The apparent suicide of an education bureau director who had been struggling to find heating fuel has highlighted the shortage of coal at schools in Yuxian county, Hebei province.
Ge Xiang, 40, is understood to have slashed his wrist at his home on Wednesday afternoon after an attempt to buy coal at a nearby coalmine failed, the Hebei Youth Daily reported on Friday.
A teacher surnamed Lian at Xiheying Middle School said the mine has not provided schools with reduced-price coal.
"Our coal will be used up next Tuesday or Wednesday and we still have to find more to keep the classrooms warm," he told China Daily on Friday.
Previously, schools in Yuxian got approval from the county government to buy low-cost coal from nearby mines. But after a blast last year at a coalmine killed 35, mines in the county have undergone an overhaul that left the county government with a deficit. Since then, schools have had to find their own coal for heating.
Ge had been involved in buying heating fuel for schools following a sudden snowfall earlier this month.
He is thought to have gone to Danhou Coalmine, which is owned by Kailuan Group, seeking cut-price coal. His quest was unsuccessful.
Ge journeyed back to his school with Han Yong, headmaster of Xiheying Middle School, and another headmaster Liu Sen.
Liu, headmaster of No 1 Middle School of Yuxian, said his school needs 1.5 million yuan's worth ($146,627) of coal for its indoor heating this winter. The school's financial support only extends to one million yuan for coal.
"It's a critical time because H1N1 influenza is spreading fast, making heating more important," he said. "So, Ge must have been under great pressure."
Heating in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, was impeded last week after a sudden dump of snow triggered a spike in energy consumption and subsequent power failures that affected more than 100,000 families.
Ge's death was exposed through messages on Baidu Bar by netizens on Nov 18. The posters claimed he had committed suicide. But Yuxian's public security bureau said on Friday the investigation has just begun and it was too early to talk about the cause of death.
After the apparent suicide, Yang Bingying, the county's deputy head, covered Ge's position temporarily. Yang urged workers at the bureau not to spread rumors about the case and refused to say whether the death was a suicide or homicide.
Yang did admit that Ge had been under great pressure.