By RANDY MAJORS
HEYUAN, SHAANXI (China Daily Show) – It was the moment the world had been awaiting for nearly half a year.
In the early hours of this morning, government rescue workers, toiling to bring the remains of dozens of coal miners killed in a gas explosion in a local coal mine to the surface, finally broke through a final barrier of fallen masonry; the first corpse was brought out, unblinking, into the dawn sunlight minutes later.
As crowds of onlookers cheered and waved banners, bloodstained cadavers, clad in their overalls, some still clinging to tools, were carried aloft by soot-smeared rescue workers and piled onto a nearby slag heap to be reunited later with their families.
A new shout went up each time the blank face of one of the late miners, described as “weary and decomposed” by crew foreman Wang Liquan, appeared at the mouth of the tunnel, the focus of widespread media attention for almost six months after the unquestionable deaths of every worker in the Heyuan shaft.
The rescue has brought a nation together, cost millions of yuan, and seen the army mobilized to lend a hand, providing show-stopping song-and-dance numbers in praise of mining, sacrifice, and the daredevil nature of China’s primary industry in general.
Wang spoke to reporters while being hosed down after a sixteen-hour shift on the front line of the dig. “When we heard that the poison-gas explosion had killed everyone down there, choking to death those that weren’t crushed, we almost lost hope,” he told assembled media.
“Then surveys reported that most of the corpses were located towards the front of the pit. It was then we knew we had a chance to bring these dead men home in triumph. And now we have done that, apart from a few still at the back.
“Finding that many people dead down there was the best news the country could possibly hope for,” he added.
A small tube was drilled through to the chamber in which the late workers were trapped for their last agonizing moments of life, allowing food, drink and medical supplies to be needlessly winched down.
“We even got a small television set down there so they could stare with sightless eyes at their favourite shows,” said Wang. “They would have especially enjoyed live coverage of the Asian Games opening ceremonies, had they lived.”
The epic effort saw messages of support flood in from all over China. “Add oil, coal dig heroics,” read one touching letter from the Beijing Institute of Advanced English Studies, signed by students and faculty.
Other messages were scrawled on banners held by loved ones keen for a reunion in order to clear up legal questions and ensure the smooth transfer of property.
“Come home for your funeral soon, Daddy,” read one heartbreaking placard held up by a small girl. This crowd surged forward when news of the breakthrough came.
“It’s a sign of the times,” observed mine owner Wai Waiwai. “In the old days, we’d have just waited until the next bunch broke through to the death-pit, then let them clear the bodies out. Now, with nationwide help, we can bring these wonderful, brave and lifeless men to the surface.
“But it’s knowing that we’ll still make a profit from this largely undamaged seam of coal when we reopen under a different name in three weeks that is the best tribute to these men’s pointless deaths,” he added, fighting back tears.
China’s leaders also expressed their joy. Hu Jintao is said to have taken time out from combat training in the Matrix to declare National Dead Workers Day and later promised that each corpse would “receive a State pension for the rest of their natural lives so they need never work again (not including funeral expenses).”
Experts from the China Bureau of General Expertise have warned that the miners may have been changed by their six-month ordeal. “Six months underground can have a huge effect,” said psychologist Pang Jiabin. “Families may find their loved ones stiffer than they remember.”
Others worry about the effect of fame on the cadavers, who will appear in a parade in Beijing next month to celebrate their rescue. “What they need is some quiet reflection,” said Ministry of Health spokesman Zhang Lei. “These men lived and died underground, and that is now, more than ever, where they belong.”
Stay on top of China news. Follow @chinadailyshow on Twitter