I was in Suzhou, and some people did feel it on the East
coast but not us.
My impressions of the earthquake cannot fault the relief
efforts but at the same time I am not simply awed by the presence of
politicians. The Chinese are smarter than the Americans in the aftermath of
hurricane Katrina (which shamed the USA) and also aware of the sentiment of the
world over the Burma/Myanmar Junta's response to disaster which was completely
the opposite to China's acceptance of aid.
The papers which show "grandfather Hu" holding the hand of
a child are about politics though. The disaster is an oppurtunity for the party
to promote itself and the PLA to the nation. The sentimentalising about the
soldiers harkened back to Mao Tse Tung, "not stealing a pin" and "closing all
the gates" etc. For example, we are told in Chinese newspapers the people make
food for soldiers but the soldiers refuse it and instead drink water that drips
from the mountains. What sort of human beings are these? ...the columist asks.
"These are our soldiers fed by the love of the people! Salute our
It is hard to miss the capital the earthquake
provides in the context of 2008 events. No more talk of Tibet. The CPC is very
good at what it does. They wear business suits instead of Lenin jackets. It
doesn't mean they arent up to the same things behind the scenes. In China you
don't hear the full story, for all the faults of the West at least there are
many voices to hear. The Hong Kong media for example notes that the schools
which collapsed were state schools while others constructed by Hong Kong
charities (and supervised by them) stood in the same cities. It calls for
enquries and accountablity. The different "open" attitude taken by the CPC
was commented on by older Chinese and even the Western media also. They are
open, and they are seen to be acting. I would not go so far as to assume they
have changed their colours though. A person who protests about their home being
demolished to make a park for Olympic tourists will still be thrown in a labour
camp. Organising a prayer group in a home could still get you arrested, writing
an article about a corrupt offical who steals from his citizens will be
punished, marking the anniversary of any number of outrages commited by the
communist party will still be cracked down upon.
The earthquake footage was enough to make me cry as I
watched it over those days. I have a small child and their are so many families
destroyed. I mourn for the people and the families and commend the efforts or
the relief effort but I will not give the regime a seal of approval over what
they show on television.
As a side note on the military: the relief efforts
have shown the Chinese military is far from a modern
100,000 warm bodies in uniform but the helicopters are only
very small in number and lack ground navigational radar required to pass through
foggy mountains, hence the inability to reach some places for 3 days. Supplies
were thrown from fixed wing aircraft (without parachutes) over scattered fields.
Crude by WW2 standards.
When I consider the amounts of deaths the party is
personally responsible for through negligence and incompetence in past decades I
am not ready to percieve a new openess or change of heart. The rescue efforts
are truly dramatic and emotional but I also see simply that President Hu is a
lot smarter than President Bush but wouldnt say it makes his regime a humanist
country. Smarter than Bush, if that is saying anything. Repeated images of a
politician jabbing his finger at a map reminded me of a war conference. I expect
in reality there were experts who gave him all intelligence and did the actual
Good photo opp's though.
The Peoples Premier. ...The Great Helmsman. ...Quarter
Pounder with Cheese. ....Removal of label voids warranty.
BTW the 3 minutes silence was reasonable but the
closure of all entertainment for 3 days is simply an economic pain on the back
of the Sichuan calamity. So many business just shut down and in some ways it
made me marvel over the power of the government to stops billions of dollars of
livelihood. This for example was peoples livelihood in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan,
where we were at that time.
Luckily some of the minorities there were not entirely
taken by the gesture and still put on ethnic performances for visitors. I
suppose they might not understand why they should not get paid for 3 days so
went on with their shows. Again, Hong Kong media more sensiblly asked what was
the point of this economic pain.
I don't consider the USA to represent the Western world or
democracy so regardless of which direction the USA, or China, is going re:
"freedom" there were still some pretty odd features about the way the disaster
was used by the government media. There were no pictures of grieving mothers
amidst rubble shouting a school dean like I saw in Hong Kong. Since time
immemorial regimes have known the power of unifying a people against an external
threat to draw attention away from themselves. The good will generated by this
serves the communist party well.
It is a shame the CPC is not so socially conscious about
the poor & hungry people the rest of the time. Perhaps this generous
spirit should carry on over to the homeless and the beggars who the very same
charitible Chinese would walk past every day in the prosperous
The aftermath of this earthquake has been truly amazing. We barely
felt it in Henan, although they cancelled classes at my university for the rest
of the day. What is amazing is the contrast between 5-12-08 and the Tangshan
quake of 1976. That one killed 240-300,000 people, yet was covered up for
months. By contrast, we have had 24/7 news coverage of the quake on the
English-language CCTV9 as well as the Chinese language stations. Premier Wen
Jiabao was at the site within hours directing relief efforts. President Hu
Jintao is there right now. The earthquake occurred at a most inconvenient
location, but despite tremendous obstacles, the military and other relief
workers have done a tremendous job. People all over China have pitched in to
help. Exactly one week after the quake virtually the entire country stood still
to observe 3 minutes of silence for the victims. No matter what your politics
are, any objective person would have to admit that the leade rship here is doing
something right. While I am happy that China gets to host the Olympics here in
August, in the long run I think the response to the earthquake will earn China
far more respect in the eyes of the world.
Gary L. Todd
Professor of History
Sias International University
Xinzheng, Henan, China
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