For Chinese Parents, Few Answers on Quake Deaths One Year Later (Updated)

China Geeks has posted an update on Ai Weiwei’s project to collect the names of all the children who were killed in collapsed schools in the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake:

Once again, Ai has posted a list of essays deleted from his blog with typical “Sorry for the inconvenience messages”. Among the deleted was his overview post on the numbers his team has come up with thusfar, which we posted here. He also reposted all of them on April 30th. As of this writing they’re still there, but how long they last this time is anyone’s guess.

Lest one get the impression that Ai Weiwei’s project attracts only harassment, we’ve provided a translation below of a thank you letter posted on Ai’s site. The accompanying photos are from the QQ page linked in the letter, and they are not for the faint of heart.

The new English-language version of Global Times also has a profile of Ai and his project:

At the last count, 5,161 names were on Ai’s list, which appears as part of his popular blog on Sina.com. It also includes “investigation diaries” written by a team of volunteers working with Ai to identify each of the students who lost their lives.

Dressed in a faded blue T-shirt and sporting his trademark bushy beard, 51-year-old Ai – the son of renowned poet Ai Qing and an advisor on the Bird’s Nest project – appeared composed as he spoke of his determination to uncover the truth.

“We’re creating the list so that these people are never forgotten, and to ensure that someone is held accountable,” he said.

“We are talking about a whole generation, how can we let them go so easily?”

The Times covers an Amnesty International report which documents the detentions and harassment of parents of the dead as they seek transparency and accountability:

The Amnesty report says that some parents and relatives have been detained for as long as 21 days for trying to seek answers from officials about why their children died. Some have been held repeatedly and the youngest relative was only 8 years old.

Officials have provided a variety of accounts, some saying that schools appeared to have been built with shoddy materials and others saying that the only reason for their collapse was the might of the earthquake. This has failed to satisfy parents who saw other buildings left standing while schoolrooms were flattened.

The report says: “Many of these parents’ lives were devastated when they lost their children in the Sichuan earthquake. It’s completely understandable that they would want to know why their children died and who was responsible. For the Chinese authorities to react by locking up parents, whose only crime was to demand some answers, is beyond belief.”

A report in the Christian Science Monitor, ”For Chinese parents, few answers on quake deaths one year later,” covers both the Amnesty report and the work of Ai Weiwei.

This Danwei post has more links to recent coverage of Ai. Read more about Ai’s project via CDT. See also all of our earthquake coverage.

Update
: In the New York Times, Edward Wong writes about a baby boom in the earthquake region and the bittersweet emotions felt by parents who have given birth again but are still grieving the death of their first child:

One year after the earthquake in Sichuan Province killed about 70,000 people and left 18,000 missing, mothers across the region are pregnant or giving birth again, aided by government medical teams dispensing fertility advice and doing reverse-sterilization procedures. Because of China’s policy limiting most families to having one child, the students who died were often their parents’ only offspring. Officials say they hope a wave of births will help defuse the anger that many grieving parents harbor over the collapses of so many schools on May 12, 2008, while nearby buildings often remained standing.

But the wounds have festered, in part because the Chinese government, wary of any challenge to its authoritarian rule, has muffled the parents and quashed public discussion of shoddy school construction. As attention focuses again on Sichuan during the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, the government has intensified its campaign to silence the parents and the media, resorting to harassment by police and threats of imprisonment.

“The government says, ‘Since you have a second child, why are you still asking about this?’ ” said Mr. Sang, a former factory worker who was detained by the police in January when he tried to take a train to Beijing to file a formal complaint. “We tell the government: ‘This is your responsibility, this is your fault. So why shouldn’t we question this?’ ”

Below is a tribute to the earthquake victims created by a sand artist:

May 5, 2009 10:22 AM
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Categories: Society