China quake photo removed from exhibit

In a town where parents are grieving for the nearly 300 children killed when last month's earthquake toppled a middle school, a photograph hinting at shoddy school construction has disappeared from a public exhibition.

The image showed a hand clutching a twisted piece of steel rebar, no thicker than a pencil. The photo was taken at the ruins in Juyuan of a middle school, one of 40 that collapsed in the May 12 quake.

The photo was featured prominently among a collection of quake artifacts when it opened last week.

By the weekend, though, it was gone, an apparent indication of rising government sensitivity over the issue of shoddy school construction that has prompted angry protests from parents of the dead children.

Exhibit organizers were reluctant to say exactly why it disappeared.

“We don't know if we were told to remove the photo,” said Wu Zhiwei, assistant to the general manager of Museum Cluster Jianchuan, the organizer of the exhibit and the largest privately run museum in China.

“And if we were told to remove the photo, we're not sure we could tell you.”

School collapses have become one of the most charged issues in the earthquake recovery process, and one that local communist leaders seem anxious to suppress.

The state-controlled media has largely ignored the issue, apparently under the propaganda bureau's instructions. Parents and volunteers who have questioned authorities have been detained and threatened.