On one popular Chinese news Web site, Netease, more than 4,000 netizens posted comments after the reports about the babies were published online.
"How terrible, these babies are pitiful! They suffered when they were alive and after they died they didn't even get a decent burial," one wrote.
"Some officials talk as if ordinary people are living in this heavenly place but this case shows it is more like hell here," said another comment. ,
And another: "Throw all these health and hospital officials into the manure pit to teach them a lesson."
State media reported that the police detained two workers at a hospital morgue who dumped the 21 infants near a river in Jining, a city in Shandong province on China's east coast.
An investigation team of police and health officials said the two morgue workers had violated hospital rules. They "struck verbal agreements privately with relatives of the dead babies to dispose of the bodies" and took payments from them, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
"They subsequently transported the bodies secretly to the … river, but they had failed to bury the bodies completely," the report said.
News footage broadcast on a local television station showed the babies scattered along a dirt riverbank near a highway overpass. The video showed some babies wearing diapers, a few with hospital identification tags still around their tiny ankles.
Some of the babies appeared to be several months old and a local television reporter described the biggest infant as already two feet in length. One ID tag even identified a baby as a boy born in April 2009. At least one body was stuffed in a yellow plastic bag marked as "medical waste."
The hospital tags on some babies helped the investigators trace them back to a hospital affiliated with the Jining Medical University.
In a phone interview with ABC News, the deputy head of the hospital, Xu Li, confirmed that the 21 babies were all treated at the hospital. "All these babies died of illnesses. There was no case of abortion at all," she said.
Xu Li said that the hospital did not have anything to do with dumping the bodies along the river."This was done by the two morgue workers without the knowledge of the hospital," she said.
As for the workers' motive, she said, "It may have something to do with money." She said that it would cost more to care for the remains if the workers had followed hospital regulations.
Xu Li confirmed that the two workers were fired from their jobs and said the bodies of the 21 babies have now been cremated.
Xinhua reported that three top hospital officials were fired or suspended and the local government ordered the health bureau to make a public apology in the case.
"It exposes a serious loophole in the hospital's management and indicates a lack of ethics and legal awareness of some hospital staff," said the Xinhua report." It exerts a very negative impact on society and teaches us a profound lesson."
The health bureau director declined to comment to ABC News and referred to a statement published in the local media. According to the statement, the bureau "recognizes its inadequate supervision and bears responsibility for this incident" and "issues a sincere apology to the community."
Local authorities also sought to reassure city residents about the cleanliness of the water in the river where the dead babies were found. Following reports that nearby residents were worried, since they used water from the river, the municipal environmental office said the most recent tests showed no contamination and major water indicators remained the same compared to last year.
The city of Jining has a population of 830,000 and is located about 380 miles south of Beijing. It is situated in an area that is well- known in China as the hometown of Confucius and Mencius, two historical figures whose thinking left a lasting influence on Chinese civilization.
Cao Jun contributed to this article.