Where Does One Begin?

At this point, the earthquake is likely to be the story of 2008 in China, even overshadowing the that magical day in August when the Summer Olympics kick off. It's already two weeks since that afternoon, but it still weighs heavily on everyone's mind. The absolute tragedy of it all, the sudden shock, the loss of 60,00+ and rising by the day, it's very difficult to put into perspective.

We've avoided writing about the subject for the most part so far, but have since decided its time to do our best and tackle it. There are a number of different perspectives to look at this from and we'll try to analyze it from all, or at least many, of them.

For the Chinese government, the earthquake was an absolute tragedy, but the size and nature of the tragedy and the government's response to it (especially as compared to Burma's response to the cyclone) caused the international community to do a complete 180 in their view of China. Even the Dala! Lama may (or may not) have changed his position on attending the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics. The world community has stood alongside China, donating money and goods in huge number while the government has been very organized in putting together relief effort and aid. However, lest this outpouring of goodwill be forgotten and threaten to give Beijing's Olympics a black eye (like during those rough days in March), BOCOG has rerouted the torch so that its final stop before ending up in Beijing will be Sichuan. Sure it made sense to change the scheduling (the torch was originally supposed to go through Sichuan in early June), but a bit of the cynic is coming out and seeing this as a very (well) calculated move by BOCOG and the Chinese government. At the same time, this tragedy is sure to have major consequences for the Chinese economy during the 3rd and 4th quarter of this year and beyond, especially compounded with the Olympics hit China is sure to take.

The people are another story. There was an unbelievable outpouring of communal grief and patriotism, the likes of which I have never seen. While some may have originally written it off as disingenuous or government inspired, almost all of it was extremely heart felt, personal, and grueling. Donation campaigns started around the city almost immediately and charity events continue to this day. Sudden vigils/remembrances were popping up around Beijing each night, as well as a number of other cities. The political implications of the 3 days of mourning and the lowering the flags to half staff are also very important. The decision was unprecedented in Chinese history, this was the first time these actions were taken to honor ordinary citizens, it was the Chinese government recognizing that it has citizens. I think it was for this reason that after a procession that started in Tiananmen and went around the city on the first night of mourning, the police presence around the city was heightened to levels I haven't seen in a long time, especially in/around Tiananmen on day two (don't forget, we're not that far away from a certain day in June). Yet those events aren't on the minds of most people, perhaps down the road, this will be remembered as an unbelievable first step, but for the time being, everyone was concentrated on mourning and rebuilding.

Some of our contributors and friends witnessed the US response and the outpouring that took place after 9/11 and said that could hardly compare in terms of grief and true feelings to the response that ordinary Chinese felt after the earthquake. Of course the numbers and causes were very different, but the fear, the bravery, and the defiance were there in both cases, but so much stronger in China. The Chinese sense of patriotism and brotherhood is stirring, if not a little scary if you're a foreigner.

In the coming days, we'll take a look at how the media reacted to this and compare/contrast this response with US/foreign media. Even composing this was hard, right now, our hearts go out to all the people in Sichuan, Gansu, and other affected areas. We hope that this event stays in people's minds and the oversight that is required as the rebuilding begins will take place and people won't let this slip away.

UPDATE: Being extremely lazy lately and ignoring Chinalyst over the Memorial Day holiday, I've just found out some others have been saying similar things as we said here.

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