May 12

Saving Grace

Written by berlinf on Tuesday, May 12th, 2009 at 2:28 pm
Filed under:Environment, General | Tags:,
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This post was a translation from Li Chengpeng’s blog as part of our effort to memorize the tragic earthquake one year ago.  The author Li was a sports commentator who later on became active in other public spheres.  After the Sichuan earthquake, he went to Beichuan as a reporter as well as a volunteer.   As far as I know, this blog post had not been published anywhere other than his blog.  However, I find it to be a touching story of the human spirit  when faced with such disasters, and the miraculous impact a good conscience may have.

Original title: 北川邓家”刘汉小学”无一死亡奇迹背后的真相  (The truth behind the zero death miracle of the Bei chuan Liu Han Elementary School)

Today, I am not going to write how many died. It pains me to write about these today. Let me talk about miracles. The miracle happens in Liu Han Hope Elementary School of Beichuan.  Of all the 483 students, everybody survived. 71 of them spent two days and one night in a journey that took them to Mianyang. On this journey, they climbed three mountains, and went through a dense forest. The greater miracle is, someone built their school, a safe school, which had not collapsed, in these years when we still have the Hope Project (Charity program to sponsor economically disadvantaged students.  The Project was later on cancelled).  What is behind all this miracle? Had somebody forecasted all of this at first?

I cannot fully restore all the details of Liu Han Hope Elementary School at 14:28, on May 12, 2008. From Deng Lijun’s accounts we know that she has infantile paralysis in her left leg. Because of this illness, she had always been given the privilege of early release before a recess. She can leave ten minutes earlier than the rest of the class so that she can use the bathroom. That day, she dragged her feet down the stairway from the third floor. As soon as she saw the first ray of sunlight, the ground started to shake and roar.

She ran as fast as she could and managed to reach the bamboo grove. And she heard the Physical Education teacher yell: “To the playground!” And she ran to the playground with several other girls. In three minutes, all 483 of the students were on the playground.

Later on, we were thinking how lucky Deng Lijun was to have had her leg problem. If she had not been able to leave ten minutes earlier, she might be pushed down in the rush. She might be so panicked that she would jump from the third floor. Or something else of that nature. In any scenario, we would not have had this kind of perfect miracle of everybody surviving. What is the miracle? The miracle is that in this devastating earthquake has claimed 2000 students from Beichuan Middle School, this elementary school built in the Hope Project remained intact.

Furthermore, nine teachers, with Xiao Xiaochuan as the leader,  led 71 students to successfully reached the closest city on foot after two days and one night of hard journey, during which they scaled three mountains, each 2000 meters above sea level.  Among them there was a little boy in the Pre-k class. He was not even five years old.  Eventually they reached Mianyang City.

Legends of the 71 students braving the mountains and the forest are now known far and wide. During these two days, I have been wandering around in the Beichuan and Mianyang area. I just wanted to dig out more details that would transcend the heroic descriptions so that we can see these people as they really are.

When the earthquake hit, Xiao Xiaochuan was reading in his office. The books were shaking pretty badly. On another side of the building, Shi Shaoxian was patrolling. Both of them are the leaders of the school. As adults they were afraid too, but they managed to stay put and started yelling: “To the playground!”  They asked students to go down the floors, go to the playground and later on worked with them to build some makeshift camps. All of these, we found, were exactly what Survival experts would recommend. They have never learned any of these. Their commands were made just out of instinct.

This is not exactly like a journey as described in the movie The Children of Huangshi.   Han Han (Translator’s note: young Chinese author) said it was like the herding in zoo migration during WWII. In our conversations, we found these adults were not exactly so brave that they did not have any fear. They had moments of doubt, fear, desperation, numbness, but they persevered. They were not natural heroes, but what they did made them heroes.

Two teachers

( From L to R: Li Shaoxian and Xiao Xiaochuan. Their clothes were new clothes donated by Hanlong Group. Xiao said this is the best clothes he ever had.)

Xiao has talked much in TV stations since then, but he confessed to me in private: “I was so scared then. I thought this is the end of the world. I thought I couldn’t survive this day.”  Shi Shaoxian also said he was scared. “No, I couldn’t calm then. I thought I was dying.”

It is still dangerous to crouch down on the playground. Looking below, they found that the town was leveled by the earthquake. There were aftershocks. There were instances of mudslide everywhere. “If we want to live, we must go to high places.” From their observation they found a hill that seemed to be able to survive all the mudslides, etc. So they asked the students to go there. Xiao Xiaochuan had never cut bamboos before, but that day he cut many. Shi Shaoxian went to the ruins and found some sacks that are commonly used by farmers. With these they made a big tent. They had never made a tent before, so what they made was rather small. The 483 students were crowded together, back to back, the whole night. They couldn’t even move.

If someone was watching them in the dark, that must be quite a sight. 483 kids, sitting motionless in a small tent with stones rolling around them, and rain pouring down, and earth still constantly shaking in the aftershocks. The kids were like lamb finding refuge in the rain. And the teachers are like shepherds.

“There was no light. It was pitch dark. I hear big rocks rolling down, making dull sounds like the beating of some drums. That was terror itself!” Later on, kids started to chat. When Deng Lijun told me about this, she was always smiling. She was telling me how kids race downstairs, who stumbled, and who were crying for their mommy. By the way, she said she was proud of her name. (Deng Lijun is also the name of a Hong Kong singer who died years ago.)

Journalist Tang Jianguan had witnessed numerous diasters. He told me people’s reaction in time of disaster is rather different from what we wold imagine. This time I understood what he was talking about. People sometimes need to relieve some of their tension at times of big disasters.

Taking shelter

(Taking shelter in a Mingyang middle school after the journey)

I had been wondering why 9 teachers would take 71 students to leave. These 71 students had no parents to claim them. I asked them:”Why don’t you just wait for help?” Later on, we were told: “I understand that the county leaders have to save other people, and probably cannot help us at this time. We must save ourselves.” Nobody argued over the decision to climb the mountains on foot. It was going to be dangerous, but there is greater danger in staying here like this. They’ve got to take a chance.

Their route of retreat includes three mountains, Shuidongzi Mountain, Jinjiashan Mountain, and Yangliuping Mountain. Challenges abound: aftershocks, cracks in the mountains, rain, mountain shock, and great expanses of dense forest.

One woman teacher decided to return for her mother-in-law and people all showed understanding towards her. Another teacher Ms. Wu Mingyan has severe health issue. Her face turned black, and it looked like she was going to die any minute. When people asked how she was doing, she said she was desperate, but “Got to walk on. Cannot die here.” So, they walked on.

After another shock, a strange thing happened. “On the next day, it became completely dark. It was like night. We couldn’t see our own fingers.” They found themselves engulfed by a thick fog. They couldn’t see anybody or anything two meters away. They asked us to forgive them for their superstition, but this was too much like ghosts closing in on them. “It was cold, coldness into our bones.” In the countryside, there were sayings that such things could swallow our souls. After our souls are gone, we’d be dead, they said. Therefore, “we asked kids to call out each others’ name. And we answered each other loudly. We do this not only to embolden ourselves, but also to reassure each other that we are still alive. We need this breath of live to let that ‘thing’ leave our souls alone.”

So there they were, shouting loudly in the dense forest. Their souls were not “snatched” away. After a long time, they emerged out of the fog.

The rest of the mountain road was harder. Locals had a saying: “Never marry your daughter to the Jingjiashan Mountains.” which means the road is so hard to travel that you would not be able to take your daughter to the groom if you travel on such roads. There is another saying called “men cannot go without bamboo sandals”, a special kind of sandals which could keep men from falling off cliffs.

There was also cracks in the mountains. And mud was sliding down. The worst thing is, they couldn’t recognize the roads any more. They were puzzled. “The shape of mountain changed. I remember we should be going uphill here, but why are we going down hill? We were supposed to turn left here, but we found ourselves going up. If we follow the original directions, we’d be all falling off the cliffs.” That night, we found that the same sort of earth movement caused the Himalaya to “grow”.

Girls sleeping

(The girl in the middle was orphaned in the earthquake. She was holding herself in the dream. Psychologists said that was a sign of insecurity.)

Yesterday we also heard a joke. On the day of the earthquake, two old ladies were chatting near one of the mountains. As they were enjoying their womanly chats, they found that they had to speak very loudly for the other one to hear. They also found that the mountain, which was only a dozen meters away just now, was suddenly a hundred meters away. The earthquake caused such movements. One rescuer also noticed a strange mountain nearby. He asked the local farmer why there was no tree whatsoever on that mountain. The farmer was also puzzled, and then he said: “Indeed, that’s a new mountain. Never saw it before.”

Because the roads are very muddy. Kids keep losing their shoes. Every once in a while, someone shouted he or she lost a shoe or two. Fortunately, no kid was lost, not even the 4-year old. The bigger kids were helping the smaller ones. The teachers helped them find shoes.

During these two days and one night, two bags of cookies and a few bottles of water were all the food and drinks for 71 students and 8 teachers. “How did we cope? We teachers broke a small piece from a cookie at a time. Each student can have one tiny bite. We call it ‘life hanging’ bites. As long as we are still breathing, we can carry on. When kids in front are eating, you could hear the rest of them swallowing their saliva. All of us teachers couldn’t help but cry.” Mr. Xiao Xiaochuan said.

I asked them how they encouraged the students on this journey. “We kept telling them to carry on. Other than this, we had to sometimes tell fanciful stories to them. Most students had never been to Mianyang the big city before. So we kept shouting cheers, keep going, keep going, there were many candies waiting for you there, and bread, and Coke. These were innocent kids. They heard these, and they just ran with hope. We also told them that uncle policemen are waiting for you. Kids knew from the TV they watched that the police were to help and save people. They simply admire them as heros. So they were all running down the mountains.”

It is a shame that two places they passed by actually have the capacity to accommodate these students, but the owners turned them down. For various reasons, I didn’t get the names of these two places.

After they finally reached points of rescue, they didn’t see any candies or ice cream. People were simply too busy rescuing people everywhere.

After two days and one night, these kids finally reached Renjiaping Toll Gate and saw the commanding post for the rescue team. When the mayor of Beichuan asked: “How many of you were still alive?” Xiao Xiaochuan answered: “All of us.” Mr. Jin Dazhong the mayor was shocked: “I had thought that you all were goners.”

That night all kids were simply exhausted, they were all sleeping like logs in the bus that carried them to Mianyang. You couldn’t even wake them up by shaking them. However, when they reached Mianyang, these exhausted kids were all excited. Nobody wanted to go to sleep. For these kids from the mountains, this was their first time to see big city. Though Mianyang itself was all shaken up by the earthquake, kids marveled at its beauty and thought it was like heaven. These kids just came from hell, so everything now seemed like heaven to them.

Yesterday I saw these kids and I found most of them in very good spirits. I asked their teachers why? What is going on here? Mr. Li of the PR department said that they had developed some kind of counseling curriculum for them, including programs such as “diversion of attention exercise, ” “letting out emotions exercise,” “martial arts practice”. They also watch episodes of Tom and Jerry! However, one teacher said these kids haven’t seen many dead people. If they were survivors from Beichuan Middle School where many had died, it would have been much more difficult to recover. I felt warm and proud that these kids were not made to see many dead people in these few days.

In good spirits

(It was too much to dwell on the details of losses, so I decided to praise them for their heroic behavior in the journey. Now the sun is out, you do not have to fear anything anymore. I asked them to say “cheers” and show me their beautiful teeth as I took a picture of them. They all laughed.)

Part II

I have not finished my story yet. The core of the story is yet to be revealed. On that day, if Liu Han Elementary School collapsed just like Beichuan No. 1 Middle School, we wouldn’t even have this long march story afterwards. That day, there was no fatality at this school. Not even a severely wounded person. This school’s official name is “Liuhan Hope Elementary School”. Their classroom building was entirely intact. Even the glass wall (more than a dozen meters long and three stories high) was kept intact, not one piece shattered. This is the miracle in this earthquake that had killed hundreds in various schools each. I was wondering who were the builder for this school.

I found that this school was built by a company called “Hanlong Group” (Chinese Dragon, if literally translated). It was a building donated by this company. The boss of this company is a man called Liu Han, and the general manager is “Sun Xiaodong”. The man who supervised the day to day operation in the building was the office manager for the group. When we talked about this miracle later on, we all felt so thankful to this office manager. I interviewed this gentleman, and he told me many stories, but declined to have me use his name, and decline any offer to commend him, because he does not want to cause any noise. So I am referring to him as Mr. X. I talked to Mr. X what was it like when he built this miracle school then. Here is what i found out:

1. Ten years ago, Liu Han and Sun Xiaodong told Mr. X: “When it comes to education, nothing is of small significance. You must ensure the quality of this building. If this building was in some trouble, you are fired.”

2. One of these days ten years ago, Mr. X found some problems in the cement used to build this school. The sand used to mix the cement had too much dirt in it. Mr. X used to be Deputy General Manager of a Cement company, so he knew all about cement. He asked the contractor to wash the dirt off the sand, and get rid of the flat pebbles in the sand. For the perspectives of constructions, such pebbles are bound to have problems, and may cause cement to be weak. Mr. X was enraged. He ordered all the sand to be washed and rid of the dirt. He ordered all these problem pebbles to be picked away.

3. In one progress meeting, Mr. X asked why the project deadline couldn’t be met, he found that the head of the contractor was looking a little ill at ease. At his inquiry, Mr. X found from him that the pledged donation did not come. Based on the donation procedures, company donations must first go to the local government. The local government then earmark the money to the contractor. Unfortunately the contractor had not been able to get the money in time (this is the so-called “customary Chinese practice.”) Mr. X was enraged again, and he hunted out the donation till all needed fund was in place.

4. At the groundbreaking ceremony, the project team informed there is going to be a delay again. Mr. X was very angry, again. He went to the government office dealing with this, and he simply argued with them. Eventually, on September 19, the school had a beautiful playground for students to use. Mr. X said he was very happy about this playground. This playground turned out to be a life saver in the earthquake.

During this construction period, people always heard of Mr. X quarreling or getting all fired up or simply pestering people for the pledged money. When I tried to confirm these with him, he asked me to put quotations marks around “quarreling”, because that would cause unnecessary troubles for him. He said, you know, I cannot say too much.

I probably should not say too much either. People thought it was a miracle in itself that Mr. X can manage to get all the money for the pledge Hope Project donations to build such a school.

Since Mr. X declined to get any attention, let me share the names of the others who were involved in building this miracle school. These are: 刘汉、孙晓东、肖晓川、史少先、陈世荣,罗中会,母贤莹,沈长树,赵义辉,母广兰,吴明艳。

Just now, Mr. X sent me a text message which I took the liberty to publish in my blog. I just want to share it with other people who would be involved in something like this in the future:

Sorry to bother you. I can responsibly tell you that all five “Hope Project” schools were built under my supervision. None of them was shaken in the earthquake. All teachers and students were safe. You are welcome to Mianyang anytime!

This miracle survival story showed me one thing: when you are building a house 10 years ago, you cared to think what might happen 10 years later. That’s what the miracle was all about.

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39 Responses to “Saving Grace”

  1. TonyP4 Says:

    Thanks for the great story and the translation!

    There was another story from my memory. A teacher fled and did not offer any help during the earthquake. When he was asked about it, he said that he only cared for his own family. It is one bad story, but there are many to show the good human nature.

    However, from my observation, Chinese are more selfish than the US citizens. It could be due to the wealth and education. You can be afford to be nice! 🙂

    Here is a carton to show our human spirit. http://earthquakestrips.blogspot.com/

  2. Shane9219 Says:

    @TonyP4 #1

    “Chinese are more selfish than the US citizens ..”

    This is a misnomer. Chinese are kind people, much so than many Westerners, if you read history. You may also see that outpouring of kindness from raction to 5-12 Wenchuan Earthquake, either by oversea Chinese as well as people inside China.

    The thing limits Chinese showing their internal kindness is its culture and tradition. Chinese are more used to the concept of family/tribe/clan and kingdom/country, not so to the concept of community that are formed and shared by people with various background.

    You can see such tradition on children adoption. Chinese families greatly favor their own born sons and daughters as they continue their own bloodline, over adopted ones. For years, the practice of children adoption by Chinese families has been weak. This trend just got changed recently.

  3. Berlin Says:

    That man who ran away is called Fan something. I forgot his first name, but he is generally called “Fan Paopao” (Runner Fan). He had been attacked pretty severely for his cowardice. So no, I don’t think that his act can say anything about the Chinese being more selfish than the US folks. I think it is even the opposite. US societies encourage potential victims to run away and leave things to the police (which may not be a bad thing to do), while Chinese encourage people to fight with criminals. There is an idiom called 见义勇为 (Be bold to defend what is just and right) which is usually used in context when people fight with criminals. In the US, criminals just got their way and nobody is expected to fight with them.

    Of course, the world is getting flat, all of these are changing. We can only generalize so much about national characteristics and then we find our arguments become pretty weak when we see individual differences.

    Ironically Fan the runner is defending his cowardice partly by saying he is doing so because of “universal values” of human right protection etc, which caused the masses to be mad at him.

    Thanks for sharing the cartoon site. It was great.

  4. Shane9219 Says:

    @Berlin #3

    “Fan Paopao” is a classic example of ultra-liberalist from Peking University. Even his school wanted to disvow him. He thinks personal survival and freedom is above all the most important thing in the world.

  5. raventhorn4000 Says:

    I would agree with Shane about the limits on showing of kindness in the Chinese culture.

    My wife once told me that she was reluctant to be too generous with her gifts to her friends, because she was concerned that such gifts might make her friends feel obligated to return gifts.

    Traditional Chinese mentality is also very reluctant to ask for favors, because one would feel a “moral debt”, and most Chinese don’t want to feel “in debt” to anyone.

    This is not so unusual. In some Native American cultures, a host would be offended if he cannot give a gift equal or greater in value to the gift he receives from a guest, and the host would feel that his guest has insulted his honor by giving a gift that showed the host as poor or less generous.

    It’s just the Chinese culture has similar kinds of protocols about public display of generosity. But for people in “need”, I think Chinese are as kind as any other people in the world.

  6. Berlin Says:

    Also, I don’t think people necessarily become nice when they become “wealthy and educated”. I find that the nicest people I know are often those who are poor, such as church ministers and school teachers. Some wealthy people, such as professionals like lawyers and doctors, are often suckers, if these among my readers can excuse me for saying so. They sometimes project an attitude that suggests they deserve to be rude and arrogant just because they are rich. At least that is my experience with these people.

  7. TonyP4 Says:

    Yes, I may have opened a can of worms that I should keep it for myself. There was one story in Boston about 1 year or two ago: An American lady (a PHD.) worked for a company in Beijing. She saw a crippled, burned Chinese girl asking for money every day on her way to work. Against all her Chinese co-workers’ advice, she quit her job, adopted the girl, and took her to Boston for treatment. No Chinese helped that child but this American lady.

    I should say “comparatively…”. My Chinese high school classmate (graduated in US) went to the site to help, so are the thousands and thousands. They all showed the human spirit same as the one in the article. The Chinese leadership did a very impressive job too.

  8. Berlin Says:

    Tony, I see what you are coming from, and I understand it partially. I also witnessed many kind-hearted Americans who adopt orphans from China or other countries. But human motivation is a rather complex thing. You cannot use this single case to say that Americans are generous and the Chinese are not. People do good things not necessarily out of education and wealth. Some may do so for religious reasons and these have nothing to do with education and wealth.

    After the Sichuan earthquake, you probably have seen photos of people waiting in long lines to donate blood, and everybody donate money generously. Even beggers pour out all the coins and crumbled paper money he had from his pockets. The story I shared here is also a story of some ordinary folks just like these school teachers.

  9. miaka9383 Says:

    while totally off topic…
    Adopting Chinese Babies in U.S has been less and less of a trend because of the rules being more stricter is this true? And I think more and more Chinese citizens are adopting from their own orphanages.. is this true?

  10. TonyP4 Says:

    Somehow I cannot edit my post.

    Americans are more free to donate organs (sometimes to perfect strangers) when they die. Not Chinese. It could be due to the culture difference.

  11. Shane9219 Says:


    You may always pick out some examples. I read a report last year that a Beijing lady quited her well-paid jobs years ago to open a adopt home for disabled. So it is hard to pick examples and generalize them.

    If you wish to look deeper, you may find what really drives many white American is their protestant common value.

  12. Shane9219 Says:

    @miaka9383 #9

    That is correct. The concept of adopted sons and daughters not belong to a family has changed somewhat among younger generations. The government is also making some push on that notion.

  13. Berlin Says:

    @miaka I have worked with quite a number of adopting families. From my experience, it is indeed getting very difficult to adopt from China. The government has made it very difficult for foreigners to adopt because the demand is growing domestically. In the past, Chinese people value “blood” relations more over “adopted” relations, but the mindset is fastly changing. My classmate, for instance, adopted a little girl the time my daughter is born. I am pretty positive that all earthquake orphans have been adopted. I remember that the demand greatly outnumbered the supply even shortly after the earthquake.

    The main difference I see is that American parents tell children that they are adopted. Chinese parents wait till they are older when they can “understand things.” In this aspect, I kind of like the US approach. Because if kids hear from third parties that they are adopted (other than their own parents), it may lead to disillusionment and bitterness.

  14. TonyP4 Says:

    #Shane. 11.

    ” It is one bad story, but there are many to show the good human nature.

    However, from my observation, Chinese are more selfish than the US citizens”

    This is what I wrote. My observation is not based on one bad story. Tell me how many Chinese donate organs and I can tell you how many Americans do.

  15. Berlin Says:

    @Tony, three reasons may account for the difference (if any) better than the selfish/selfless dichotomy between Chinese and the Americans: 1) Organ donation is an option when you get a driver’s license in the US. They just make it easy to do so. China does not seem to have this channel open even for those who do want to if such possibilities exist.

    2)There are cultural reasons for the difference. Chinese believe that “body parts are from parents, and should not be easily got rid of” (身体发肤,受之父母,不可轻弃也)。 In the US, the Christian culture does not value physical body parts as much as traditional Chinese culture does, because even the whole body is just a preparation for the eternal. People are supposed to get new bodies when they are resurrected anyway. So these are some deep reasons.

    3) Last but not least, I do not think we have the same kind of facility and expertise to easily allow the preservation and transplant of donated organs. Look at the donation of blood, you will see people do so quite readily in China because the technology, access, and awareness are less of an issue.

    If we are comparing apples to apples, and eliminate these confounding factors, I would not conclude this to be an illustration of the Chinese selfishness.

  16. Shane9219 Says:


    Organ donation is really a very modern concept. Under old Chinese tradition, Chinese would be very relunctant to cut their hairs, let alone donate their organs. They want one whole piece before entering the earth because of a strong belief of under-world stuff.

    This is the reason I have mentioned at times is that you have to look deep into Chinese history and culture to understand what Chinese think and do. You can not also be superficial on that. Lots of misunderstanding by people of western mindset do occur because of it.

  17. Nimrod Says:

    Note: We had a discussion of Fan Paopao last year here.

  18. TonyP4 Says:

    This is what I wrote.

    ‘Americans are more free to donate organs (sometimes to perfect strangers) when they die. Not Chinese. It could be due to the culture difference.’ Did I say ‘culture difference’?

    There are countless examples of ‘Chinese are comparatively more selfish than Americans’. I was cut in line many times in China by well-dressed business folks, and I do not recall even once in America. A lot of Chinese spit and pick nose in public (some Chinese in America do same). I saw Chinese littered and very few educated folks here do same.

    We’ve a Chinese saying: do not give others what you do not want yourself. I’m a Chinese (Hong Kong) American and been in both countries for a while. If it is part of our culture, we should drop the bad ones and keep the good ones – this is called progress. It is my personal experience.

  19. Shane9219 Says:

    @TonyP4 #18

    Those so-called “civil” social habits are actually easy to improve. Efforts are made across many big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and GuangZhou. If you go this year, you should find some major improvement over the past. This is my own true experience.

    There are still many old traditions hard to change though. To be fair, not every old tradtion is bad. People have to adopt them into new ages.

  20. admin Says:

    Turning Schools From Death Traps Into Havens

  21. raventhorn4000 Says:


    It is getting more difficult for foreigners to adopt kids from China. I looked into it for my wife and I. The fees have increased to over $30K for each adoption, additionally, single parent adoption are no longer allowed. Both parents must be over 30, and must be married for at least 5 years. Income per year has to meet some minimum.

    But as far as adoption, it’s still much easier to adopt a child from China than in US, where there is requirement for additional wait time as “foster parents”.

    I think China and Russia both used to be very easy for Westerners to adopt children from, but both are setting more rules.

    The reason is actually that in the last few years, there have been several cases of severe child abuses involving adopted children from China and Russia.

    I do not mention this to point to any cultural defects for anyone, but I do think China and Russia should increase their regulation of foreign adoptions to prevent possible abuses to the Children. It’s already psychologically damaging enough to put the child through such a “culture shock”, it’s not wise to allow questionable people to adopt the children and move them 1000’s miles away, without some extensive background checks.

  22. JXie Says:

    TonyP4, obviously your definition of selfishness is not exactly the same as Ayn Rand, but isn’t adopting mostly selfishly motivated, i.e. satisfying one’s parenting desire? Nothing wrong with that BTW.

    I was cut in line many times in China by well-dressed business folks,

    Sometimes it may be because of the body space — you gave so much space in front of you that others in their cultural context consider you not in the line. In China, give the person in front of you a close hug…

    A lot of Chinese spit and pick nose in public (some Chinese in America do same).

    Just about every golfers and baseball players in or out of TV cameras spit… Now there are ok spits and not-so-ok spits. Spit on the sidewalk, probably not. Spit before you step into the batter’s box, seems to be ok. Spit on the green but not near the pin, seems to be ok. Spit in the cup, a big no-no — just ask Sergio Garcia.

  23. TonyP4 Says:

    JXie, spitting is not a good habit – no matter what nationality you’re. A lot of Chinese spit in public and a few Americans (almost all baseball players) spit during the games. A kind of cultural difference like wearing pajamas and walking in the street.

    Here is the joke on personal space (sorry only in Chinese):

    大陸人怎麼排 隊
    很簡單,和您前後的人(不論男女)前胸貼後背,外加伸出您的玉手抓住前 一兩 個人的肩膀或是手臂,這不就完成了嗎?(picture rated X has been deleted but you can use your imagination)


  24. S.K. Cheung Says:

    There are altruistic Americans, and not-so altruistic ones. There are altruistic Chinese, and not-so altruistic ones. To try to generalize it to which society is the more altruistic one, is probably not going to get very far, as evidenced by this thread so far.

    I’d go so far as to ask when generosity is truly self-less, since those who are being generous still benefit from the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with having been so.

  25. Charles Liu Says:

    Here are few more things the the typical expat China blogsphere didn’t care for:

    – There were many schools near the epicentor that didn’t collapse, not just this one.

    – Some experts in China said shearing force varied throughout the region depending on soil condition; some area had increased quake magnitude due to sandy substrate, while buildings on rocky substrate fared better. It’s not as simple as blaming poor construction, as it is unlikely to be the sole factor.

    – The region’s quake standard in building code for the last 20-30 years was way below the quake that struck.

  26. TonyP4 Says:

    The discussion would be more meaningful if we talk about how this disaster would help China to prepare for the next one. Comparing to TongShen earthquake, China did a decent job. The following is my outline and I hope other FMers have more and better ideas.

    1. Building codes, enforcement and corruption. Better houses would reduce the no. of fatalities esp. in weaker earthquakes.

    2. Helicopters would help a lot to survive. I feel China did not have enough of them and/or they are not strategically located.

    3. China refused US’s help. The US carrier was close by. Is ‘saving face’ more important than the lives of its citizens?

    4. Rescue facilities such as warehousing supplies, canine rescue unit…

    5. Does China have something equivalent to US’s National Guard that could help in emergency?

    The list could be a long one and hope China already have prepared for the next big one.

  27. shane9219 Says:

    @TonyP4 #26

    “China refused US’s help. The US carrier was close by. Is ’saving face’ more important than the lives of its citizens?”

    That was not the actual facts. Also to post such question — “whether US carrier should be allowed to carry out mission off China’s coast” showed you still don’t really understand Chinese after hanging on this forum.

    This Wenchuan rescue efforts were one of the most open international operations. US rescue donation was flown directly from Hawaii base into Sichuan by a USAF transporter. On the ground, there were several US based NGOs. That said, the rescue efforts eventually belong to Chinese, and Chinese are proud of being independent and self-reliance.

    “The discussion would be more meaningful if we talk about how this disaster would help China to prepare for the next one.”

    Here is more info for you

    China’s White Paper for Disaster Prevention and Reduction


    China to install experimental alert system in quake-prone areas


  28. Berlin Says:

    I would think it would be really helpful to teach school children how to cope when there are natural disasters (for instance where to hide, whether to run or not). US schools have very good fire drills etc. I live in a place with constant tornado threats, and all the school prepare very well for tornados.

    @Tony, the Chinese military can be quickly mobilized for rescue effort. They may be as efficient, if not more, as the National guards.

  29. shane9219 Says:


    ” it would be really helpful to teach school children how to cope when there are natural disasters …”

    Yes, disaster prevention and rescue education is now mandatory from elementary school and up.

  30. Charles Liu Says:

    Tony, Bush refused help from the Chinese after Katrina. Was he being petty on “face”, or isues such as this involing sovereignty and national security requires carful consideration?

    It’s so easy to see China in certain light; I think your sentiments proves this to many of us.

  31. JXie Says:

    The alacrity shown in the Sichuan earthquake relief efforts, was night and day compared to the post-Katrina relief efforts. At a micro level, it’s pretty apparent that the US is superior in measures such as air lift capability; But at a macro level, gosh, Wen and his lieutenants were vastly better than Bush/Brown.

  32. Berlin Says:

    @Jxie, I agree. Wen and Hu led the troops actually to areas hardest hit by the earthquake. No matter how much you disagree with them in other areas, you cannot fault them with their reaction after the earthquake.

    Chinese government mobilizes rather easily after such disasters.

  33. TonyP4 Says:

    The following is written by my high school classmate Joe after reading my blog on same topic. Most likely, he will not respond to your reply. Joe had donated schools to his hometown in China, so he is concerned about school building.

    On a unrelated subject. We should use statistics (which works most of the time but not all the time) rather than specific incident. There are many examples in this thread already. We, the fools, seem to argue using our emotions/dumb nationalism rather than facts. I’m particularly guilty as charged.


    Most buildings in China do not have building code. It is long way before China can handle earthquake destruction well. If there is no building code, talking about corruption is pointless. No building code, no standard, no responsibility, no corruption ….

    I was very upset and worried about the school building our family donated in our village. But I was explained that there is no way I can worry about that. Again! No building code, no responsibility. Our relative advice me that he is very careful to make sure he is doing his best to provide a ‘strong’ building.

    China aware of not enough technology in aerospace. With US weapon embargo fully on, it is hard for China to move up too quickly to build more helicopters. But it is more of preparedness than enough hardware. China have few hundred helicopters. If China mobilize them very early, most of them can reach the scene within 10 hours. If not because prime minister was in charge and was very mad to see too little helicopters arrived, there will be far less helicopter arrive at the scene. Watching Wen very mad, very sad and ordered the general: “I don’t care how you do it. You must got it done!” It is sad to see many areas do not have rescuer in 3 days. It is hard for foot soldiers to reach the scene without roads. But…

    China did a very good job. More than 100K soldiers and many more volunteers are mobilized. Which made foreign rescuers just a mere token, without right protocol, it is hard to mobilize foreign help. It is not face saving or not face saving. 4 countries sent rescuers, not only late, but a 20ish per country is just good faith. Hope the world can form a World Natural disaster Organization under UN. (WDO).

    After the quake China made a deal with Russia to build the world biggest helicopter.

    Chinese military have many functions. They build roads, wilderness reclamation, water reclamation, fire fighting, earth quake fighting or any natural disaster or manmade disaster such as mine collapse etc. There are many different units. I don’t know them all. But they seems very effective. The 5.12 show the power of Chinese army in action. Very swift, massive….

    In short, Chinese soldiers have to work. Not sitting around.

    In comparison, we should feel shame of our Katrina disaster. We did a lousy job. Our rebuilding process is even worse. China is a much poorer nation. China put in far extensive rescue action and a far massive rebuilding process.


  34. TonyP4 Says:

    This is from my classmate Steve from our own discussion of Nanking. It will never happen again but it did. My theory is we’re moving from ‘loyalty to the emperor’ to ‘for the people’ at the times. During Qing, the emperor was regarded as a ‘foreigner’, not as one of the minorities as in today.


    It is however sad for us that we had a corrupt government (if we had one) – (Tony: I can have a long, long discussion on this, well save it for next time), and everybody was so selfish and cared only for their wealth.

    I can never imagine that a troop of 10,000 Japanese marines that can march to Nanking; and 5,000 British marines could march to Beijing during the Opium War. Those are the national disgrace that can never, never be repeated. We learned from history, and trust that the leaders will never follow the previous mistakes that we made.

    Steve also says:

    Do you know that the Emperor of Japan was spared from prosecution by General McCarty as a war criminal on condition that he handed in the secret research papers that they performed in China? That is the reason why Japan and U.S are the leading countries in cosmetic surgeries and skin products. So next time, ladies, if you put on your makeup, please consider that the blood of the Chinese people may play part of it to glorify your appearance

  35. Shane9219 Says:

    @Tony #33

    I read a few good comments from your friend, your friend sure knew a lot about China. Building code was upgraded and enforced in the 90s’ after China’s cities started their building booming. However, a weaker building code of 80s’ was not enforced well in the country side. The government now has learned a big lesson, so let us see how it makes progress on this front.

    The mobility of China’s army is still very much land-based. China’s army has a limited air-lifting capability, in comparison to US and Russia. And the army wanted to keep those air-lifting logistics for strategic defense.

    If you want to dig deeper on this, it is mainly the result of world-wide sanction on exporting military equipment to China, following the 6-4 Tiananman incident.

  36. Charles Liu Says:

    Shane, someone had mentioned the Chinese can’t even import riot gear because of the sanction. Then when ill-equiped police resort to what necessity they do have on hand to enforce law and keep peace, the western media/bloggers jumps all over it to demonize China.

    Same thing with the earth quake reporting by the west. When buildings collapsed during a huge earth quake – let’s not cover the facts like sandy/rocky substrate, buildings built on old code – let’s focus on the greiving parents lashing out and paint China’s national suffering in the worst light possible.

  37. TonyP4 Says:

    #33 and #34.

    There are several grammatical mistakes and typos due to the casual e-mail communication. English is not our native language to start. They’re still working so their time is very limited.

    Helicopter is a weak link in the Chinese military.

    “100,000 Japs and 5,000 Britons marched to Beijing”. The no. of farmer army marched to Beijing at the end of Ming is about 1 million, and then the Qing marched to Beijing with Ng’s (a Ming’s general) help is far less than the 1 million within 2 months. I’m reading the life of Ng – a very interesting figure in our history.

    Hitler and the emperor of Japan should be both prosecuted as war criminals and the evil empire of Japan should be abolished. Chinese believe when you commit crimes, your children and grand children will suffer. I’m still witnessing whether it is true or not.

  38. TonyP4 Says:

    This is another e-mail related to Nanjing Joe wrote. I would like to share it with our FMers. It is a long e-mail, but quite interesting and emotional. Let me know how you feel.

    It could be your background and how your parent brought you up to make you a better and successful man in life. CCP today is quite different and we are happy the worst is over finally.


    My mom, 98, had 12 kids, only 7 survive. She refused to talk about our own suffering. Only mention Japanese surrounded the remote village and rounded everyone up and murdered them all. It must be too painful for her hiding in the wild watching close relative murdered. When she first arrived in SF, I picked her up with my new Corolla, she refused to sit in the car. It took me a while to sweet talk to her. When I bought a Town and Country, the first thing she asked me is what make. When I told her American car, she repeated – good boy, good boy, many times. Well! In 1945, our whole family went back to Xiamen. We suffered through evil Mao. My proud uncle ‘bought’ us out of China. I remembered the first time, only my kid brother and my mom were allowed to come to HK. My proud uncle stop payment to HK Mao connection. My mom took Paul and went back to China, telling her brother, either we all came out or we all died in there. Being a Christian with ‘rich’ status. Anyone can imagine how painful for us. Not that I knew it that well. I was too young. Lucky! We escaped Cultural Revolution.

    I don’t know who to hate. I wasn’t so happy when I first arrived in HK. In our village, the crooks took bride under table. In HK, the police took bride openly. There were no clean police in HK at the time. I have no faith in human race. Those New York kids protested HK child labor. But HK had no welfare system, if a poor 11 years old, me!, do not allow to work, I can only take the job home, being paid half the pay. I protested once watching TV news talking about it. Mom quietly asked me to pray with her. She doesn’t want me to hate anyone.

    I had no faith in humanity. The whole West are full of hypocrisy!

    I refused to take history class in HK. It was pointless to learn ugly human behavior.

    The first time I learned the word ’embargo’ was in US, history class. I can’t believe how evil that we can come up with such idea. Crucifying a war torn, backward nation by preventing trade is too evil. I totally lost faith in democracy. We yell beautiful slogans, but we commit such a crime.

    History class was compulsory. I challenged the professor that why should I forced to take history and government that I have zero background. My professor asked me, if it was OK that I tried my best to read and tell him what grade I wanted. He was too liberal. I told him A. He asked me why? I said all my majors were A. I could not afford C. I suddenly realized democracy is not so bad after all.

    Anyway, being Chinese, I am happy I have the chance to watch good Lord giving China the second chance to become the world dominating economy. Finally, Chinese have a chance to survive well again.

    Hope China can turn into a well behave society.

  39. TonyP4 Says:

    Typo. ‘bride’ should be ‘bribe’. What a stupid language, haha!

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