A deadly fire in Jilin kills 120; Weibo bans mourning emoticons
A deadly fire broke out Monday morning at a poultry plant in northeast China’s Jilin province, claming at least 120 lives. As rescue efforts and police investigation go on, on Sina Weibo, the Chinese answer to Twitter, popular mourning emoticons such as flickering candles and black ribbons have been disabled to prevent the public uproar from spreading any further.
The poultry processing plant is located in Dehui, about 65 miles northeast of the provincial capital of Changchun.
More than 70 people were injured and hospitalized. It is China’s deadliest blaze in the past 13 years.
The death toll is expected to rise, as some survivors estimated about 300 workers were inside the plant.
The poultry plant was burnt down in the fire.
Grieving relatives comfort each other at the scene. Photo: AFP
A firefighter holds a search dog on a leash at the scene.
The local police has determined that the fire was caused by leakage of liquid ammonia, a common refrigerant and disinfectant.
Lack of emergency exits added considerably to the peril. It is reported that most exits were locked when the fire started at around 6 am, trapping workers in the inferno.
Chen Hongwu, a survivior, told Shenzhen Evening Post that gates of most workshops are locked, with only very few left for entry and exit. “We always stay in our respective workshops. We don’t even know how many gates the entire plant has,” he said.
Another survivor Feng Yan was quoted by the same newspaper as saying, “We usually walk through one exit only. We’ve seen the emergency exit, but we have never used it.”
It is the third severe fire in a row in less than a week, after one in a granary in Heilongjiang and another at a petroleum refinery in Liaoning.
The deadly fire took place on June 3, one day ahead of the 24th anniversary of the crackdown on Tiananmen Square student protests in 1989. The date June 4 is still a highly sensitive topic in China, with multiple phrases related to the incident still blacklisted by Chinese censors. Any form of memorial, online or offline, is forbidden and closed down upon discovery.
Users of Sina Weibo, one of the most popular social media sites in China, have been complaining that several emoticons often used by Chinese to express sorrow and condolences, such as the flickering candle and black ribbon, were removed even prior to the news of the fire.
Kai-fu Lee, venture capitalist and internet celebrity, wrote on Weibo on the morning of June 4 with much sarcasm, “Because of yesterday’s fire, Sina today has taken away all inflammable emoticons. Safety first. Thank you, Sina!”
He later added in a retweet of his own message, “It seems even the comments are inflammable. They are taken away too!”
Another asked in a clear reference to the lack of candle emoticon, “What about people who celebrate their birthday today?” This user chimed in, “According to relevant laws and regulations, your birthday does not exist.”
And the fire on June 4 has only sent more jitters to the already paranoid authorities. Jilin provincial government has even sent work groups to counsel families of each victim to prevent what they call ‘group incidents’, which in Chinese context means unrest and uprising.
One user commented with three thumbs-down, “A fire in Jilin kills 119, and this is the only thing the government is capable of!!!” He later added, “I am speechless! 119 died, and candles are banned???”
“They want to play it down,” one user sighed.