The city re­mem­bers its dead

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - Zhang Yu con­trib­uted to the story

Be­fore trav­el­ing to Tang­shan, He­bei prov­ince, I watched the Chi­nese-made movie Af­ter­shock, which tells the story of the 1976 earth­quake. I cried so much, I used up two packs of tis­sues.

I asked 68-year-old Deng Yap­ing, a for­mer sol­dier in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions corp of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army who was par­a­lyzed in the quake, for her opin­ion of the movie. “It was not even close to what re­ally hap­pened that night. The re­al­ity is be­yond peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tions,” she said.

Walk­ing along the streets, I was struck by the num­ber of posters pro­mot­ing the 40th an­niver­sary of the earth­quake. They were ev­ery­where— grim re­minders that the city was wiped out in just one night.

“One-third killed, one-third in­jured and one-third sur­vived,” is a widely be­lieved lo­cal maxim about ca­su­alty num­bers, and al­most ev­ery Tang­shan res­i­dent has pain­ful mem­o­ries of the 7.8 mag­ni­tude quake.

On July 28 ev­ery year, peo­ple burn pa­per money in ev­ery cor­ner of Tang­shan, a folk rit­ual by which of­fer­ings are made to de­ceased loved ones. Th­ese street scenes are Tang­shan’s unique shrine to its dead.

Tomy mind, when bad things hap­pen, peo­ple com­plain and show their weak­nesses, but when I spoke with peo­ple who were par­a­lyzed, fa­thers who lost daugh­ters, sons who lost moth­ers and sis­ters who lost broth­ers, not one of them sawthe world through gloomy eyes.

Zhang Baozhong, 79, stared at the mon­u­ment in a me­mo­rial park, look­ing for his daugh­ter’s name. “I thought I re­mem­bered her po­si­tion, but I am­not very sure now. I’m get­ting old,” he said.

When I re­minded him that he could check the name with the park’s re­cep­tion, he replied: “No need to bother them. I can find my own daugh­ter”.

His 11-year-old daugh­ter died in the quake. “I have two other chil­dren. They are good to me and I am good to them. I have noth­ing to com­plain about,” he said. “What I can­not for­get is that my el­dest daugh­ter was not able to have a bet­ter life. We were poor back then,” he mur­mured.

Be­fore the quake, Deng, the for­mer sol­dier, could “climb trees, moun­tains and tele­graph poles”, and she could carry 40 kilo­grams of wire dur­ing ex­er­cises.

Be­cause she shares her name with an Olympic ta­ble ten­nis cham­pion, Deng likes to play the game from her wheel­chair. “I de­serve the name,” she said, wav­ing her pad­dle above the ta­ble.

Dur­ing the quake, Deng held her then-1-year-old son in her arms to pro­tect him from in­jury. Later, when she knew she would never walk again, she di­vorced her hus­band to “set him free to pur­sue hap­pi­ness”. They are still friends.

“After the quake, some med­i­cal ex­perts pre­dicted that peo­ple who had been par­a­lyzed would only live for about 15 years. It was a death sen­tence. With­out peo­ple car­ing for me, I would al­ready be dead,” she said.

What pleases her the most is vis­it­ing her 10-year-old grand­daugh­ter. “I al­ways tell my grand­daugh­ter that granny has lit­tle strength to re­pay peo­ple for their kind­ness, so liv­ing a good life ismy pay­ment to so­ci­ety, to the peo­ple who loved and cared for me,” she said.


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