Sichuan Earthquake

What should be remembered about the Beichuan Earthquake?

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Earthquake memorial at Beichuan Middle School

Journalist Teng Yun blogged yesterday about how best to observe the one-year anniversary of the Beichuan Earthquake on May 12:

Commemorating the earthquake, or commemorating the earthquake effort?

by Teng Yun

During last year's national memorial I was in Beichuan. When I looked on the Internet after I got back, I learned that it had been grand and moving. When it took place, Beichuan had been roasting in the scorching sun, its county seat dead silent, and naturally there had been no spectacle.

This difference has remained in my mind ever since. A public memorial draws a sharp separation between victims and non-victims of a disaster, shoving them into two distinct piles. The tears of one group wells up, while the other group remains numb, as if the event has nothing to do with them. Hence when I looked at the public memorial, I saw only its usefulness for non-victims, but I could not see how it had any use for the victims. Of course, the swift assistance it generated from all corners of the country could be counted as an indirect effect for the victims.

May 12 draws near, and signs point to a large-scale commemoration. Yet there does not seem to be any indication of what will be commemorated. From my own personal experience, I hope to see a commemoration of the disaster, and I would accept a public memorial along the lines of the Qingming festival. What should absolutely not be done, but what I'm 80% certain will actually happen, is to turn it into a commemoration of the spirit of the earthquake effort. Tears may flow on that day, but I fear that someone will jump up on stage and lead the people in collective weeping; I fear that someone will majestically declare that China won a great victory that has impressed everyone; I fear that the commotion will push the victims and non-victims back into two piles; I fear an explosion of confidence and pride that people understand to be an offering to the country on its 60th anniversary, even as they forget that an offering to the country no longer requires the sacrifice of 100,000 people.

The spirit of the earthquake rescue has been commemorated and should stop here. On the earthquake's first anniversary, second anniversary, third anniversary....what should be commemorated are the dead, and the disaster itself.

Yesterday [April 22], when the whole world commemorated the slaughter of Jews in the second world war, people brought flowers to concentration camps in Poland, sirens sounded in Israel, and the whole world stood in respect. That was to commemorate a disaster. For the 30th anniversary of the Tangshan Earthquake in 2006, a sense of history led practical meaning to be brushed aside, turning it back into a commemoration of a disaster. For we understood that no practical meaning can be extracted from the hundreds of thousands of people killed in an instant by a natural disaster. I do not know whether religious compassion is present within all commemoration, but at the very least I believe that they must be in line with humanity — death is a disturbing thing for the living.

Let me mention in passing something Ma Ying-jeou said today: For the Chinese people to engage in another civil war would be a tragedy for humanity. I've just finished watching the establishment TV drama The Mutable World (人间正道是沧桑), and the character Yang Liqing understood even in those days what it meant to lose 800 men to kill 1,000 of the enemy. Yet our mainland netizens are insistent that Ma first raise the flag of surrender, or else they'll charge over and spare no one. And even when peaceful unification has been achieved, the two sides of the strait need to join hands to fight Japan.

It's a damn wasted commemoration.

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