Monday, May 19, 2008
Mourning the Dead
Today China officially began three days of mourning.
At sunrise, some 2,000 people descended on Tiananmen Square to watch the flag-raising ceremony. It is a pilgrimage many Chinese do when they come to Beijing. But today was different.
In an unprecedented move, the flag was flown at half-mast to recognize China's earthquake victims. In this country, this kind of flag etiquette is reserved only for state leaders and fallen heroes.
And then at 2:38pm, the exact time one week ago when the quake struck, sirens began wailing in the streets, and people honked their car horns. At the office we all got up and stood for three minutes of silence.
On the television I could see thousands of people at Tiananmen Square, looking towards the flag.
And when the three minutes was over, some people started to shout, "Zhongguo jia you! Sichuan jia you!" (Go China go! Go Sichuan go!" The spontaneous outburst was amazing -- everyone in the crowd started to join in, raising their fists in a united demonstration of China's determination to soldier on.
So I thought perhaps that energy would sustain in the evening for the flag lowering ceremony.
After work I rushed over to the square before 7:26pm, sundown. Hundreds of people were already there, young and old. Many took pictures of themselves with the flag in the backdrop, some waving small Chinese flags.
There were lots of police and security in the area. Not having gone to one of the typical flag lowering ceremonies before I wasn't sure if this was unusual.
One young man hoped to profit from today's event by renting his plastic stools for people to stand on and watch the proceedings for 20 RMB. There were a few takers.
At the appointed time, the flag was raised to the top and then slowly lowered, taken down, and then the guards marched away with it, all in silence.
There was no anthem, no spontaneous outburst. We all made our way back to the subway subdued and reflective.