Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake. This post was written by Chang Ping, editor of Southern Metropolis Daily. Last year he made waves and risked his job over another controversial post (here).
Government officials, reporters, movie stars, tourists and volunteers have all gone to the Sichuan earthquake zone. Sichuan must be a really happening place now. I think it would be better, however, if the area quieted down a little. But we can’t simply sit on our hands and talk about it. I know that in the minds of those affected by the earthquake, all of this noise and commotion is becoming bothersome, but if it becomes too quiet, the survivors fear, they may be forgotten. Of these two options, the latter is far worse, so the people are willing to put up with the all the commotion.
Moreover, the locals can turn this commotion and attention to their advantage. Local government officials say that this is a great way to attract tourists. Hoping that they can play off of tourists’ desire to observe the disaster area, local officials have been hastily constructing and developing earthquake-related tourist destinations. They hope that this can become a long-term, sustainable source of income for their governments. Some people are adamantly opposed to seeing the site of a tragedy that claimed the lives of 90,000 people turned into a tourist destination. I don’t agree with them completely, but I believe that we must wait until a time when visitors can learn from the human tragedy that played out here. Visitors should not go if they will feel that people are simply taking advantage of the disaster to make a profit.
Some media outlets have been reporting that there are children in the disaster zone who were making a living off of selling earthquake photos and other mementos. But when fewer tourists came, these children lost their source of income. This poses a huge problem for people outside the region. You don’t have to visit the disaster area to satisfy your curiosity about the earthquake, but then if no one comes the children will go hungry. The main problem here is that children shouldn’t have to make money this way, but if they don’t make money, they’ll have nothing to eat and have to drop out of school. That would make matters worse.
So how should we help the earthquake victims? For the past year, my friends have been talking about this question. In reality, this is in an incomplete question. If you want to know how to help the earthquake victims, you first have to understand what kind of help they need. You have to understand the current situation and the problems they face there. But the news reports paint a very pretty picture. Society has already shown enough concern for the survivors, who are always portrayed smiling happily. If you only watched TV, you’d think that they’re not only happier than people from outside the area, but they’re also happier than they were before the earthquake. How could that be possible?
The report of a local official’s suicide has shocked many people. I know that a low-level official is incredibly busy and doesn’t have an easy life. Many people are also dealing with carrying the pain of having lost loved ones while trying to rebuild their community. The local propaganda department said that people should make allowances for low-level cadres and the public shouldn’t put them under any more pressure. But I don’t believe that the official committed suicide because of public pressure. On the contrary, if there were more reports on public opinion about issues the people face, the officials probably wouldn’t feel so depressed.
There were many encouraging stories on the earthquake last year. A prime example was the outpouring of support and concern from people around the entire country. This made people realize that society wasn’t as materialistic as they thought. This sympathy achieved unparalleled results in helping the initial calamities and challenges the earthquake brought. The question is do we have a mechanism in place to maintain this sympathy and concern of the long term? This question has two sides. First, how do we sustain the assistance and concern we have given the earthquake zone? Second, how can we parlay these sentiments into something of long-term value to society as a whole?
The government is consciously trying to take advantage of this opportunity to help sustain the compassion and sympathy, but recent events have somewhat tarnished their image. The Beichuan government purchased expensive luxury cars and officials’ have continually refused to release the list of the students who passed away in the earthquake. But we should also realize that knowing more about the government’s affairs isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The worst thing we could find out is that they have no problems whatsoever. When the government tries to mold its image, however, they forget to tell us about the problems in the earthquake zone.
In terms of the media, the most important thing [that has come out of the earthquake] is a rebirth of civil society: “the third sector,” [as opposed to the public and the private sector] made up of NGOs and charities, is growing. How has the media developed over the last year? The media should look back on its coverage of these events because the way they report the situation and the needs of the people in the earthquake zone is very important.
Society should grow and make progress while we help Sichuan recover from this disaster. If we approach it from this perspective, helping Sichuan is the same as helping ourselves. The disaster area won’t be a disaster area forever. What should we do after Beichuan has recovered?
As someone from Sichuan, I hope that tourists aren’t going there simply because of the devastating earthquake. I want everyone to know that that area has always had beautiful mountains and rivers, an ancient culture and unique customs. And after the civil society has developed more, Sichuan will make even greater contributions to the country.