of other flammable chemicals were still burning at the site, the South China Morning Post reported.
Much to people’s anger, plans for the park also include the construction of schools and kindergartens. “This isn’t an eco-park it’s a bio-chemical park. People shouldn’t send their kids to school there until government officials also move their offices there,” wrote one incensed weibo user. “Now the government has been forced to buy all the surrounding housing of course they are going to try to make the area nice. How else can they resell them?” asked another.
As of last Friday some 9,000 people had signed compensation agreements with the government but another 8,000 were still holding out for better deals. The families of the 96 firemen killed in the blasts are also unhappy with the amount of compensation they have been offered, local media reported.
“We should use this money to help the victims, not help the government cover up their deadly secret,” vented another netizen.
Others objected to the idea of turning the crater in the centre of the blast site into a lake.“I would say that it is better to just leave the crater the way it is. That could remind us of the disaster better than a peaceful lake,” said one.
But one Tianjin resident may have summed it up best with the following remarks: “Twelve people are still missing. We still have no credible explanation for what happened. The site is still a graveyard for us. We don’t need a park to remind us of what happened. We are still living it.”
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