Questions have continued to linger this week over one of the largest reported bombings to hit China in recent years, a blast Friday that killed 11 people and wounded more than 30 and was apparently followed by an attempted coverup by local powerbrokers.
Little has been revealed about the alleged culprit, who died in the incident. He is identified in the Chinese press as a disgruntled coal miner named Gao Wanfeng, born in 1958, who is said to have served time in prison in the past and is accused of torching his home early on the morning of the explosion.
The blast ripped into a commuter bus operated by a mining company in the far northeastern province of Heilongjiang about 6:30 a.m. Friday and hit another vehicle in the opposite lane, according to the official Xinhua newswire.
A local newspaper on Tuesday quoted a neighbor of Gao as saying that his most recent job was with the Zhongxing Mineral Industry Co. and that he’d been injured in a mining accident last summer. Although it did not name Zhongxing, which owned the bus, the state-controlled Global Times in Beijing noted that Gao “had disputes over injury compensation with a mine owner.”
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The Global Times on Wednesday referred to Gao in one online report as a “suicide bomber,” and in another version of the story – both online and in print – as a “bomber.”
If Gao was, in fact, motivated by disagreement with a mining company, his story would fall in line with a deep stretch of public grievances in China rooted in a sense that ordinary people have little recourse when confronted by problems with officials or big business. Although bombings such as the one in Heilongjiang are rare, protests are not.
“It was after reaching no agreement after multiple negotiations that he adopted the extreme act of burning down houses and bombing people,” said one online user based in the city of Shuangyashan, where the explosion happened. “Now the social divisions are serious, it’s not at all surprising that something like this happened!”
Many others posting on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog, voiced similar opinions. While not condoning the bloodshed, they viewed it in the context of broader social frustrations.
“He could only release his anger on other people, there will be more things like this later on,” said another person, writing from the southern coastal province of Fujian.
Xinhua ran a report on Tuesday saying that in the aftermath of the explosion, representatives of a coal mine, which was not identified, gave hush money to the injured, told them not to give interviews and threatened to withhold funds for medical treatment if they spoke “carelessly.” Local officials also offered bribes to one or more journalists, according to Xinhua, presumably to persuade them not to report on the incident.
“Due to the insufficient information being released, the public has many suspicions about the truth of the matter,” according to Xinhua.
Reporting on the incident has been at times confusing.
A short initial story from Xinhua on the day of the attack said that people were killed “after a minibus collided with a coach.” Later on Friday, Xinhua acknowledged that previous reports blaming the collision for the explosion “proved to be inaccurate.”
Police said that “Gao Wanfeng is suspected of placing the explosives on a commuter bus,” Xinhua subsequently reported, but gave no details of what sort of materials he might have used. A separate Xinhua piece said that authorities had concluded the detonation “was not an accident.”
Researcher Joyce Zhang in Beijing contributed.