One year after the quake: cadres, monks and numbers


Looking for lost relatives. Image: Southern Weekly

On May 12, 2008, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the richter scale hit Sichuan province, with the epicenter in Wenchuan, killing at least 69,000 people.

Since then, the Chinese media has been calling attention to the death toll, which was publicly announced by the government but then rebuked by some voices in the public sphere.

As well as shoddy construction and “tofu” buildings (豆腐楼), which is seen widely to be the cause of many students’ deaths, there have been Chinese reports about cadres who have committed suicide in Beichuan (China Newsweek, below), and about pregnant women giving birth in a Buddhist Temple (The Beijing News, below).

Southern Weekly from Thursday April 7, highlighted the count for numbers of the dead and missing, the process, and the people who are still suffering from not being able to confirm the dead. Below are excerpted translations from, respectively, Southern Weekly, China Newsweek and The Beijing News:

Dead and missing numbers: not one can be ignored

by Ding Buzhi (丁补之) from Yingxiu / SW

69,227, 17,923.

Every one of these “ones” represents a person, they are respectively the dead and missing from the Wenchuan earthquake. After the September of last year, these figures were not renewed. On September 25 last year, the State Council Information Office for the last time published figures released by the earthquake relief headquarters: according to the reports from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, on that day the final figure for the “5.12 Wenchuan earthquake” was established at 69,227 deaths and 17,923 missing.

69,227 one years have passed, and 17,923 one years have passed.

Every “one”, from the perspective of other people is only part of a figure, but for the families involved it is their entire world. This is not necessarily the final figure. On March 5th this year, at the NPC the deputy provincial director for Sichuan province Wei Hong (魏宏) said that the province was in the process of finalizing the death toll number, including deciding if the missing numbers are part of the dead figures.

What kind of process does it take for the numbers to be counted? In the one year what kind of changes has there been? The numbers’ continual publication and behind the pause of the publication and renewing, what’s behind these decisions? Is this significant for the persons who have perished, or are missing, and their families?

137,13 missing and dead.

On April 26, after waking up at six in the morning, Lao Zhang suddenly wanted to go into the mountains. He heard that the road between Yingxiu (映秀) and Gengda (耿达) began its reparation on April 25.

His son Zhang Jian (张健) was buried here under huge rocks in the wreckage nearest Gengda. For one year these stones have weighed on Zhang’s heart. “Maybe they’ll start work today, and the stones will be pushed aside”. Anxious and with a little bit of hope, he wants to see the rocks removed as quickly as possible.

The last time that Zhang Jian contacted his family was at 11:47am on May 12th. He rang his wife to say that he would be home after eating some lunch. He used to be a Taxi driver, and after buying a Naveco with the money that the family put together, he started life as a driver under a company that hires out cars. On that day, someone had rented the car to participate in the Wolong panda adoption activities, there were seventeen people in the car. But in the Jinniu district (金牛区) of Chengdu, his family stayed close to their simple makeshift tent, until May 15th, but he still didn’t come home.

Later the results came in, on May 12th, 2.27pm the Naveco’s GPS signal disappeared on the road.

On May 27th last year, his company issued a letter saying that he has been missing for 16 days.

On July 1st, a relative of someone in the same car filed the case to the Wolong police department, and the 17 people became “missing persons”. But Zhang still has not given up, his position is: “If he’s alive I want to see his person, if he’s dead I want to see his corpse”.

The count for injured or dead persons only started on the third day for the Yingxiu town, Zhongtanbao village (中滩堡村) Toudao bridge (头道桥) group. Toudao bridge is situated in a mountain valley, after the earthquake, the entire group of houses collapsed, and the fields have also been damaged. The roads were damaged, it was raining, and there were

ferocious mud-slides.


Feng Xiang, deputy director of Beichuan Propaganda department committed suicide on April 20. Image: source

Unless you’re from Beichuan, you can’t imagine the pain

by Zhou Hualei, Wang Gang (周华蕾, 王刚) in Anchang / CN

In Beichuan, people face these problems directly: losing families, nothing to their names.

But for the cadres of Beichuan, perhaps there is one more challenge: construct a new Beichuan. After the earthquake they work endlessly, they’re like an elastic band that has been stretched taut. No-one can say when, and what reason, will be the occasion to overwhelm them.

This year, director of Agricultural Affairs Dong Yufei (董玉飞) and deputy director of the Ministry of Propaganda, Feng Xiang (冯翔)’s suicides were a new tragedy that happened within the midst of the 1,500 still surviving cadres in Beichuan.

One: Ren Ming (pseudonym) starts drinking.

After the 5.12 earthquake took away his mother, wife and one-year-old daughter, he drank in the morning, mid-day and in the evening, “I drank so much I didn’t even know it when the county party chief was next to me”.

Ren Ming is a low-level cadre in Beichuan county, after graduating from university he passed the examination and became a civil servant. Having had a smooth time, he used to be eager to get ahead and was a cadre who was being trained by the county for further promotion.

After the earthquake, he became a different person. What seemed very important in the past, for example promotions and savings, did not matter to him now. Often he appeared to be very short-tempered, picking up his phone and pressing the buttons randomly; he likes to shake his foot, and also had no qualms about putting both his feet up on the stool in front of him, in front of the reporter.

When the cadres get together for a meal, everyone promises, “Today we don’t talk about the earthquake”. “But without knowing why as we eat and drink the earthquake comes up. In the end we end the meal with one or two people in a torrent of tears. It’s like this again and again”, says Beichuan Bureau of Communications Jian Bin (蹇斌) with a bitter smile.

Drinking was part of Qiang minority (羌族) cadres’ etiquette, as a way of seeing people off and meeting people. But now it’s because of depression and for release. Because of their work responsibilities, many cadres were preoccupied first of all with the masses when the quake struck. This became a psychological burden for many Beichuan cadres who lost relatives in the earthquake.

Jian Bin used to be the party secretary of Qingpian village (青片乡), 91km from Beichuan county, his wife and daughter lived in Beichuan county. When the earthquake struck, he was in the mountains responsible for leading the work there: he couldn’t leave, and couldn’t get news of his relatives. On May 20, he left Qingpian village on a helicopter. At a friend’s home he saw his daughter, who had escaped Qushan (曲山) primary school. But he did not find his wife.

“Even now it’s hard for me to forgive myself. When I saw my daughter, my heart broke, at that time I didn’t want to take care of anything, all I wanted to do was be with my daughter”.

Around July or August 2008, Jian Bin’s sister, who had her own company in Nanjing, wanted him to go work with her, with over 10,000 yuan a month of wages. The best primary school in Nanjing also said that he they would take his daughter for free.

He was swayed, but he thought about it and stayed in Beichuan. “The construction team from Shandong had already arrived, but I am from Beichuan, leaving work for others to do just wasn’t right”. He also needed to look after his deceased wife’s parents, “They’re old, and they can’t walk”.

Ren Ming is from the Pei Cheng district (涪城区) of Mianyang, considering his home had suffered very badly from the earthquake, the municipal leaders had wanted to shift him away from Beichuan, to work in the city. He said no.

He thought, “Where I fell, will be where I get up again”.


Around new year’s of 2009, Ren Ming was taken to the Number Three Hospital of Mianyang. Five nurses looked after him over 24 hours.

This is the best mental hospital in Mianyang. Doctor Zhao Hong said, “The organization (组织) are really nervous, they definitely don’t want anything to happen again”.

Ren Ming had serious depression, serious insomnia. He did not sleep night after night, and thought about suicide. Because he could not find relatives to look after himself,

Ren Ming called Wang Xuemei (pseudonym). Wang was also a cadre in Beichuan, and in the earthquake she lost her husband and daughter.

After the quake Wang Xuemei had two strange dreams.

One, she dreamt about her daughter. Her six-year-old daughter was suddenly lost in her school, and Wang looked everywhere. In the end she found her daughter underneath the bed. She pushed hard at her daughter, calling her name. Her daughter finally slowly opened her eyes, looked at her and said, “It’s OK mommy, I am only asleep”. Then she closed her eyes again.

Then she dreamt about her husband. Her husband had an incurable illness, lying in bed, he said to her, “Marry again quickly, and start a happy life”.

Wang Xuemei says that she does not believe in religion, but that these were the ghosts of her husband and daughter talking to her.

After half a month, Ren Ming was discharged from the hospital. He and Wang Xuemei acknowledged their romantic relationship.

Less than a year after the quake, many of the Beichuan cadres who had lost their other half in the earthquake had found another partner. The leaders of the work units treated this dating phenomenon like a part-time work. Outsiders might think that this trend of falling in love and marriage is too quick.

Jian Bin, who lost his wife, has already found an understanding and empathetic girlfriend. “We need the feeling that we can lean on each other, so that we can walk out of this quicker”, he said.


Seeing death and not doing anything is forbidden by Buddhism

The Beijing News

Monk Su Quan is a Chengdu native. After graduating from the University of Electronic Technology and Science, Sichuan, he became the director for adolescent education in the Dongtongshun (东通顺) area. In 1992 he became a monk and in 2006 he moved into Shifang’s Luohan Temple (罗汉寺).

During the 5.12 earthquake, Su Quan broke many rules of the temple, letting in dozens of pregnant women. Since then 108 children have been born, and because of this he was chosen as one of the ten big earthquake hero-models of Shifang city.

April 7th, evening in Luohan Temple.

In the tea tent, three monks are chatting. In the shade, Monk Su Quan is by himself, watching gingko sprout new leaves.

He has already been interviewed many times and said how he had broken the religious precepts: going outside to take in pregnant women; not shying away from blood by arranging for the women to have c-sections; understanding the women by allowing for slaughter of animals for food inside the monastery.

Su Quan, the abbot of Luohan Temple says that the hardship of the masses is his too. He also says, the interviews isn’t to promote himself; it’s to promote Shifang.

“As long as all the living creatures like it, then it’s fine”. As he said this, Su Quan’s round face smiled deeply, underneath those black-framed glasses.

The pictures of the babies born below. To become a guardian for one; sponsor a baby, follow this link.


Image: source
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