By Jesper Schlæger, Ningxia, Yinchuan
I am in Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia, some 800 kilometers north of the earthquake epicenter in Sichuan. In Yinchuan the quake was also felt quite strongly (above 4 on the Richter scale) as a kind of waves more than shocks. The quake lasted for about 4 minutes. It took me a few hours before the facts about the quake became clear to me through websites.
The natural disaster that hit Wenchuan is of immense proportions: So far the official figures say 51,151 dead, 288,431 injured, and 29,328 still missing. The material damages are large too – whole villages will have to be relocated and rebuilt. Monday the 19 May, there was national mourning – silence for three minutes. All activity ceased, buses stopped and air raid sirens were sounded.
As an attempt of government openness state radio has been running special programs 24 hours a day to update on the events. The degree of detail has been so fine, that the progress of particular teams of doctors, rescue workers etc. could be followed. The Internet is also used, particularly it has allowed people in different provinces to share their feelings about the disaster. Online most large websites have link banners to collections for Red Cross. Some sites have disbanded services as a tribute to the victims of the quake. As an example, the Chinese ‘Facebook’ for university students ‘Zhanzuo’ has changed all colors to black and grey to mourn the victims.
Aid donations have been considerable. All work units and apartment blocks have their own fund-raisings, with posters of who payed how much. Fund-raisings are also made online and via mobile phones. I have received more text messages asking for donations for Red Cross. Yinchuan Stadium has been closed for ordinary use for three days due to use for activities related to the earthquake.
There is a strong sense of national unity, and even in Yinchuan the earthquake is very near all day through TV, radio and people’s conversations. Yesterday night at 3 p.m. many students of Ningxia University ran out of their dormitories because an after-quake hit the city – or maybe the quake itself was just a rumour? The fear lurks just under the surface.
How this natural disaster will affect Chinese politics is yet an open question, but there is no doubt that the government has gained a lot of respect for its swift rescuing efforts among the common people, at least that is the case here in Yinchuan.