New homes, new lives rise from the ru­ins

China Daily European Weekly - - Front Page - By WANG KEJU and CUI JIA in Be­ichuan

It’s com­mon in China that newly mar­ried cou­ples want to move into a new house. But for earth­quake vic­tim Bu Zhena, the apart­ment in Be­ichuan Qiang au­ton­o­mous county in Sichuan prov­ince was more than a house. It rep­re­sented a new life.

Bu, a di­vorced mother, lost her only son in the mag­ni­tude-8 earth­quake that struck Be­ichuan on May 12, 2008. The quake claimed the lives of 69,227 peo­ple and in­jured 374,643 oth­ers.

“The mo­ment I learned of the death of my boy, I felt an­other earth­quake in my heart,” the 45-year-old says.

As her life was fall­ing apart, Bu re­ceived com­fort and strength from Zhao Qin, her cur­rent hus­band. Zhao lost his wife in the earth­quake, but their 3-year-old daugh­ter sur­vived. Bu, Zhao and the girl formed a new fam­ily in 2009.

Less than two years later, they were of­fered a res­i­dence in newly built apart­ments in the new Be­ichuan county seat, to­gether with 7,396 other house­holds. The area had been re­ha­bil­i­tated af­ter the earth­quake.

“It’s very lucky that I could start a fam­ily again,” Bu says. “I never thought I would hit the jack­pot and have my own house in such a well-de­signed town. I now have a fam­ily and a home.”

Be­ichuan Qiang au­ton­o­mous county was the worst-hit area of the fe­ro­cious Wenchun earth­quake. About 20,000 res­i­dents were killed or left miss­ing, around one-fourth of the over­all cat­a­strophic death toll.

Ten years later, 38 coun­ties and dis­tricts in Sichuan that were dam­aged or de­mol­ished have been re­con­structed. New schools, hos­pi­tals, apart­ment build­ings and parks have risen from the ru­ins. Places once dev­as­tated, such as Be­ichuan and Wenchuan, have a new look.

When Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping vis­ited Yingxiu town­ship, the epi­cen­ter of the earth­quake, in Fe­bru­ary, he spoke highly of the achieve­ments made dur­ing post-dis­as­ter restora­tion and re­con­struc­tion. It demon­strates the strong lead­er­ship of the Com­mu­nist Party of China and the su­pe­ri­or­ity of the so­cial­ist sys­tem, he said.

He called for con­tin­u­ous efforts to pro­mote in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment, im­prove peo­ple’s liveli­hoods and build a bet­ter com­mu­nity for lo­cal peo­ple.

Cov­er­ing an area of about 5 square kilo­me­ters and home to 35,000 peo­ple, the new Be­ichuan was built from scratch about 23 kilo­me­ters south­east of the old county seat, which was se­verely dam­aged dur­ing the quake.

The old Be­ichuan, one of the largest ar­eas of earth­quake re­mains in the world, is be­ing pre­served as a site for sci­en­tists to study the im­pact of quakes on dif­fer­ent kinds of build­ings.

Zhang Gang, chief plan­ner of ur­ban-ru­ral con­struc­tion in Be­ichuan, says the old Be­ichuan county seat was built on ground with a high risk of geological dis­as­ter.

“Con­fined by sur­round­ing moun­tains, the orig­i­nal site is un­suit­able and im­prac­ti­cal for re­con­struc­tion,” he says. “That led to the con­struc­tion of a brand-new county seat else­where.”

Zhang says the new build­ings will be able to hold up in var­i­ous dis­as­ter con­di­tions, with quake re­sis­tance higher than av­er­age.

Earth­quake ex­perts use a spe­cial met­ric to ex­press a build­ing’s level of re­sis­tance. Nor­mal build­ings in Be­ichuan, such as res­i­den­tial apart­ments, have been built to with­stand seis­mic in­ten­sity of 7 de­grees, while key struc­tures such as schools and hos­pi­tals can with­stand 8 de­grees of in­ten­sity. Ex­perts say this is a high level of safety. The de­grees do not equate to earth­quake mag­ni­tude be­cause there are many vari­ables, such as dis­tance, type of ground, depth of epi­cen­ter and other fac­tors, but a rough rule of thumb is that a mag­ni­tude-8 earth­quake would de­liver a shock level of 12 de­grees at the epi­cen­ter.

Big scale, fast speed

The new Be­ichuan county project went quickly, start­ing on May 25, 2009, with sup­port from Shan­dong prov­ince. It was com­pleted in only 15 months, on Sept 25, 2010.

“We’re proud of the speed and scale of our re­con­struc­tion, which is an ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ment by any stan­dard and should make China proud,” Zhang says. “Only a big, strong coun­try with a pow­er­ful govern­ment can achieve this.”

Wang Shoulei, di­rec­tor of Be­ichuan county’s publicity depart­ment, says the newly re­stored area is a hot tourism at­trac­tion for visi­tors, both to see the new lives of earth­quake sur­vivors and the re­gion’s unique eth­nic cul­ture.

In China’s only Qiang au­ton­o­mous county — a sort of liv­ing mu­seum — tourists can en­joy the sig­na­ture com­mer­cial pedes­trian street, which was built with Qiang ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures. Cus­toms are also pre­served and cel­e­brated.

Banaqia dis­trict, the land­mark project of the new county, is now a busy shop­ping street con­sist­ing of cafes, restau­rants and shops with lo­cal spe­cial­ties and Qiang eth­nic crafts demon­strated by lo­cals. “Banaqia” means mar­ket in the Qiang lan­guage.

Large-scale shows are staged in the pub­lic area, in­clud­ing a dragon dance and Qiang eth­nic songs and other per­for­mances. Visi­tors can join lo­cals for a Qiang-style camp­fire and out­door din­ner, and take home some of Be­ichuan’s fa­mous smoked food, in­clud­ing pork, sausage and wild an­i­mal meat.

In 2017, the num­ber of do­mes­tic tourists reached 6.35 mil­lion, with to­tal tourism revenue of 5.1 bil­lion yuan ($801 mil­lion; 678 mil­lion eu­ros; £592 mil­lion)— 13.5 times the money gen­er­ated in 2007, ac­cord­ing to the county govern­ment.

But a com­plete com­mu­nity can­not be cre­ated just by build­ing houses and busi­nesses. The re­con­struc­tion of lives is a more ar­du­ous task.

“I was born and grew up in the old county. It’s not easy to say good­bye to a place so fa­mil­iar,” says An Ping, 47, a Be­ichuan res­i­dent who lost her 11-year-old daugh­ter in the quake.

“But I sup­port re­build­ing in an­other place. It would only break peo­ple’s

hearts to re­main, with so many beloved ones sleep­ing be­neath you.”

She re­mar­ried af­ter the quake and now has 7-year-old twin daugh­ters. They lived in makeshift houses for two years be­fore mov­ing into their new home in early 2011.

“I could barely sur­vive be­fore the birth of my twin girls. They gave me hope to live on,” An says.

On the bed head­post of the girls’ room there is a pho­to­graph of An’s first daugh­ter, whose body was never found. The twins call her their “big sis­ter”.

An also re­ceived com­fort from many other fam­i­lies that shared sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences. More than 10,000 peo­ple from the old county seat who sur­vived the quake have been re­lo­cated in two ad­ja­cent neigh­bor­hoods. Although they didn’t know each other so well be­fore, they now have an in­ti­mate and pow­er­ful bond born of grief and trauma. Fa­mil­iar street names

“Many streets in the new county have the same names as those in the old county. Ev­ery time I see the names, it re­minds me of the old times. And most peo­ple still carry on their old busi­nesses af­ter mov­ing. Life seems just the same as it was be­fore the quake,” Bu says.

Bu once ran a restau­rant her­self but now chooses to work in her com­mu­nity to help with fam­ily plan­ning and lo­gis­tics — a position to which she was elected by her neigh­bors.

“I still re­mem­ber right be­fore Spring Fes­ti­val in 2011. The heav­i­est snow of the year fell on the day we moved into the new house,” she says. “A timely snow prom­ises an aus­pi­cious year, and it re­ally did.”

Yet deep in her heart there will al­ways be a place for her beloved son. She kept up a happy mood when talk­ing about her life to­day, but when her thoughts turn to her boy, the tears flow freely and she falls silent.

She says that on Tomb Sweep­ing Day, a tra­di­tional Chi­nese fes­ti­val for honoring the dead, her en­tire fam­ily goes to the site of her son’s school in the old county to lay a flower on the de­bris un­der which many still lie buried.

ZOU HONG / CHINA DAILY

A man lays flow­ers on May 8 at the site of Maoba Mid­dle School, which was de­stroyed in the 2008 earth­quake. Many bod­ies still lie be­neath the rub­ble.

PHO­TOS BY ZOU HONG / CHINA DAILY

A res­i­dent plays with her chil­dren in a square in the new Be­ichuan county ear­lier this month.

Bu Zhengy­ing, who lost her only son in the mag­ni­tude-8 earth­quake that struck Be­ichuan 10 years ago, shows a photo on May 7 that was taken at her wed­ding.

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