China school ruins echo carnage of Sichuan quake

Textbook pages flutter in the wreckage of a Chinese school after the country's latest devastating earthquake, asking wordlessly whether any lessons were learned from a previous disaster.

More than 5,000 of the 80,000-plus victims of a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan were schoolchildren, crushed to death when their shoddily-built classrooms collapsed around them as the tremor struck.

Amid the grief, furious accusations of shoddy construction, corner-cutting and possible corruption were aired against those responsible for building school structures that crumbled while those used by government officials stood firm.

No-one has been prosecuted over the Sichuan casualties.

And the debris of Longquan Secondary School in Longtoushan, at the epicentre of Sunday's 6.1-magnitude quake in the neighbouring province of Yunnan, stands in mute testimony to the issue.

"I feel afraid returning to school," said Zheng Chuanchao, 17, plucking his class photograph from the ruins.

"Another earthquake could cause the building to collapse," he went on. "I think all pupils at our school feel the same. We all remember the terrible earthquake in Sichuan six years ago."

The latest quake killed more than 400 people, but by sheer chance wreaked its havoc during China's school holidays.

China rebuilt 3,340 schools after the Sichuan disaster, measured at magnitude 7.9 by the US Geological Survey.

While new teaching rooms have been erected in many Chinese schools, some poor rural areas maintain older buildings for other purposes, and the Longquan structures were used as dormitories for students from rural areas outside the town.

The quake reduced them to rubble - and had it struck during term time, many students would have been using them.

Newly built five-storey classrooms, put up in 2011, suffered only minor damage, but Zheng said he did not trust them.

"It is better that we built these new classrooms, but I am not sure if they could withstand a more powerful earthquake," he said.

The toll of schoolchildren from the Sichuan quake provoked outrage in China, and their establishments were labelled "tofu schools" by many, likening their structural instability to the soft bean curd dish.

Zheng's schoolfriend Li Guiyong pointed at the huge mound of rubble.

"This is what was meant by a tofu school," he said.