May 13

Sichuan earthquake – continued

Written by Buxi on Tuesday, May 13th, 2008 at 5:17 pm
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Within 2 hours of the actual earthquake, premier Wen Jiabao was on a plane to Chengdu. Upon landing, he was on the scene at the devastated city of Dujiangyan within hours. He has barely slept over the last 24-30 hours, personally attending to details on the scene. He has been in almost constant tears, doing what little he can to help.  He has been quoted as saying to government officials: “Only one sentence: the people feed you,  you know what you must do.”

The death toll continues to rise. The worst devastation appears to be in Beichuang, where basically the entire county-town has been leveled. The People’s Liberation Army and Armed Police have double-time marched into the area, but they could not bring heavy equipment. They can only provide basic comfort at this time; trapped school-children are calling out to them… “uncles, please help!” Villagers are being evacuated slowly, leaving behind probably half of the original population of Beichuang in the ruins.

Beijing has been remarkably open with covering this entire tragedy, not pulling a single punch. Images of children crushed and trapped within schools are on the front-pages of all Chinese newspapers and websites. Every resource within China is being brought in.  The Olympic torch relay has been drastically modified.  The route has been shrunk, and there will be a minute of silence in memory of those lost.  Donation boxes will be setup around the route; the relay will now be a chance to raise money for the victims.

An elite airborne paratrooper unit (15th Airborne Corps) was widely reported to have been planning to parachute into the heart of the devastation yesterday, with road access still cut off. With horrible weather, many expected a very high casualty rate amongst the paratroopers; many reportedly wrote their last wills in preparation. With weather growing even worse in this mountainous area, however, this desperate measure was postponed for now.

Nations and people around the world have offered their sympathies and assistance. The Dalai Lama has applauded Beijing’s remarkably quick response to the earthquake, and is praying for the souls of the dead. Earthquake rescue teams from every nation stands ready to deploy; in the face of overwhelming support for the government effort so far, this last item is probably the only point of contention in the Chinese world right now. Some in China accuse the Chinese government of wanting to save face, and thus refusing international teams on the ground. However, Taiwanese experts commented that during their earthquake effort a few years back, dealing with international experts (speaking different languages and unfamiliar with the setting) can actually serve as a major distraction in the early hours of such a crisis. Beijing has said it welcomes all aid, and international teams will be welcomed in as soon as the roads into the mountains are cleared.

And yet again during this 2008, the Olympic year, the world’s attention is squarely on China.

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7 Responses to “Sichuan earthquake – continued”

  1. Buxi Says:

    Press coverage:

    The party knows that the main risks from such a disaster are a tardy response and a cover-up. Leaders with the media-savvy of Mr Wen – who made sure he was photographed poring over papers with his advisers on the flight from Beijing to the scene – differ hugely from the secretive junta in Burma. Mr Wen may be burnishing his image as a man of the people. But past performance would show that he – and several of his Politburo colleagues – care about the sorrows of China’s people. And not only because to care will help them to retain power.

    THE devastating Sichuan earthquake, and the Chinese Government’s admirably swift response, dramatically change the setting for the Beijing Olympic Games in three months.

    The world has been watching with distaste and some nervousness the surge in strident nationalism that has followed the unrestin Tibet and the resulting protests during the international torch relay.

    Now the world is witnessing a nationalism it can applaud: a China uniting in both empathy and efficient practicality to respond to the latest of the natural disasters to which the country has always been painfully prone.

    However close the leaders of China may be to the military regime that rules neighbouring Burma, the contrast in their responses to their respective catastrophes has been telling.

    In China, information has flowed swiftly, with no attempt to cover up the scale or horror. When it learned that two schools had collapsed, the official Xinhua news agency reported starkly that while many had been killed at once, hundreds of children remained trapped in the debris.


  2. jim Says:

    It is kind of sad that you are using this tragedy to ‘prove’ how great the Chinese government is and how everyone supports it. Especially when a lot of Chinese online are debating whether or not the government tried to cover up the warnings, while others are blaming local officials for stealing money from building projects which made buildings less safe and more likely to collapse.

    It isn’t really surprising, I guess. Tragedies like this quickly turn into political issues, with all sides using them for PR stunts. It is just politics. But politics can be pretty sickening. Rudy Giuliani comes to mind. 😉

    I’m not saying anything negative about the government’s response since I really don’t know what is happening on the ground. Hopefully, they are doing a better job than the Bush administration did with Katrina. I just want to point out that no one should be naive and pretend that this won’t become (as it has already..see post above) a political issue.

  3. Buxi Says:


    I’ve provided the first Western media links that I came across today in reference to the government reaction. The fact that, in the face of apparently world-wide recognition of the Chinese government’s efficiency, you still see “politics”… that reflects your own deep biases, not mine.

    As far as online debates, I’ve already mentioned above the debate over whether foreign rescue teams should be brought in to help as the only current debate. I express my point of view, as well as those who argue otherwise.

    The debate over whether warnings were covered up is basically over, at least for now. I didn’t think anyone reading this blog would believe in superstitious signs, so you’ll have to pardon me for not describing that more fully. The world is filled with a history of natural disasters and subsequent finger-pointing, but speaking as an engineer and a scientist, the idea that these things can be “predicted” accurately is ridiculous.

    As far as the construction question, that is absolutely an issue that needs to be explored seriously. If its true that only school buildings collapsed while government buildings thrived, it’s definitely a lesson to us all. If it’s true (and I think it very likely is true in some cases) that contractors have embezzled funds from construction, I expect they will be harshly punished.

    None of these facts detract away from the positives of what the central government is doing today. If you psychologically need to spin any series of events to ultimately reflect poorly on the Communist government, if you find yourself simply incapable of congratulating or praising the Beijing government in any context… if you expected to be taken seriously, I think you need to seriously evaluate the blinders blocking your thought processes.

  4. jim Says:

    >>you still see “politics”… that reflects your own deep biases, not mine.

    Of course it is politics. That isn’t a bias. It is just a fact. If you linked to a bunch of stories that blamed the Chinese government for its response, that would also be politics.

    Please stop pretending that pointing out positive reactions is “objective” while pointing out negative reactions is “biased.” BOTH ARE BIASED. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily equally valid or true — that is a separate argument.

    Biased does not equal “false.” As an an engineer and scientist, you should know that.

    >>If you psychologically need to spin any series of events to ultimately reflect poorly on the Communist government

    I specifically said that I have nothing negative to say about the response of the government. So I don’t know where you are getting this idea.

    Many of the debates surrounding the media lately stem from a misunderstanding a lot of people seem to have about the terms “biased,” “objective,” and “free” when applied to media.

    biased != false
    objective != true
    free != objective
    free != true

    free = you have the opportunity to say what you want, to point out how ‘biased,’ ‘subjective,’ and ‘false’ something in the media is.

    free = if you think CNN is biased and full of shit, you can read “Blogging for China” instead. (Which is also biased, but in a different way).

    So here I am, considering your viewpoint.

  5. Bing Ma Yong Says:

    Buxi and Jim,

    Both of your viewpoint are not opposite each other.
    the local emergerncy service, police responded immediately according to a Australia guy who was in ChengDu airport.
    no matter what the Chinese central government’s political motive, the swift response and management of the earthquake rescue till now should be applauded,should be credited. we see the improvement and process compare to the past. It isn’t surprising at all, if anyone wants to say or see it’s politics. Every government dose this. George Bush did it. Tony Blair did it. John Howard did it. Hillary Clinton was doing it and is still doing it. I can not see the big deal if CCP is also doing it. Chinese government should be applauded on the handling of this tragedy.

    the Chinese internet debates of whether the central government tries to cover up something and local corruption would also help the people and government to improve which is also a good thing and also a good sign of free expression. if the investigation of the collaped school building quality find out some corrupted officers and builders involved. those responsible would meed very very harsh punishment according to the past. apart from some corrupted construction process, the construction design,methods and moterial standards might also need be redraw.

    I would say to criticize the government is part of Chinese old tradition. 文死柬 -to criticize(the emperor) without fear of life was the belief of government officers. there were countless examples in Chinese history, ministers criticized the emperors with the risk of their and their families’ lives. Many did cost their lives.

    the bottom line here is the Chinese government is right now doing a great job to save people in SiChuan. I agree with you, Buxi.

    it should be criticized and discussed if there are some cover up or corruption or whatever so we can improve what we do and how we do. I agree with you, Jim.

  6. Buxi Says:

    Very sad video; still so much more needs to be done.


  7. admin Says:

    Heart-wrenching stories from NPR’s Chengdu Diary at http://www.npr.org/blogs/chengdu/

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