MAY THEY REST IN PEACE: President Hu Jintao lays a white chrysanthemum before a commemorative wall at the ceremony marking the anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake in Yingxiu on May 12 (LI XUEREN)
May 12 will always conjure up tragic images in Chinese minds. A year after the devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province, people in the disaster area are rebuilding their homeland with apparent optimism. President Hu Jintao's visit to Yingxiu, the epicenter, on the anniversary of the earthquake is expected to give a further boost to their morale.
"The achievements in earthquake relief and post-quake reconstruction will inspire the whole nation to advance China's reform and opening-up program and modernization with full confidence," Hu said at a gathering marking the anniversary on the ruins of a middle school.
Yingxiu is a town in Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province. Almost all the buildings there collapsed in the 8.0-magnitude earthquake. Nearly 60 percent of the pre-quake population of 16,000 was either dead or missing, according to media reports.
Honor guards placed 10 floral baskets in front of a symbolic relief clock pointing to 2:28 p.m., the time when the earthquake occurred. Hu, clad in a dark suit and looking heavyhearted, addressed an audience of more than 300 people. They represented local residents, volunteers, medical workers, service people, teachers, students as well as foreign ambassadors.
The Chinese Government devised plans for post-quake reconstruction, adopted a series of measures to support the disaster area, assigned eastern provinces and municipalities to assist quake-hit communities and quickly carried out reconstruction work, Hu said.
Notable progress was made in rebuilding residential houses for urban and rural residents and public facilities such as schools and hospitals, rebuilding infrastructure, restoring and restructuring industries, preserving historical and cultural heritage and rehabilitating the ecological environment, he said.
After delivering his speech, Hu walked to a commemorative wall to heart-rending trumpet music and presented a white chrysanthemum before the wall in memory of earthquake victims and those who died in rescue and relief efforts. Participants in the ceremony, including Vice Premier Li Keqiang, also paid their respects.
The Wenchuan earthquake that jolted southwest China's Sichuan and some neighboring areas on May 12 last year left more than 80,000 people dead or missing.
Tears welled in Zhang Shili's eyes as he watched the Chinese national flag rising from the top of a surviving school building at the commemorative ceremony in Yingxiu. Zhang, a villager in Tanpu Village of Yingxiu Town, was the first person to plant the five-starred red flag, which he had prepared to celebrate the Beijing Olympics, in the epicenter less than 20 minutes after the earthquake struck. He did so to bolster the confidence of his fellow residents, believing that the government would soon come to their rescue, he said.
A year after the earthquake, life is returning to normal in his hometown, Zhang said. Some of his neighbors are doing a thriving business catering to visitors from the cities. Dried bean curd, a local delicacy, is extremely popular among tourists. The government has provided villagers with jobs helping monitor the environment and guard security. More importantly, permanent houses are being designed and constructed. "Everybody is looking forward to moving into new homes," he said.
A middle-aged man who preferred to be identified only as a teacher in Yingxiu told Beijing Review that he was filled with complex feelings on the anniversary of the earthquake. "The earthquake is a tragedy that we do not want to but have to remember," he said. "Though life is still not easy, we are confident about overcoming the difficulties."