Oil, Energy and Resources

Exposing the wildcat mines of Hengshan County, Shaanxi

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Leiyangpan Mine, still in operation

Petitions, education, wildcat coal mines, and government malfeasance: ingredients for a hard-hitting piece of muckracking journalism.

China National Radio does not delve too deeply in its investigation of two teachers whose employment was made contingent on their success in convincing their families to stop petitioning about illegal, unsafe coal mines with ties to the local government, but its report is still worth reading.

The teachers had their classes suspended by county officials and were ordered to return home for "ideological work": convincing a 72-year-old man to stop his petitions about pollution from the illegal mine. Their story story gives way to a picture of a village whose farmland and water supply was ruined by unsafe mining practices, which then leads to a brief look at the connections between officials in Hengshan County, Shaanxi Province, and two coal mines that the province ordered to be closed several years ago.

The report is scant on some of the details and leaves you wanting to know more about the interactions of the people involved, particularly the petitioners.

But you've got to love an article that follows a litany of complaints about recalcitrant coal mines with state media boilerplate about how the State Council has taken "notably successful policy measures" to control the proliferation of illegal mines, and then follows that with a party secretary who tells state media journalists to mind their own business.

Shaanxi Teachers Suspended to Prevent Relatives from Petitioning

by Bai Yu, Hu Cencen / CNR

Two teachers from Hengshan County in Yulin, Shaanxi Province were recently forced to suspend classes so that they could return home and prevent their relatives from petitioning to higher levels of government over flagrant private mining operations. If they could not prevent their relatives' actions, they would not be permitted to return to work.

CNR reporters discovered that government officials and public servants in Hengshan are secretly investors in mining operations, and mines that the Shaanxi provincial government ordered to be shut down are still conducting illegal extraction.

Li Yanrong, one of the teachers ordered to stop classes, told reporters that she taught at Suzhuangze School, which was situated in a good location outside of metropolitan Yulin, so she was afraid of being transferred to a more remote location. Around June 28, the school leadership called her up to tell her that someone from the village had submitted a petition, and she was to return home to conduct ideological work. If it was successful, she could come back to work. If not, then the next semester she would be transferred away from Suzhuangze.

Suzhuangze principal An Hui said, "This has nothing to do with the school. It was the decision of the county leadership."

Bai Boling, a teacher at Shajiawan Elementary School, was not from the same township as Li Yanrong but met with the same fate. Bai said that the principal notified her of her suspended classes, and afterward a township party secretary came to have a chat. The town secretary of Dianshi, Cao Feng, said that he would be relieved of his position if he did not get the work done.

Zhang Zhonghou, director of the Hengshan County Education Bureau, said that the decision to have the teachers stop their classes came from the county leadership, whose aim was to have the teachers prevent their relatives from reporting problems to higher levels of government. Zhang said, "Li's father-in-law was reportedly in charge and had planned the whole thing. Because of the petitioning, there was considerable pressure from the province and the city, so they wanted the teachers to return home and work with their families so the group would not continue to petition."

Zhang also said that the notice to stop class was given by a member of the county standing committee, who then notified the schools. The decision may have been made with the idea of putting pressure on Li's father-in-law, not because of any problem with the teachers themselves.

Li's father-in-law Hu Jianhuai, the one Zhang said was behind it all, is seventy-two years old and is a retired teacher with a certain prestige in the village.

Hu said, "I believe that the Hengshang County government is using its power to suppress us. For ten months there's been no water. In desperation, the people sent up a petition and were locked up. This is patently an abuse of power against the people, all to protect the interests of small mines, regardless of whether the people suffer. A village like ours has suffered the most."

The village of Huloupang in the town of Dianshi was founded at the end of the Ming Dynasty and has endured for nearly 400 years. On either side of the village is a mine: the Leiyangpan Mine and the Xitagou Mine.*

Locals say that illegal extraction outside of the mine's boundaries led to more than 200 mu (13.3 hectares) of arable land cracking and sinking to various degrees, and to water depletion and a shortage of potable water. Hu Zhenwu, a villager, said that there was a major collapse on the mountainside last September because the mine was extracting beyond its borders and operating illegally, and had also extracted its protective coal columns. After the collapse, well levels dropped day by day, and before twenty days were out there was not a drop to be found. More than 200 mu of farmland was affected.

The protective columns the villager mentioned are like load-bearing walls in a building and serve to support the bulk of the mountain. This reporter saw fissures of up to a hundred or more meters long that extended all over the side of the mountain with no end in sight. The sheer number of smaller fissures was astonishing, and in the most serious spots, the land had sunk a good twenty or thirty centimeters. According to the rules of the Mining Law, "In mining operation, it is forbidden to mine protective coal columns without authorization; those who do so will have their coal production license revoked."*

In the Notice from the Shaanxi Government Concerning the Announcement of the Second Round of Mine Closures in Yulin issued on January 23, 2009, Leiyangpan and Xitagou were clearly ordered to be shut down. The notice also clearly stated, "Relevant departments must confiscate the mining license of closed mines, suspend their business operating permit, production safety license, coal production license, and permit for civilian storage and use of explosives, and cut off the electricity supply to the mine shaft. From the date of declaration, mines declared to be closed must cease all production activities."

But standing on the fissure-ridden hillside, this reporter could see that the Leiyangpan Mine was operating normally, with coal tumbling along the belts, large trucks going in and out, and dust filling the air.

The villagers said that many other mines that were ordered to close, in addition to Leiyangpan, were still operating, and they had hired a large number of security personnel to prevent outsiders from entering. To continue the investigation, this reporter visited another mine that the government had ordered shut down: the Xitagou Mine. Dressed as miners, reporters and villagers ventured into the mining area and saw several dozen trucks lined up for loading, honking deafeningly. Inside the scales room, mine workers and buyers discussed trades. The people working the scales said that the daily output of the mine was between 800 and 1,000 metric tons, and it had never halted operations.

Why were these in Hengshan County mines, which the Shaanxi provincial government had clearly ordered to close, still operating? The villagers said that it was because government officials and public servants were private investors in the mines, so closing them would affect their financial interests.

During the reporter's visit to Xitagou mine, the explosives workers confirmed that their chairman was a man named Wang Yaobin. Wang is the office manager of the Hengshan County branch of the Agriculture Development Bank of China and had bought into the mine on his own. An individual surnamed Zuo who worked at the Hengshan branch of the ADB said that although Wang Yaobin was office manager, he was away on long-term leave and did not come to work.

In the course of the investigation, this reporter managed to obtain a list of share trades made by private investors in the mine, who had given their money to a man named Zhang Weidong. According to the list, Wang Yaobin had put in 15.6 million yuan. Zhang confirmed that Wang's personal contribution was not limited to that amount; he had acquired far more shares in the names of other individuals.

The list contained two other names that grabbed the reporter's attention: Cao Peiming and Zhang Bingtuan, the Hengxian City Construction Bureau and the office manager of the Hengxian Office of Mineral Resources, respectively.

Using a phone number provided by an employee of the Urban Construction Bureau, the reporter contacted Cao Peiming, who acknowledged buying a roughly 1 million yuan stake in the Ershike mine. Zhang Bingtuan's share of Ershike was around 3 million yuan.

For some time, mining accidents have been fairly frequent in China, and hidden safety problems have been brought to light. The CPC Central Committee and the State Council have attached great importance to this and have adopted a series of notably successful policy measures to enhance safety in production and to strike hard at the phenomenon of officials holding shares in mines, and collusion between officials and mines. However, for the time being illegal mines have not been stamped out, and the existence of protective umbrellas and circles of profit behind the illegal mines are major reasons.

Are other Hengshan County officials secretly involved in mining operations? What is the attitude of county party leaders? Hengshan party secretary Su Zhizhong seemed a little irritated at the reporter's sudden question.

Su said, "You China Radio journalists should mind your own business, don't you think? What you're asking about, I know absolutely nothing. So if you want me to tell you about something, how can I tell you about something I know absolutely nothing about?"

Why are so many mines in Hengshan that the Shaanxi Provincial Government ordered to be closed still operating? Are any other officials shareholders in mining operations? CNR will continue to follow the situation.


Notes

  1. According to a forum post last December that makes many of the complaints voiced in the CNR report, the Leiyangpan Mine, which opened in 1998, has changed hands four times since 2002 and has seen its value increase from 800,000 yuan to more than 50 million (and at no time were taxes paid on the deals). The post calls Leiyangpan Mine "one of the most powerful mines in Hengshan," and remarks on its large number of shareholders as well as its serious violations of the law.
  2. From Articles 31 and 70 of the Coal Law of the People's Republic of China (Chinese, English)
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There are currently 1 Comments for Exposing the wildcat mines of Hengshan County, Shaanxi.

Comments on Exposing the wildcat mines of Hengshan County, Shaanxi

Stayed overnight in Hengshan Xian about 18 months or so ago - though it's only the size of an average "Zhen" its utter filth by Shaanbei standards still haunts my mind.

At the time i joked about the name potentially meaning, with some selective dictionary use, "Unrestrained Mountain". In light of all this that name actually works, and on more than one level.

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