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Blood and tears

The families of China's coal country have paid a heavy price for the nation's whirlwind growth — in crushing pollution, health problems and often, with the very lives of miners. Deadly coal mine accidents have become almost routine, even as the boom slows.

When I arrived in Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi, a day after the latest big accident, rescue workers were winding up their search for survivors at a mine an hour west of the city, where 74 men died in an explosion and more than 100 were injured. The road to the mine was blocked by police and few people in the city seemed terribly concerned.

Maybe that's in part because the workers are not often hometown miners. It's an open secret in China's coal country that with increasingly fewer workers willing to enter the country's deadlist profession (nearly 3,800 miners died at work in 2007), prison labor is often used to extract coal. Still, one local young man whose father is a guard in charge of prisoner-miners, told me the cost of coal and heavy industry affects everyone. Wealthy mine bosses take the profits and leave Shanxi to deal with the death and pollution, he said.

"We Shanxi people give our blood and tears, but we get ignored by the rest of the country," he said.