Unprecedented wave of help for quake victims sweeps China

May 24th, 2008 - 9:14 am ICT by admin  

By Andreas Landwehr
Beijing, May 24 (DPA) The recent earthquake in southwestern China’s Sichuan province has triggered an unprecedented wave of readiness to help from across the country. Volunteers have arrived in the disaster area in droves to assist the survivors with some, including an automobile club of wealthy Chinese, even transporting food, drinking water and medicine.

People are queuing up to donate blood while hundreds of millions of yuan have been contributed to relief funds by individuals and corporations.

Children are giving up their allowances to help those in need and there is even a story circulating that a beggar donated 100 yuan ($14).

A mother, who recently gave birth in a camp after losing everything, has been breastfeeding other infants who have lost their parents.

Thousands of couples have filed applications to adopt children orphaned by the earthquake.

Media reporting that goes beyond previously observed restrictions delivers news about the extent of the destruction and suffering right into homes across the country.

“TV news reports around the clock have startled people, but online blogs and SMS messages also have played a big part (in disseminating information),” said 24-year-old advertising executive Sky Wang.

Taxi drivers delegate their vehicles to transport relief goods, merchants distribute instant noodles, and even a self-help group of HIV-infected farmers has offered to help.

“Our blood is contaminated (with the virus), but perhaps we could send some money,” the China Daily newspaper quoted the group as saying.

A number of brave local journalists ignored censorship rules in the immediate aftermath of the quake, travelled into the disaster zone and started reporting, which effectively prevented possible official denials of the tragedy.

Even Prime Minister Wen Jiabao flew in right after the quake.

The catastrophe was so gigantic that China’s propaganda machine immediately recognised the opportunity to put the prime minister and the Peoples’ Liberation Army in the spotlight.

Survivors cried and mourned in front of the cameras telling their individual stories to an entire nation.

Even the sensitive subject that many school buildings collapsed due to their shoddy construction was touched, if only fleetingly, and the government immediately afterwards ordered an investigation into the matter.

“The high speed of modern communications has helped people to recognise the true situation in the disaster area. Photos and film footage touched their hearts,” said 24-year-old trader Xiao Ya.

“People today are richer compared to a decade ago, and China as a whole is (economically) stronger, too. When I compare (our) reaction with that of Myanmar I am proud about China,” said Sky Wang.

The wave of help is discussed with pride and, indeed, China is somewhat surprised about herself.

It has been traditionally acknowledged that willingness to help each other usually only exists within an extended circle of family relatives and close friends.

But suddenly the Chinese have started to help total strangers outside that restricted circle and consider it as an expression of a new, brotherly national conscience of togetherness.

While China displayed during the unrest in Tibet and the incidents during the Olympic Torch Relay a type of nationalism that viciously rejected foreign interference, the country has shown in the aftermath of the catastrophe that her nationalism also imparts a human and sympathetic side.

But to prevent the help from subsiding again before long, the Beijing-based newspaper Xinjiangbao called for sustained openness in news reporting and, indirectly, more press freedom.

Reports had to remain “transparent and up-to-date” to avoid the gap between the earthquake survivors and the rest of the country from widening, the newspaper said in a recent editorial.

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