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Saturday, 20 August 2011

Sichuan Earthquake, Six months on: in Memory of the Victims

Hyperlink to source text in Chinese: 四川大地震半年祭
Translated by @Aliceyoung, proofread by @krizcpec

It's hard to believe that six months have passed since the devastating earthquake struck. For anyone who personally experienced that disaster, fear and pain are far from enough to express what they feel.

Looking back through history, comparing with any other peoples, we can see that God did not hand down special punishment to the Chinese people, including those living in Sichuan. On the contrary, they were given a vast and beautiful place to live, with rivers and mountains. What is loathsome is that for decades those who rule the country do not cherish it, triggering one man-made disaster after another, making this beautiful place a land of desolation.

The number of people died here in times of peace is so staggering that it trumps the death tolls of all times in history, of our own and of other countries. One poetic couplet by the great scholar Liang Qichao (1873-1929) reads: “how much more wind and storm canst thou stand? I lament for thee, our wonderful land.” Isn’t it still a statement best describes our land today?

Misfortune to the land; grief to the people; respect to the volunteers; abhorrence to the man-made disasters and shame to the officials – these are what we could say to mark the sixth month after the deadly earthquake.

It is not easy to come to terms with disasters, and even harder when those are hateful man-made disasters. To classify earthquake forecast as “State Secrets”, and to see information monopoly as a way to hold back the facts from the public, a government that does this shows utter disrespect to people’s life.

A Man-made disaster is ten-times more vicious than a natural one, and the authorities are blaming it to the Mother Nature. Schools collapsed everywhere, innocent students injured and died in large numbers. And yet, no one had to come out to at least apologize; no one had been punished for their negligence and wrongdoings.

Since no one has been punished, officials work recklessly in collusion with businesses in post-disaster reconstruction project [which would result in more tofu dreg buildings springing up]. Some citizens reported these to the authorities using their real names. They were, however, fallen on deaf ears. When disaster strikes again, who knows how many more lives would be lost as a price this society pay for the shameless collusion between constructors and government officials? If this type of evil collaboration is not stopped in a systematic way, who knows when will it end?

Some parents intend to bring justice to their children killed by mass collapse of schools shoddily built by constructors that work in collusion with corrupted officials through legal channel, they have been maliciously obstructed in more ways than one. Suppression would not bring the authorities a moment of peace as they had hoped, but would instead translate into long lasting social problems.

The public will come to realize that the man-made disasters, brought about by the evil government with unlimited and unchecked power, are far more vicious than natural ones. This realization makes the relationship between the authorities and the people stay highly tensed. The fear from both sides fills the whole society with tension, suffocating everyone living in it.

Because of corruption, reconstruction fund and materials, instead of being put to proper use, have been channeled into the pocket of corrupted officials. Excessive disaster relief materials are piling up on the main roads; few arrive at remote areas where it is hard for officials to put up a sizable political show. The distribution of the fund and materials is so inefficient that the people there remain unprotected from the bone-chilling temperature and hunger as the harsh winter came.

[There are many more problems that need attention.]

The quality of the houses built for the survivors is of big concern: those houses could not withstand fire or flood, nor could they fully shelter those living inside from the cold. The coercive rehousing policy facilitates widespread collusion between officials and constructors— on the pretext of “caring for the victims' resettlement”.

Another problem is that although public servants in the disaster-stricken region, as well as some low-ranking officials, need shift holidays, they are forced to run around diminishing the so-called unstable social factors to their exhaustion. As a result, every once in a while one of these would suicide because of the tiring workload.

Attention should be drawn to the issues of psychological treatment for, and raise in salary of, teachers who are aggrieved and yet have no opportunity to rest and recuperate. They are forced to teach students when they themselves have both physical and psychological problems. This would do harm to both sides. The government, however, does not increase the budget for hiring more teachers to teach on shifts and let those who need a break to get some rest. Instead, the government works these teachers to the point of collapse or exhaustion.

[And yet another problem:] post-disaster reconstruction effort varies in urban and rural areas. While reconstruction work in urban area is not good enough, it is simply ignored in rural area. This is unacceptable. The peasants are also nationals of this country. If they could not get the same treatment as the urban dwellers, then what legitimacy does this regime have?

The most intolerable thing [apart from these problems] is the mistreatment the children across the country have been subjected to. Just take a look at what happened this year: a little girl was sexually assaulted by Lin Jiaxiang, an official in Beijing; 100,000 babies developed kidney-stone because of the melamine-tainted milk formula; tens of thousands of students killed by the collapse of shoddy school buildings. No other countries would be so determined to destroy their future generations on such a huge scale as China.

The manufacturer of the tainted milk that made more than 100,000 kids sick and suffer from the kidney stones shamelessly resorted to using the name of “national enterprise” to regain trust from the people; those government officials that caused so many man-made disasters chants so often that they “Serve the People”. It is hard to tell who are more impudent: entrepreneurs like Niu Gengsheng, or the officials.

If we fail to hold accountable those so-called national enterprises represented by entrepreneurs like Niu Gensheng; if we fail to hold accountable those officials and constructors working in collusion in building those shoddy schools that collapsed in the quake and claimed so many lives of the students, leaving their parents heartbroken; if we fail in all these, there would be no end for similar disasters, and those innocent victims will never rest in peace.

Now the officials are holding various events to commemorate the victims at the earthquake site. They should engrave the names of each and every one of the victims, our young kids, on a monument to mark their lost future and their tragic death. Nearly 100,000 were killed in the earthquake, that death toll is not just a dead figure; behind it is the lives that were lost between – some of the bodies were nowhere to be found, their whereabouts have become an unsolved puzzle for the surviving families for the rest of their life. There is no greater grief that this.

If there is some sense of responsibility in our government; if there is still humanity left in our officials, they would be able to understand the pain of the survivors, especially the parents who had lost their child. If I were one of those parents, I would forever be haunted by guilt and sadness for my whole life if I could not bring justice to my lost child. This feeling of incompetence is one that could not be rid of; it would lead to either a breakdown or an eruption. There are thousands of families like this, the community has to care about them. In particular, the government should allow them to seek justice for their children through legal channels, let them win back the dignity of a human being, give them the compensation they deserve. Or it will be too late to do anything when this grudge explodes in a massive way.

It offers quake survivors comfort and help by denouncing those responsible for this disaster; by criticizing the government for its lack of actions and by remembering those who were killed.

Let us, who enjoy a relatively peaceful life, do our part.

Let us, with our sympathy, or compassion, try to truly feel, understand the pain and suffering of the survivors; and show our care and love for them.

Let us help them get another piece of clothing, even it is old and used, it gives them warmth. It doesn’t matter how much money one can give, our love is priceless.

On top of these, let us stay committed. Don’t let the disaster escape from our memory as time goes by, don’t let the survivors feel they are left out or lonely.

Shortly after I appealed for aid for 16 students from the town of Guangji and the city of Mianzhu yesterday, most of the students had found a sponsor. This really mean something to me. It is not my call that made this possible, it is the hard work of teachers, Wei Qihong, Gao Hongzhu and others in that area, all I did required little effort.

Now winter is here. The financial crisis is sweeping around the world. It is winter for all of us, life is hard for everyone. It is harsh and cold for the people in the disaster zone. Let’s try our best to help our friends there; that should be done, of course, not at the cost of our own lives. Let’s weather the winter together. You don’t need to donate much: five dollars, a notebook or maybe a loaf of bread each month. If everyone does the same, this relay of love, this continuous help and relief will all add up to something tremendous.

We do not compare who could donate more. We do not pressure others in the name of charity. We do compete with others and see who put into practice “many a little makes a mickle”; and see who intently pass on the faint candlelight in the silence of the night. Let us be the salt, let us be the light so our compatriots will not feel despair in the darkness.
People who are still breathing should lead a good life, and keep on fighting for dignity and freedom. Only in so doing could we do justice to the many people who lost their lives because of a combination of natural and man-made disasters.

To the 100,000 Sichuan Earthquake victims, rest in peace!

November 12, 2008, 8:55 in Chengdu

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