Sichuan architect Liu Jiakun has constructed a memorial for Hu Huishan, a 15-year-old student who died in the May 12, 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Details on Liu’s decision to erect the memorial hall from China Daily:
Liu got to know about Hu three days after her death. He was then volunteering his services at the Juyuan Middle School, where parents claim shoddy construction was mainly to blame for the death of about 900 students. The school became a mass of debris, through which rescue machines plowed, as scores of miserable parents stood by clutching their child’s photo in their hands.
That’s when the architect saw Liu Li, Hu’s mother. The 40-year-old laid-off worker, dressed in black, was holding a plastic bag, in which she had preserved the girl’s umbilical cord and baby teeth. Incoherently, she recalled her daughter. “We love her deeply,” she said, choking on her tears. Her husband, Hu Ming, 43, wore no expression but kept mumbling, “so many kids have gone.”
Liu tried to comfort them by offering them money, but was turned down by the proud father, a taxi driver. They exchanged telephone numbers, and for a long time, the couple were haunted by Liu’s memories.
“I am a father of an 8 year old. I can hardly imagine what it would be like to see my son under that rubble. I really wanted to do something for the family,” he says.
He considered convincing them to take money so that Liu Li could have her asthma cured. Finally, he came up with the idea of building a memorial for Hu Huishan.
The memorial hall has been complete for over 6 months, but due to intervention by authorities, it is not open to the public. A forwarded message from Liu Jiakun has been spreading on the Internet. The introduction has been translated by CDT, and the forwarded letter has been translated by Lin Fanyu and edited for clarity. Photos provided by Iwan Baan and Liu Jiakun’s studio:
Architectural piece: Hu Huishan Memorial
The small memorial hall designed and contributed by Liu Jiakun was not for the state, nor the nation, nor the regime, nor a great figure. Nor was it created as an educational site to uphold nationalism or heroism. It was erected to remember a life lost in the 5.12 earthquake, an ordinary but priceless life — that of Hu Huishan, a 3rd year student in class one at Juyuan Middle School in Juyuan Township, Dujiangyan, Sichuan.
Its appeal to social meaning is very clear, but is not understood by current authorities. “Treasuring the value of ordinary lives will be the foundation of our nation’s revival.” Its design concepts are very direct and strong: a temporary shelter for disaster victims, a dwelling for the spirit of the deceased and a place to put belongings frozen “forever” in time. The atmosphere in this space is moving and profound. Located in a secluded nook, the home is greenish gray, simple. It’s a cold shell that protects a pink, vibrant, soft, and beautiful interior. In my opinion, this small building may be no Bird’s Nest or CCTV [tower], but its architect has given us this era’s most powerful question and response.
In reality, what’s most amazing is that this kind of small building is exceptionally low-key, having withstood a great and nameless “pressure.” It was quietly constructed and could not go public in order to avoid premature bad luck. The project finally finished on the 5.12 earthquake’s 1 year anniversary. Friends concerned with the memorial hall let out a sigh, and all wished to visit [Hu Huishan]. Suddenly, people received word of even more unbelievable news: the “relevant authorities” were informed about the memorial hall and would not allow it to open to the public!
Now, we must do our utmost, widely disseminate news of Hu Huishan’s Memorial to the public, seek approval from society’s enlightened people, get the media’s support, and fight for the early opening of this memorial.
Below is Liu Jiakun’s forwarded article. Feel free to pass this on to your friends:
Hu Huishan Memorial 胡慧姗纪念馆
Liu Jiakun 刘家琨
Hu Huishan, female, grade 9, class one student at Juyuan Middle School, Juyuan Town, Dujiangyan city, Sichuan. She was born on October 11, 1992. On May 12, 2008 she was buried in the Wenchuan earthquake that occurred at 2:28 pm. Her exact time of death remains unclear. Her life spanned 15 years, and her cremation took place on May 15, 2008. She enjoyed literature, and dreamed of becoming a writer.
Father: Hu Ming, laid-off worker of Qingcheng Paper mill, Dujiangyan, aged 43.
Mother: Liu Li, laid-off worker of Qingcheng Paper mill, Dujiangyan, aged 40.
My daughter’s last words to me at 7 o’clock in the morning were, “Mum, yesterday was Mother’s Day, but I forgot to send you flowers. Also, I forgot to take the milk. Could you ask my uncle to bring it to me?” My daughter left the world three days after her father’s birthday, two days after Mother’s Day, and 11 days after her father’s and my wedding anniversary. In her last days, she was suffering from allergies and itchy red measles. I am so sorry, daughter!
(Extracted from Liu Li’s mobile record)
On the 15th of May, I paid my first visit to Juyuan Middle School. I think I met Hu Ming and Liu Li then; however, I am not certain, for at the time, I was in a state of shock. I returned on the 28th of May, still finding other parents mourning their losses, including a mother who had both of her twin daughters buried in the ruins. As I recall now, it was Liu Li’s detailed thoughtfulness in keeping her daughter’s umbilical cord and deciduous tooth, as well as Hu Ming’s toughness and pride that moved me. We talked for a long time — or to be more precise, I listened for a long time, because there was nothing else, as a matter of fact, that I could say. It makes me wonder, who are the ones that bear the deepest sorrow in this earthquake? I think it must be those parents who have lost their children. Upon departure, I spoke to Liu Li, “Give birth to another baby girl and name her Hu Huishan.” “Right!” her eyes suddenly sparkled with hope, “that is exactly what I was thinking.” Through these words, the couple and I arrived at a mutual understanding. I decided to offer them long-term help until they embarked on their new life. I didn’t know how I could help them, so I jotted down their contact information. I also noticed Liu Li had serious asthma.
On the next day, I made a phone call to Hu Ming and asked him to help me collect the schoolbags scattered on the ground. After that, I stopped contacting them for a few days. It might be the effect from those psycho-interference programs on TV that led to my hesitation. I asked myself if my going would inflict wounds on their hearts.
I went back to Juyuan on the 21st of June with a few things in mind. First, I wanted to collect the schoolbags, and besides that, I wanted to speak with them about getting Liu Li to see a doctor. To my astonishment, I found them living in a makeshift tent. In the disaster, they lost not only their daughter, but also their house. Together with them was their surviving but disabled old mother. The schoolbags were nowhere to be found, for the tent area was almost a mess. At the beginning, I took it for granted that he would have kept the collected schoolbags at his home. Hu Ming felt a bit guilty about this, so I quickly turned away from this topic. In our random conversations, I came to realize that my worries were totally useless. They have lost their precious child and their hope, but they were still in need of someone to listen to them deeply, as listening itself brings consolation.
I muttered the idea that had been lingering in my mind for days: to build a small memorial for their daughter. And what followed surpassed my expectations. Their sincere gratitude for my tiny effort made me reconsider the meaning of life. Up till then, I was ashamed of my lack of ability that does not allow me to achieve much that is practical. And until then, I suspected my idea might be too poetic given their current situation, and that it would not equate to any practical help for them. But Hu Ming’s words cleared my doubts. Physical sufferings are all “worldly possessions”, and the most heartfelt consolation must come from the healing of the soul. If so, then, we can only go with our heart, and give whatever we can provide.
The Hu Huishan memorial takes its model from the pitched roof makeshift tents frequently used in quake-stricken areas. It was built with column and beam framed construction and rebirth bricks. The surfaces are plastered in a way similar to that in local countryside houses. The floor in the exterior and interior is paved with red bricks, just as those commonly seen in the houses at quake-stricken areas. The goal is to achieve a sense of simplicity, austerity and universality. A pure space placed among the trees and the open field. Though small, it is enough to remind people of the collective memory of the earthquake. Though small, it is the most meaningful work I have done in my whole architectural career.
Inside the memorial, the sidewalls display a few remembrances which record Hu Huishan’s short life: photos, schoolbag, notebooks, deciduous tooth, umbilical cord… Her life didn’t leave many traces in society. She is not a celebrity, only a normal girl – a pearl in her parents’ eyes.
A screen is set on the wall of the far end, displaying a series of videos recorded in Juyuan after I met her parents. This small space can accommodate a few people to sit and view the screen, thus functioning much like a small family projection room. It displays nothing solemn or loud, but something in memory of a flowery age maiden, and something about how a despaired family strives to live on.
I don’t know whether this memorial, which I donated and built, is the smallest one in the world. But this memorial is built for their daughter, and is also built for all the ordinary lives. Treasuring the value of ordinary lives will be the foundation of our nation’s revival.
地点（Location）：中国 四川大邑安仁 Dayi town,Dayi county, Sichuan Province, P.R.C
建筑师（Architects）：刘家琨、罗明，孙恩，张瞳/ Liu Jiakun,Luo Ming,Sun En,Zhang Tong
结构工程（Structural Engineering）：刘速 Liu Su
基地面积（Site Area）： 58m²
建筑面积（Building area）：19 m²
业主（Owner）：家琨建筑工作室捐建 donated and constructed by Jiakun Architects
项目概念和描述（Project Concept and description）
Hu Huishan Memorial House located in a piece of forest next to the “512 Exhibition Hall” of Jianchuan Museum Cluster, Anren. This memorial is built for Hu Huishan, an ordinary female student from Juyuan Middle School who was buried in the Wenchuan earthquake. The memorial takes its model from makeshift tents. The floor in the exterior is paved with red bricks, and the surfaces is plastered in a way that is done in the local countryside houses. The interior wall is painted into pink which is the girl’s favorite color and full of remembrances , which recorded her short life. A ray of light from a round clerestory, makes this small space pure and charming —— this memorial is built for an ordinary girl, and is also built for all the ordinary lives —— Treasuring the value of ordinary lives will be the foundation of our nation’s revival….(林凡榆翻译)