Hundreds of grieving parents blocked the road into a flattened town Thursday as police sought to quell a rising wave of public anger over schools that collapsed in an earthquake a month ago and killed thousands of children.
Volunteers were detained, schools were cordoned off, and reporters were barred from the premises in at least two other towns in a sign of the government's resolve in controlling the media and potential unrest.
Despite assurances by authorities that unfettered coverage would be allowed, dozens of police and paramilitary troops guarded the gate of Juyuan's destroyed middle school as a crowd of about 50 gathered outside. Outside a primary school in Dujiangyan, police and soldiers also stood guard to keep out parents and journalists.
The security measures underscore how much the public fury over the deaths of so many children is unnerving Chinese authorities. Their attempts to rein it in contrast sharply with the relative openness Olympics-conscious Beijing displayed at the start of the disaster.
Across the quake zone, tempers flared among parents as they marked the one-month anniversary of the May 12 quake.
“We're dispirited. Our children have been dead for a month,” said Wang Ping, whose 16-year-old daughter was killed. “I'm 40. All our hopes were in our children. Now they're dead. Our future is dead, too.”
About five miles south of Beichuan, more than 200 parents blocked the valley's sole road, angry because a memorial plaque to dead students had been smashed overnight – and that local officials did not seem to care who was to blame.
The plaque, a shiny polished black stone with gold letters that read “Beichuan May 12 Memorial to Middle School Teachers and Students” had been erected near the school in a small ceremony Monday.
On Thursday, it was in pieces, and parents were demanding to know why authorities were not investigating. They also wanted to know why the school had crumbled so easily. Police stood calmly by as almost 250 parents – some shouting in protest – clogged the road, holding up long lines of traffic in both directions for hours.
“We just want answers from our local leaders,” Fan Xiaorong, whose 18-year-old daughter died, said as tears welled up in her eyes.