Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Day China Stood Still

I recently read an article that described the Chinese people as being emotionally non-expressive and non-aggressive by nature; however, courageous and fearless in the face of adversity.

I witnessed this firsthand last week as the People’s Republic began a three day period of mourning one week following the worst natural disaster their country has seen since the last devastating earthquake of 1976. For the past couple of weeks I have been in Beijing and was moved by both the heroic rescue response to the devastation in Sichuan as well as the dignity and solidarity of the Chinese people in the aftermath of tragedy.

I was traveling through the Olympic Village area last Monday on day one of the three day mourning period. The Government called for all of China to stop and observe a three minute period of silence at 2:28 pm, the time that the first shockwave was felt one-week prior. All vehicles and people were to stop and remain silent. The exception was trucks and busses were to sound their horns. That is exactly what happened. I was in a city of 17 million people, on an extremely busy thoroughfare and everyone stopped dead in their tracks at the stroke of 2:28 pm. It was truly moving and humbling to witness this tribute. I have a hard time imaging such solidarity in the U.S.

Later that evening as I strolled around the area of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, we witnessed spontaneous demonstrations of solidarity as large groups of people marched in the streets behind their National flag shouting CHINA in unison. This was the courageousness that I read about as the people seemed to be shouting in the face of nature’s fury: We are strong and will not be broken!

On the last day of three-day observance, we walked around the Houhai Lake district of the Hutong, the heart of Beijing’s nightlife. Instead of loud music coming out of every restaurant and bar, there was reverent quiet with candles lit on the sidewalks, many of which were arranged in the numbers 5-12-08, the day of the earthquake. No public entertainment or music was played for those three days. No television station aired anything but coverage of the quake. Everything else continued as normal. The City carried on its usual buzz of activity, only in a quieter, more reverent manner. It was truly a wonder to witness.

The Chinese media covered only stories of hope and strength featuring the valiant individuals that were risking or had risked their own safety to rescue others trapped in the Sichuan rubble and devastation. There were no stories of how the local or national response was bungled or how people were screaming at the lack of help they were receiving. This was also refreshing to someone that witnessed the aftermath of Katrina and the swirl of negativity fed by the vulturous media in this country. That type of hopelessness and helplessness doesn’t play well in a country like China that stands strong and united in the face of adversity. I think many in this country could learn a lot from the Chinese people were they to be open enough to do so. There really is strength in numbers, as long as people operate as one.

I met people that were from the areas worst hit and had family there. I expressed my sympathy to them and they graciously expressed appreciation for my sentiment but showed no obvious signs of grief and distress. That type of emotion was either expressed privately or put off until after the crisis period was over. Their attention seemed only toward moving forward and helping the living get back on their feet. The strength and positive attitudes from the people that I met will stay with me for the rest of my life. I truly hope I can visit their country again. They are truly a great nation of people.

1 comment:

Paul H said...


I have wondered for the last week whether you could even make your trip. What an experience you must have had. Sometimes crisis transforms a society. I think this earthquake has shaken more than just a province, but an entire country and indirectly the entire world. I can't wait to hear more.