One year after a massive earthquake hit China's southwestern inland, Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday mourned quake victims with a white chrysanthemum and a motivating speech calling for collective strength in face of extreme hardship.
On 2:28 p.m. Tuesday, exactly one year after the devastating quake shattered many areas in Sichuan and neighboring provinces, President Hu, in dark suit and a blue-and-white stripped tie, paid his respect at a white marble memorial wall on which a written record was inscribed.
Beside the monument wall stands a giant granite clock, purposely made cracked, showing the exact time as the tremor occurred. The mourning venue was located among destroyed buildings, including one once belonged to the Xuankou Middle School in the 12,000-resident Yingxiu town, the epicenter of the earthquake. Two thirds of Yingxiu residents lost their lives. Among them 44 were students or teachers from the particular school.
The former school gate was decorated Tuesday with white and yellow silk flower, a symbol of grief in the Chinese culture.
Chinese President Hu Jintao speaks during the ceremony marking the first anniversary of May 12 Earthquake in Yingxiu Township of Wenchuan County, southwest China's Sichuan Province, May 12, 2009. China held a commemorative service Tuesday afternoon at the epicenter of last year's massive earthquake that left more than 87,000 people dead or missing. (Xinhua/Fan Rujun)
After solemn music played by a white uniform-clad military trumpeter, President Hu said, "The country mobilized the fastest, widest and strongest relief efforts when the whole Chinese nation was faced with the unprecedented challenge from the quake disaster."
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Sichuan hours after the quake hit the province to direct relief work.
"Our quick response helped save lots of lives and minimize property losses incurred by the quake," Hu said.
The most destructive quake in China's history, the 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck Sichuan's Wenchuan county and affected some parts of the provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu on May 12, 2008, leaving more than 87,000 dead or missing and the property loss valued at, in official estimates, more than 800 billion yuan (117 billion U.S. dollars).
Chinese President Hu Jintao places a white chrysanthemum in front of a commemorative wall of the earthquake during the commemorative service to mark the first anniversary of May 12 Earthquake in Yingxiu Township of Wenchuan County, southwest China's Sichuan Province, May 12, 2009. (Xinhua/Li Xueren)
Mentioning global aid to China's quake relief, Hu said, "On behalf of the Chinese government and people, I express, once again, heartfelt thanks to foreign leaders, governments, political parties, social institutions and embassies in China for their deep care and support to quake relief and reconstruction."
He also thanked United Nations organizations and other international institutions and foreign friendly personages for their care and support.
Groups of foreign diplomats and international organizations' chief representatives also attended Tuesday's event to mourn the victims in Sichuan.
Of the total 76 billion yuan in quake donations, 10.3 billion yuan came from outside the Chinese mainland as of Oct. 10, 2008, official calculation showed.
Foreign diplomats present flowers during the commemorative service to mark the first anniversary of May 12 Earthquake in Yingxiu Township of Wenchuan County, southwest China's Sichuan Province, May 12, 2009. (Xinhua/Rao Aimin)
President Hu and all the other attendees paid tribute to the quake victims following Hu's speech. Hu picked up a white chrysanthemum and gravely laid it in front of the monument wall.
In addition to watching a live TV broadcast, viewers also turned to the Internet to express sentimental feelings about the quake -- many still in deep grief over tremendous losses.
On a popular Beijing-headquartered Facebook-like social networking service portal, kaixin001.com, more than 600,000 users have posted supportive messages in a dedicated zone since the first message was uploaded on May 10. Most were blessings and encouragement to the people in quake-affected areas.
"We can not change what has happened, but we can build a future with our wisdom. By remembering this day, we know better the power and value of life," said a user named Wu Dan.
Another user, Liu Sha, said she was trapped in an elevator in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, when the quake struck.
"I learned to be strong after that experience. I hope every Chinese person will get stronger, for those who died in the quake," Liu said.
Encouraging the whole nation to overcome current economic hardship, triggered by the international financial crisis and ensuing economic downturn, and achieve more ahead of the 60th founding anniversary of New China, Hu said, "Practice in quake relief and post-disaster reconstruction proved again that unity brings strength and valor means success."
The service attended by Hu and other senior officials in the quake-hit town epitomized the nationwide mourning -- from a popular online shopping Web site shifting its color into black and white, to a picture exhibition at the Shanghai Library to highlight post-quake reconstruction.
The Chinese government designated May 12 as the Disaster Prevention and Reduction Day to raise the country's overall preparedness for natural disasters. Source: Xinhua