Monday, May 11, 2009

Commemoration with Political Ends

Today there are more stories and tributes on the eve of the first anniversary of the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan.

News reports on radio and television talked incessantly about the status of the reconstruction projects, saying they are pushing up deadlines to get people into new houses by the end of this year, months ahead of schedule.

Today the government released its first white paper on disaster prevention to mark "Disaster Prevention and Reduction Day" to mark the Wenchuan earthquake.

In it it says, "China is one of the countries in the world that suffers the most natural disasters".

But the article doesn't expand further on exactly what the government is doing or plans to do to prevent future natural disasters.

Meanwhile there are campaigns for tourists to come visit the quake-hit areas as a way to boost the local economy, but residents complain there are too many of them and not enough infrastructure and resources to support extra people coming through.

There was also outrage a few months ago when it was announced a museum would be built, costing 2.3 billion yuan ($336 million). Designed by the College of Architecture and Urban Planning of Tongji University in Shanghai and experts from 16 different disciplines at the university, it would include the museum and protecting the ruins and rebuilding roads and reinforcing areas.

While the museum itself would only cost 135 million yuan, many members of the public thought the sum was still too much and would better be used for reconstruction purposes and helping those in need.

And again there are the families who are still waiting for the government to give the real numbers of the students who died in what they claim were "tofu buildings".

The government is trying to create a public movement for people to remember the horrific event and the warm feelings they had in trying to help people through giving their own blood, donating money or even personally going to the quake-hit areas.

But this afternoon on a radio program on China Radio International, hosts were trying to encourage listeners to call in with their memories of the earthquake and their hopes for the people there. Hardly anyone called in or had anything profound to say.

While most of the listener demographic for this show are students and young people, ironically they were the ones who were so emotional about the incident last year. And now they have nothing to say?

Is it because they are tired of having memories of the event shoved down their throats or are they so self-centred that they really don't care about how the quake survivors are doing?

A foreign doctor who is doing relief work for the United Nations says there needs to be more psychological help for the earthquake survivors who continue to suffer flashbacks and fears.

Chinese people who have never experienced an earthquake before don't seem to understand that the psychological pain survivors are going through continue long after the physical shaking has ended.

And there aren't enough trained psychologists in the country to deal with such traumatic experiences, and they are emotionally and physically worn out from volunteering their services.

While the government can rebuild houses and roads, encourage people to visit Sichuan and make donations, these do little to help quake survivors move on with their lives.

They need more reassurances that the new infrastructure is safe, built with the best materials and using the latest scientific technology. They want the government to take responsibility for shoddy construction -- the evidence is there, but no accountability as it would lead to lawsuits.

But mostly they are tired of being used in the government's propaganda to give the impression that things are getting better in Sichuan. What was a genuinely emotional event has become a political one, where no one is really listening anymore.

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