(China’s Coal: Part 2)
Social and business connections appear and evaporate quickly in China. By the afternoon, one person leads to another, then quickly to a third. One connection goes by the Chinese equivalent of “John Doe.” The crevices of his teeth are stained from cigarettes, yet he dresses in a soft pastel sport jacket. He smokes with a caring underhand grip and looks at his cigarette lovingly. I need little more than my half-dozen words of Mandarin to realize two things about our John Doe: he’s very well connected, and he’s not completely trustworthy.
Small-scale illegal mines in China are a current government bugaboo. Current edicts say the State is going to close down tens of thousands of them because they are unregulated and the source of thousands of deaths a year. The mine we visit is little more than a bricked hole in the ground. A power generator runs a winch that raises and lowers a bucket down a six-foot wide shaft. Below men pick away at the earth by hand and work a bucket at a time. The technology here lags decades behind mining in the U.S. Take away the generator and it’s more like a century.
Living conditions would make most workers pine for the good ol’ days of the company town and coal baron. The hovels are simple holes cut in the hillside and lined with tarps.
Neither the mine owner nor our connection allowed pictures of them taken. John Doe had planned to speak with us the next day about meeting some other mine bosses, but stopped answering our calls and we never heard from him again.