At first, I didn’t see; now it’s clear

China Daily European Weekly - - Life -

Ten years ago, at age 14, I was in my third year of mid­dle school in north­ern He­bei prov­ince. That was the first time I phys­i­cally felt an earth­quake. The main thing I re­mem­ber was do­nat­ing 100 yuan ($16; 13.3 eu­ros; £11.6) to the chil­dren of Sichuan. At that time, I had only 5 yuan per day of pocket money for my break­fast.

Ten years later, I stepped on the on­cedev­as­tated land as a jour­nal­ist. At the be­gin­ning, it was dif­fi­cult to find any scars. At first glance, Be­ichuan county — the worst-hit county dur­ing the mag­ni­tude-8 Wenchuan earth­quake — con­sisted of unique eth­nic ar­chi­tec­ture in­ter­spersed with wellde­signed apart­ment build­ings, schools, hos­pi­tals and parks. I saw peo­ple danc­ing in the square, walk­ing dogs by the river, play­ing with kids on the street and din­ing out in restau­rants.

I saw things that this county alone has. I saw things that ev­ery other county also has. But no scars of an earth­quake. I won­dered whether an earth­quake had ever re­ally struck this place.

Then I was taken to old Be­ichuan. The lo­cal peo­ple told me the new Be­ichuan was ac­tu­ally called Yongchang, but they were used to the name Be­ichuan and didn’t want to lose it.

Walk­ing in the ru­ins, I faced for the first time the mo­ment of the dis­as­ter. I saw scat­tered clothes, cig­a­rette butts, dusty dolls and ropes made of bed­sheets to save hundreds of stu­dents trapped in a dor­mi­tory build­ing at a vo­ca­tional school. My tour guide told me of the bod­ies of thou­sands of vic­tims that were still buried un­der the ru­ins, which had be­come a large ceme­tery.

I sud­denly un­der­stood why so many peo­ple had told me that even if it were ge­o­graph­i­cally pos­si­ble to re­build on the site of the old county, things would never be the same again.

The new Be­ichuan is a shiny new home in which peo­ple can for­get their grief and start their lives over again. The old Be­ichuan serves as a last­ing me­mo­rial for quake sur­vivors, who can mourn their de­parted fam­ily mem­bers and friends. It’s a warn­ing for hu­mans to re­spect the power of Mother Na­ture.

When I wan­dered in the new county again, I looked at ev­ery lo­cal res­i­dent with re­newed re­spect. Re­con­struct­ing a whole county within 15 months is a truly ex­tra­or­di­nary ac­com­plish­ment, the likes of which is sel­dom found in other coun­tries around the world.

Even more in­spir­ing, it seems to me, is play­ing a role in re­build­ing peo­ple’s lives. That peo­ple here in the new Be­ichuan county can live nor­mally — as nor­mal as any­where else — is a mir­a­cle.

Their ex­pe­ri­ence shows how weak hu­mans are in a con­fronta­tion with na­ture, and how tough it can be to pre­vail.

Now I see the earth­quake. And I see Be­ichuan and its peo­ple coura­geously stand­ing up af­ter­ward.

Wang Keju

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