1994 Karamay fire

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1994 Karamay fire
DateDecember 8, 1994 (1994-12-08)
Time18:20 (Beijing Time)
LocationKaramay, People's Republic of China
325 dead[1]
130+ injured

The 1994 Karamay fire (simplified Chinese: 克拉玛依大火; traditional Chinese: 克拉瑪依大火; pinyin: Kèlāmǎyī Dàhuǒ) (literally Karamay Big Fire) is considered one of the worst civilian fires in the history of the People's Republic of China. On December 8, 1994, a fire began in a theatre hosting 1,000 children and teachers in Karamay, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.[2] During the fire, the students and teachers were ordered to remain seated to allow Communist Party officials to walk out first.[3] The fire killed 325, including 288 schoolchildren.[4]



On December 8, 1994, 500 schoolchildren were taken to a special variety performance at a theatre in Karamay at Friendship Theatre (友谊馆). Most were the best and brightest pupils in their classes, aged between 7 and 14.[3] From the accounts of survivors, it appears that spotlights near the stage either short-circuited or fell. The curtain caught fire, then exploded, and fire engulfed the auditorium within a minute or two.[3]


The first few seconds are the most crucial and controversial of the disaster. Survivors insist[citation needed] that a female official immediately stood up and shouted: "Students sit down; don’t move. Let the leaders walk out first (simplified Chinese: 同学们坐下、不要动、让领导先走。; traditional Chinese: 同學們坐下、不要動、讓領導先走。)" (Note: In Chinese, the order: 让领导先走 has since became a popular internet catch phrase, meaning the government officials have priority over ordinary folks in times of emergency). She has since been identified in online articles as Kuang Li (况丽), who was vice-director of the state petroleum company’s local education centre, though there has been no official confirmation of this.[3] The teachers obeyed, and the children remain seated. By the time the about 20 Communist Party officials had filed out through the only opened emergency exit, when all the other exits remained locked, it was too late. Teachers hurried the pupils out of their seats to other exits, only to find that the emergency exit doors were locked. Parents and survivors alleged that Kuang took refuge in a ladies’ cloakroom that could have sheltered 30 people and barred the doors behind her. A 10-year-old boy said "My teacher asked me to run out of the theatre, but when I stood up the hall was smothered in smoke and fire. The power then cut out. People could see nothing. The place was full of crying and shouting."[3]


A total of 325 deaths were reported, with 288 of them being school children.[3] Most of the 36 adults were teachers. About 100 corpses were heaped up outside the cloakroom. In 1995, 300 families of the dead and injured sent representatives to the National People’s Congress in Beijing, supposedly the venue for Chinese citizens to seek justice and a fair hearing. They were led off by security guards to a walled government compound, where five buses took them back to the airport. The group were then escorted through special channels to a plane bound for Xinjiang.[3]

A court convicted a total of 14 people. Four of them, senior officials, were convicted of dereliction of duty and sentenced up to five years in prison.[3]

Officials Position Prison time[3]
Fang Tian Lu (方天录) the highest-ranking official in the theatre 5 years
Zao Lan Hsiu (赵兰秀) the vice-mayor 4 years
Tang Zian (唐剑) a city education official 5 years
Kuang Li (况丽) - 4 years

Families received compensation of up to 50,589 yuan.[3]

One week after the fire, city officials in Karamay announced plans to demolish the burned out Friendship Theater. This plan was quickly scrapped following protests by residents of Karamay and parents of the deceased children. Three years later, in September 1997, the theater portion of the building was torn down, leaving only the front hall. This unmarked memorial still stands in what is now the People's Park in the center of Karamay.[5]

There is no plaque or memorial anywhere in Karamay that references the deadly fire.

In popular culture[edit]

A popular Chinese folk singer Zhōu Yúnpéng (周雲蓬) has compiled a list of Chinese man-made disasters and turned it into a song, and the Karamay fire incident was mentioned in the song, so was the internet catch phrase: 讓領導先走 (translit. Let the leaders walk out first.)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Xinhuanet. "Xinhuanet.com." South China club fire kills at least 43, injures 88. Retrieved on 2008-09-27.
  2. ^ "China Orders Safety Study After Fire Kills 300". The New York Times. 10 December 1994. p. 3. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "China aghast at 'sacrifice' of 288 pupils". The Times. Retrieved 12 February 2012.. Retrieved on 2008-09-27.
  4. ^ "China 1994 fire killed 288 pupils as officials fled-expose". Reuters. 8 May 2007. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  5. ^ "Karamay Fire 1994: The Real Story Behind China's Worst Fire Disaster". FarWestChina. Retrieved 4 December 2019.

Coordinates: 45°36′03″N 84°52′05″E / 45.60083°N 84.86806°E / 45.60083; 84.86806