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"Fearless Grandpa" Exposes Cover-up of Subway Safety Flaws

Issue 490, October 18, 2010
Translated by Ruoji Tang
Original article:

Zhong Jizhang has captured the attention of the nation for blowing the whistle on an attempt to cover-up reports exposing safety concerns with the contruction of tunnels along line 3 of Guangzhou's subway system.

Zhong, who is almost seventy, published on his blog details revealing, that after construction finished on the city's north line, Guangzhou Metro Co. Ltd commissioned an inspection company to examine the subway line. The tunnels were found to be below acceptable standards. Later, the construction company working on building line 3, Beijing Chang Cheng Bilfinger Berger Construction Engineering Co Ltd, commissioned another inspection company to conduct a further two examinations of the subway line.

This time, half of the inspection results were unsatisfactory. But the project's construction group only turned in the one half of the results indicating that the subway line had reached the required standards, concealing the other half of the report.

Zhong Jizhang left his contact information, and even a copy of his identity card on his blog. His brave conduct exposed the truth and caused an immediate sensation.

From the outside, Zhong seems to be average senior citizen. He carries with him an old canvas bag with documents, reports and a water bottle.

But this unassuming old man is currently pursuing a postgraduate degree from the China University of Political Science and Law, already completing five graduate examinations, over the past few years he's also been awarded various certificates including one certifying him as a qualified engineering inspector.

His manner is mild and calm. When people express concerns about his advancing age, he answers them with a smile, "I am not old. According to UN Standards, I am a young-older man."

The Right Thing to Do

On the day of our interview with Zhong jizhang, Guangzhou Construction Commission has already begun an investigation into the fraudulent reports about safety along Guangzhou's number 3 subway line. They promised to release the results the next day. Guangzhou Metro Co. Ltd has responded by saying that although the strength class of the construction concrete is less than the required C30, the structure of the tunnel is safe.

But even so, Zhong says that concrete used in the Shanghai Metro have all reached a C30 strength class, and that most developed countries use a grade of C50 or above.
Zhong jizhang says he will raise these construction questions to the companies under investigation.

This is the opening Zhang Jizhang's blog: "I am Zhong Jizhang, a member of the Guangzhou District Association of Guerilla Veterans (No. 001295, see attachment A), a dual degree holder (attachments B and C), a senior engineer (attachment D) a certified real estate safety inspector (attachment E), a China Ministry of Transport certified engineer inspector (attachment F and G) and a postgraduate candidate at China University of Political Science and Law (attachment H)."

At the bottom of his blog, he posted his contact information as well as scanned images of his certificates and degrees.


The blog was written on August 30, 2010 under the provocative title "The Road of Death to the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou."

Zhong was originally a head engineering inspector at the Guangzhou Huijian Center of Engineering Quality and Safety Monitoring. His unit was the one commissioned by BCBB to inspect subway line 3.

Zhong Jizhang wrote that after the completion of subway line 3, the inspection center released a "report on concrete strength" which stated that all construction concrete should attain a strength grade of at least C30. But during the inspection of the metro, the strength grade of the six test points were (in Mpa), 30.9、21.9、23.6、24.5、27.6、28.7.

Only one test point had reached a C30 strength class.

The BCBB commissioned the Guangzhou Huijian Center of Engineering Quality and Safety Monitoring to inspect the subway line two times. The first time, two inspection units examined six points, their strength evaluations ranged from 25.5MPa and 36.4MPa; the second time, the strength evaluations ranged from 40.4MPa, and 26.2MPa; in both inspections, there were concrete strength measurments that did not reach acceptable standards.

The four evaluations of concrete strength, issued in four separate reports, mysteriously became two. But according to protocol, safety inspections from the same day should be printed in a single report.

When the evaluations were first issued, the construction company asked for the reports to be rescinded, but Zhong refused. When the matter came up again, he knew they had already “fixed it.”

Zhong Jizhang says by then, he had lost his job.

Yes - I am a Fearless Grandpa

Zhong is not new to report to petitioning or raising concerns with higher ups. Near the end of 1969, in an attempt to overturn a sentence that had been handed down against his two elder brothers, 27-year-old Zhong took seven days to travel from Guangzhou to Heilongjiang by train. He continued to appeal against the sentence on his own for over fifteen years.

When we mentioned the trials of the Cultural Revolution, Zhong Jizhang said, the smile never leaving his face, "I can't stand to talk about it."

Zhong Jizhang's experience during the Cultural Revolution have made him fearless about speaking up.

His friends and family are worried about his vocal activities. His readers even remind him, "be careful they don't make you disappear." But Zhong Jizhang still leaves the house by himself, receives interviews, and stays up late poring over newspaper reports.

Zhong Jizhang said: "I didn't give myself the name "Fearless Grandpa" (冒死爷 mào sǐ yé) - but I'll take it."

He believes that full disclosure is necessary. "Tell the truth and be accountable. It's not good to always keep the public guessing."

After helping to overturn unjust sentences that had been handed down to his family members during the Cultural Revolution, Zhong Jizhang began work for the Economic Research Institute.

When energy shortages led to local job losses, he went to speak to the deputy mayor and proposed opening a municipal energy planning office. After, Zhong was on the receiving end of unjust treatment at his work place, but he continued to openly criticize officials at meetings and eventually applied for early retirement.

Zhong Jizhang's boldness comes from his extensive technical knowledge. After retirement, he travelled around working odd jobs and even offered his services to an employment agency - "I try jobs for a week and then I know whether I can do them or not" Zhong said.

After joining the inspection center, he performed 133 inspections. He is the only one at the center with a tunnel-inspection certificate.

Learning to Use the Internet

Zhong Jizhang has been moved by his readers' concern for his safety. Before he wrote the report about subway line 3, he only used the internet to send emails. "I was writing the blog and learning to use the internet at the same time," Zhong said, smiling.

Since being forced out of his post in November of last year, Zhong Jizhang has been pondering how to expose the fraudulent safety reports. But he did not want to relive the ten-year experience of petitioning the unjust sentencing of his brothers. 

Zhong decided instead to send an e-mail to many provincial government departments, NPC representatives and even high-level officials.

E-mails to government departments usually come with a consultation number, but when Zhang went to look up the number he only found "no such file exists."

Almost 90 percent of the emails bounced back.

There were a small number of replies, all of them carried messages along the lines of "there are very few people like you, you should be respected."

After learning that he can reach the public over the internet, Zhong Jizhang asked a colleague to teach him to how to post a blog. During this year's National Day holiday, Zhong posted his blog detailing the attempt to conceal the subway safety reports.
After his blog had been posted, former colleagues took note and reported it to the municipal construction committee.

Soon, his post was forwarded via QQ groups and other major microblogs, attracting the attention of local media.

The local television station and newspapers raced to be the first to report the story.

"Guangzhou is not a dangerous place," Zhong Jizhang said. He says that the media response, and the subsequent response of the local government, filled him with confidence in his city.

This article was edited by Paul Pennay

Links and Sources
Zhong Jizhang\'s Blog
China Smack: Whistleblower Exposes Guangzhou Metro Line 3 Safety Failures
Beijing Chang Cheng Bilfinger Berger Construction Engineering Co Ltd: Official Site

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