The Chinese government responded Tuesday to mounting pressure to save the badly crushed leg of a 2-year-old girl who was pulled from the wreckage of a high-speed train crash last month by sending a team of experts to treat the toddler.
Xiang Weiyi, nicknamed "Little Yiyi" by the Chinese media, was rescued about 21 hours after the July 23 crash that killed at least 40 people near the eastern city of Wenzhou, including her parents. The child has become a symbol not only of the victims of the crash but also of the seeming indifference of railway authorities in handling the aftermath.
Public outrage over the accident prompted Beijing to suspend new construction of high-speed lines and recall problem-plagued trains, in an extraordinary reversal for a project that had national prestige on par with China's space program. On Tuesday, 22 round-trip services on the new Beijing-Shanghai line were stopped following the recall of 54 trains last week.
Yiyi's plight has been widely covered by the domestic media since she was found unconscious in the wreckage after authorities had declared the search for survivors finished, prompting criticism that rescue efforts were hastened in order to quickly restore train services.
In the latest sign of anger over the public handling of the crash, Railways Ministry spokesman Wang Yongping was dismissed from his post, the official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday.
Wang has been a target of public criticism since a news conference at which his attempt to label the toddler's rescue "a miracle" was heavily mocked. Faced also by reporters skeptical of his explanation of why a train car had been quickly buried, he said, "Whether you believe it or not, I believe it anyway."
The Health Ministry said on its website that a team of four experts would leave Tuesday for Wenzhou to treat the child. State media reports say the child has already undergone five operations to remove dead muscle from her leg and seal the wounds.
The move came after her uncle, Xiang Yuyu, posted an open letter on his blog late Sunday urging the Ministry of Railways to send experts to examine her injuries and draw up the best treatment plan available to help her regain the use of her left leg.
"She already suffered the ordeal of being alone for a long time in that dark train car, but we cannot let her drag a diseased leg that should not belong to her in the first place for an even longer time," Xiang wrote.
"One day, when a Yiyi who can clearly express her thoughts stands before us, can we say to her that we really tried our best?" he wrote.
The letter was widely reported and links to Xiang's blog were circulated on the popular Twitter-like site Sina Weibo.
"Whether or not little Yiyi can keep her legs is a test of the Ministry of Railways' humanitarian spirit," read the headline of a commentary by Southern China news portal Southcn.com. The essay was also published on the website of the People's Daily, the flagship Communist Party newspaper.
Chinese authorities blamed the crash on a lightning strike that stalled a train near Wenzhou and then the failure of a signaling system that allowed another train to slam into it. That derailed six cars and knocked four of them off a viaduct. More than 190 people were injured.