Bloggers’ Reactions to the 5.12 Earthquake’s First Anniversary
Today marks the 1st anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake. Netizens across the web have weighed in on this solemn day. The following is a brief selection from Chinese bloggers Chang Ping, Hecaitou, and Ai Weiwei. Excerpted and translated by CDT.
From Chang Ping, “How Should We Help the Disaster Areas?” (“我们应该怎样帮助灾区”). Chang Ping is a noted journalist and himself from Sichuan.
Officials have gone, journalists have gone, celebrities have gone, tourists have gone, volunteers have gone …… It will undoubtedly be bustling today in Sichuan’s earthquake disaster areas. In my mind, it should be quieter. After all, this is a memorial anniversary, not a celebratory one. However, I can’t speak and myself not ache. I know the hearts of those in the disaster zones: if it’s too loud, they’ll hate the noise, but if it’s too quiet, they’ll fear being left behind. Comparatively speaking, the latter is more dreadful, so they prefer the commotion.
Moreover, this commotion is being turned into a form of profiteering. To use the words of local officials, this is an important source of tourism. As a result, they’re eager to set up earthquake tourism spots and hope that visitors’ grief, inspection, and experience can become a source of sustained revenue. Some people are absolutely opposed to having 90,000 people’s tragedy be turned into destination sight-seeing spots. My attitude is not as resolute as theirs, but I think people should have at least waited for the dead’s bones to grow cold. Waiting until this time would make it seem more as if people were coming to more deeply understand and be alerted to people’s tragedy, rather than seem as if they were coming to take advantage and make profit of an unfortunate time.
[...] Then, how should we help those in disaster areas? As this year approached, my friends kept bringing up this question. To be frank, this is an incomplete question. If you want to think about how to go and help these areas, you must first know what kind of help these areas need, which is to say that you must first understand their current situation and existing problems. However, from media reports, we always see that their situation is great, that those in disaster zones have already received enough care, that they’re always smiling. If you just watch television, you might think that they’re happier than outsiders, or that they’re even happier than they were pre-earthquake. Now how can this be?
[...] In the media, the more important thing [than the initial outpouring of aid and later government-directed work] seems to be the newfound strength of civil society: the awakening of NGOs and the maturing of charity organizations makes up society’s “third division.” How have these strengths developed in this year? Actually, this is a situation that the media must summarize and review; information these organizations transmit about the current situation and needs of disaster areas is extremely important.
Society ought to grow in its response to helping disaster areas, and we ought to make progress, too. In this sense, by helping those in disaster zones, we are helping ourselves. They won’t always be disaster zones. When they cease to be, what else must we do?
Last year at this time, we were people in the disaster zone.
This year at this time, we are people in the infected zone.
Last year, we went out to avoid the [dangers of the] earthquake.
This year, we stay inside to avoid the flu.
Last year, we did not want to stay at home.
This year, we do not want hang around outside.
— Chengdu, the city you can’t escape
Ai Weiwei has written a hypothetical Q&A session for government officials, asked by himself and answered by himself.
Q: Why is it that you only released a student casualty figure once the May 12th earthquake’s 1st anniversary approached? How many students really died? Do you have this name list? Does your figure have any relation to the “citizen investigation” name list [Ai Weiwei's list]?
A: I will take responsibility in saying that we only produced the casualty number after a year of cross-checking. We don’t know how many died, but we do know who took money. You must believe us on this part. We will not publish a name list for these students, or publish any similar information. They touch upon “state classified information.” As for the specifics of that classified information, I don’t think you want to know them. I can also say that our numbers have no connection to other people’s investigations.
Q: Why is it that the student casualty figure went from 6376 to 5335 today? That is a 1041 person difference. Was the first figure correct, and will today’s number change again?
A: Publishing data requires a long process. At the time, we were too fast, and under such circumstances, it is hard to avoid errors. For example, if the student was not at school at the time, we later decided to take that into account.
As for the student casualty figure, we have no need to fabricate figures, nor will we fabricate such figures. In regards to other data, we may have this need, but we may not act upon it. The costs of fabricating figures is steadily increasing; we must carefully consider this. As for if other people have this need, and if they would also fabricate figures, please inquire with other departments.
Q: Why not publish the student casualty name list? Are there apprehensions that the dead may come back to life?
A: We are materialist, and do not know what you are asking. We are not publishing the name list so as to avoid great emotional distress for the relatives. As you can see, after Vietnam War and 911 name lists were published, America’s economy underwent a severe crisis; it is not as if there isn’t a link, here. We are a government that is very close to the people. We hope that victims’ families will be able to face the future: tourism [see Chang Ping's post above]. This way, calamity can become a great source for disaster sightseeing. Forgetting the past and rebuilding our homes, this is the spirit of our time.
Q: What do you think about the “citizen investigation”?
A: Our country is rich and powerful, so there will be some people who have eaten their fill and have nothing better to do. It is quite possible that 99% of them are mentally ill, as mentioned by the Peking University professor.
Please also read CDT’s translation post last year: Li Chengpeng: The True Story of the Miracle Survival of the Students and Teachers of Longhan Elementary School in Beichuan.