While this blog was in remission, the tragedy of the 5.12 earthquake in Sichuan occurred. I’d left China only weeks before and listened to the emerging news with horror.
As of 8 June 2008, the death toll stood at 69,134 people. 17,681 people were still missing and 374,061 were injured. The scale of the disaster is hard to take in. It’s hard to comprehend that so many people lost their lives, especially the cruel twist that so many children were amongst the dead.
Yet the pictures I’ve seen on the Internet really drove home the extent of the devastation to me. I haven’t been to that part of China, but I’ve been to other similar areas. Similar cities and villages, with similar landscape and similar buildings. So although it’s hard to comprehend the numbers, I can imagine the scene all too easily.
My heart goes out to the Chinese people, especially those who lost loved ones, were injured, or were involved in the earthquake. My heart also goes out to China itself, which has endured so much hardship this year.
Thankfully, there’s been no epidemic. It’ll take time to stabilize the situation, longer to rebuild, longer still for those involved to come to terms with what happened. My thoughts are with China throughout this period. I’m sure China will emerge stronger than ever.
One of the major side-effects of the 5.12 Earthquake in China, is that it’s really brought the country together. One article I read, Tragedy brings new mood of unity from the Guardian, really highlights this.
Students Becoming More Patriotic
The article includes the story of Zhang Qiyu, a university student in Beijing, who left her studies to go and help with the earthquake recovery efforts:
Petite, pony-tailed and bespectacled, the 22-year-old swapped her urban dormitory for a tent in the Mianzhu countryside among thousands of the 5 million people made homeless by China’s most devastating natural disaster in more than 30 years.
I’ve seen numerous other stories of students doing the same thing. It’s a selfless act and reflects the increasing nationalism and sense of pride in their country, that is replacing the borderline apathy that many youngsters had before this year.
I say borderline, because the average Chinese university student is still much less apathetic than the average Western student, but compared to previous generations, they tend to be far more involved in material things.
The story goes on to say:
Like many of her generation, Zhang says she is now more patriotic and concerned about China. “I have grown up because so many things have happened,” she says. “I used to look at events and think how they affected me. Now I consider whether they benefit my country.”
This captures the point. Previous generations used to consider the country before themselves, but the current generation had grown to consider themselves first. That’s now changing. One of the hottest items you can buy in China right now seems to be the “I Love China” t-shirts.
The Chinese Government’s Response To The Earthquake
The article also praises the Chinese government’s response, which is great because they often seem to only attract negative comments. There are still some negative stories floating around, especially about building quality, but as the article says:
There is praise for the government among the vast majority of refugees in the quake zone.
On balance, they seem to have done a great job in responding to the earthquake. Certainly, they’ve done better than some Western countries in responding to natural disasters in recent years.
A Bad Year For China Sees Increase In Nationalism
As the article points out, the year so far has been a bad one for China:
Along with the turmoil in Tibet and the Olympic torch protests, the earthquake is part of a triptych of events this year that has taken nationalist sentiment to levels not seen in decades.
Add the terrible snow storms at the beginning of the year, the Hand Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak, train crashes and assorted other issues and it certainly does appear to be turning out to be a bad year.
I know some Chinese people who were thinking that China’s bad luck will continue all year, affecting the Olympic Games. However, it now seems that the hardship is being translated into pride in China.
A couple more quotes from the article:
Zhang exemplifies a change that has made China more internally sympathetic and externally assertive.
At the start of the year the law student was mainly concerned with applying to study overseas. But after the Tibet unrest in March she – like millions of other young Chinese – signed up to internet sites that blamed the western media for distorting what happened in Lhasa, projecting China in a negative light
For those people protesting against China about Tibet, I could have told you it wouldn’t help. Rather than the government changing their stance, it’s just resulted in the Chinese people getting behind their government and turning against the world:
“Now I want to go abroad not just to admire the west, but to tell them something,” she says. “Before I wanted to change myself. Now I want to change the way people in other countries think about China.”
So do I. It’s time the West got to know the real China, instead of relying on cliches. Sure, China has problems and issues, but most countries do – and China has many positives which are ignored by the West.
There are many stories of heroes and people helping out. I’ve highlighted just a few below.
Teachers Who Became Heroes
There are many stories of heroes and I can’t link to them all, but Teachers’ ultimate sacrifice from the China People’s Daily provides a great roundup.
It carries several stories of teachers who died saving the lives of their students. I’m sure there are many such incidents of bravery.
It also details the stories of other teacher’s efforts to look after students during the aftermath, including that of an Australian teacher called Dane.
Getting Personally Involved
Earlier I mentioned a student who travelled to the quake affected area and volunteered to help. I’ve read quite a few stories of people, especially students, doing just this. The China People’s Daily carries the story of a young businessman and his friends, who personally delivered food, clothes and medicine to those in the quake affected areas.
This group only stayed three days, but that’s a still big commitment to make. For those volunteers who stay even longer, all I can do is salute the sacrifice they’re making.
Beggars Give Generously
The China People’s Daily also carries a story about a beggar who has been donating money.
“The victims are in a more difficult situation than me; and I would like to help them however I can,” is his standard reply.
The story also mentions a ‘shoe shine woman’ who also donated what little she had, and at the other end of the spectrum, a businessman who donated 150,000 yuan.
Although this article focuses on those stories which make good headlines, there is no doubt that millions of ordinary Chinese people have made donations, along with many others around the world.
A Sichuan Earthquake Movie
In the West, when tragedy strikes, you can be sure that at least a couple of movies will be made about it. It seems China is not so different.
Jackie Chan plans to make a movie about the earthquake. He says:
I want to make the movie about the earthquake because there’s so many touching stories
He also says:
“I want through the movie to show the whole world, I really want to salute the whole army of China, really.”
The increase in nationalism seems to have affected Jackie too. And he’s really put his money where his mouth is:
Chan has donated 1.5 million U.S. dollars to help earthquake victims and vowed to help rebuild schools affected by the disaster.
I’ve always had a lot of time for Jackie and this just reinforces what a great guy he is. It will be interesting to see how the movie turns out. I’ve also heard of a separate project to make a documentary.
Lastly, I want to link to a great post showing pictures by a wedding photographer in Sichuan, who captured the before and after moments of the earthquake.
Fantastic photos and great presence of mind by the photographer, to keep shooting.
There are probably many other people who have given generously of their time or money, or have made other sacrifices. I salute all the heroes who emerged from this tragedy.