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From Tangshan to Wenchuan: a fault line through modern China (2)
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13:51, June 16, 2008

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Thirty-two years later, after the more powerful earthquake, centered in the mountainous town Wenchuan, people in China and around the world saw a Chinese society coming to terms with many "firsts".

Within minutes, the government announced the disaster and made a swift response. President Hu Jintao told the country that saving lives was the top priority, ordering all-out efforts to help survivors.

Just three hours later, Premier Wen Jiabao flew into Sichuan on a hastily-prepared flight and stood among the debris. "As long as there is a glimmer of hope, we should pull out all the stops," he told PLA troops and other rescuers.

Three days later, the quake relief headquarters under Wen''s command estimated that more than 50,000 were feared dead. It was the first ever Chinese government announcement of an estimated death toll from a major disaster.

By Sunday, the death toll was 69,170 with 17,427 missing, according to the State Council Information Office. A total of 374,159 people were injured, and more than 1.41 million survivors had been evacuated.

In another first, a three-day period of national mourning for the dead was declared and flags were lowered to half-mast.

The list of "firsts" goes on:

-- Blood donors in cities had to wait to be called in to donate blood because banks were full;

-- People nationwide rushed to make donations to what has become China''s biggest ever charity fund;

-- The flow of volunteers into Sichuan caused traffic jams;

-- The media put out a steady stream of reports on the rescue and relief operations;

-- Foreign rescue teams from Japan, Russia, the Republic of Korea and Singapore assisted in the search for survivors.

In an unusual move, President Hu visited tent factories in the southeastern province of Zhejiang, a major manufacturing base, to urge them to step up production, as tents were badly needed by survivors.

As a result, the world saw an orderly, united and stable China, free from rumors and scare-mongering.

Professor Yan Shuhan, of the Central Party School which trains cadres for the Communist Party of China (CPC), says the public reactions to the two disasters differed thanks to fundamental changes in the CPC''s concepts of governance over the last 32 years.

The strategic concept of "putting people first", initiated by Hu in 2004 to promote a civil society, has been implemented, Yan says.

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