Photo of the fleet of buses China gifted to Macedonia's government.
The commute to and from school can be a harrowing experience in many parts of China. As rush hour begins, children are piled into makeshift buses with complete disregard for safety regulations. Road fatalities are not uncommon. So it comes as no surprise that Beijing’s decision to donate nearly two dozen brand new buses to the small eastern European country of Macedonia raised hackles in China.
The controversy began in Macedonia’s capital Skopje on Friday, November 25 after China’s ambassador gifted the country a fleet of 23 sleek, double-decker school buses
. Built by the Chinese manufacturer Yutong, the buses hold 35 and are fitted with automatic doors, fire extinguishers and seatbelts. They will be used primarily for transporting students in Macedonia’s rural areas.
The gesture might have been favourably viewed were it not for the notoriety of China’s own catastrophic school transport system. There have been several recent accidents involving school buses, including one on the morning of November 16, when a truck slammed into a packed bus in China’s northwestern Gansu province. According to local media, the bus, which had space for nine, was carrying 64 passengers. Twenty people were killed in the incident, including one teacher and the bus driver. Two months before that, police stopped a similar minibus with 66 students on board. Twelve police vehicles were needed to shuttle the children back to their homes.
At this point, hundreds of thousands of Chinese Internet users have interpreted their country's gift to Macedonia as a form of betrayal. Some even carried their online campaign to a musical level, taking popular Chinese songs and reworking the lyrics. Here, for example, the refrain “Where is the spring?” has become “Where are our school buses?”
Other Internet users posted hundreds of caricatures poking fun at China’s government and what it views as its priorities, suggesting that in addition to concerns over safety, their outrage is directed at growing inequalities in the country.
As anger over the scandal grew, China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao announced Sunday that new safety regulations for school buses would be implemented within a month and that local authorities had agreed to invest in upgrading their transport systems.