An online plea for the public to mourn the 80,000 people dead or missing in last year's devastating earthquake is being spread rapidly among Internet users, less than two weeks before the first anniversary of the disaster.
"Make sure you plant chrysanthemums in your garden on May 9," reads the message, posted at kaixin001.com, a Facebook-style social networking website based in Beijing where office workers enjoy buying virtual property ranging from slaves to luxury cars and houses, and planting trees and flowers in their gardens.
"The flower takes 68 hours to bloom, so on May 12, we'll be mourning those who died in the quake," it says.
It also advised everyone not to steal others' chrysanthemums, as most members of the free access website enjoy harvesting and selling others' plants to make virtual money.
The message, which first appeared at kaixin001.com at 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, had been forwarded to 221,810 people and received 611,600 clicks by 3 p.m.
The nation's memory of the 8.0-magnitude earthquake is still fresh and overshadows the forthcoming three-day Labor Day holiday starting Friday.
Large crowds of reporters, social workers and volunteers have poured into the quake zones in the western provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi, hoping to share local people's woes and give a helping hand, in one way or another.
GUITAR BAND IN WHEELCHAIRS
Every day at 6:30 p.m., Yan Peng and his eight schoolmates begin their daily guitar course in a makeshift classroom of Changhong Training Center on the suburbs of Sichuan's Mianyang City, the temporary campus of Beichuan High School that toppled in the quake.
"I've always loved the guitar, though I never learned to play before the quake," said Yan, a quiet, bespectacled 17-year-old.
Yan was among the first to flee the ramshackle school building, but soon returned to save his classmates, and ended up in the ruins himself. He lost his right leg. The school suffered nearly 1,000 dead.
Four months after the quake, the school received a special gift from Beijing-based Capital Normal University: 15 guitars and some volunteer teachers -- all music majors of the university who take turns teaching in Mianyang.
"This is the best we could do to help these students," said Sheng Xue, a junior student whose volunteer service began two weeks ago.
Yan is among the nine most avid learners who have persisted. All of them bear injuries. Some are permanently confined to a wheelchair.
Besides music, Liu Min said she also loved volleyball, though she could only play on wheelchair these days. The 17-year-old recalls with affection a meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao last November, when she led the band to sing "You and Me", the theme song of the Beijing Olympics.
"I used to be healthy and sportive," said Liu, who had wanted to be a police officer but now plans to major in law.
NEW HOMES BUILT ON HORSEBACK
Wei Songping and his horse left at daybreak to carry cement for the villagers: a fleet of seven horses was all the 17 families in the mountainous Liangjiashan Village rely on to transport building materials for their new homes.
"It's not because we don't have manpower or vehicles," said Wei. "But no vehicle can make it along the only path down the mountain, which is merely a meter wide."
Liangjiashan was a mountain-top village separated from the county seat of Wenxian in Gansu Province only by a river. Almost every home was destroyed in the quake and the whole village had to be relocated to a hillside township closer to the county seat.
"I can't stand overburdening my mule," said villager Li Zhanlin. "The animals take turns taking a day off every three days."
In nine months, Li's mule carried 40,000 bricks, 12 tonnes of cement and 20 cubic meters of sand that have now become his family's five new houses.
His neighbor Liang Baocheng, however, lags far behind. "I have to finish building the new home by the end of June. My son is about to get married this year." In rural China, parents traditionally hold themselves liable for building new homes for their adult sons.
"Local authorities held geological surveys and confirmed the new site was safe from quakes," said Liang, who said the government was doing a "great job". "They could do better, though, by paving the road. If only the path was two meters wide, we could have moved into new homes earlier."
In Wenxian, one of the hardest-hit areas in Gansu Province, about 35,000 families are rebuilding homes in the mountains. At least half of them rely only on horses, according to the county government.
"The horses have to toil for as long as the rebuilding may take," said Liang. "Our homes are built on horseback."
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Flowers are constantly seen these days in the ruins of Beichuan, the Sichuan county that perished in the quake. The scarlet corn poppies and yellow and white chrysanthemums seem to be mourning for the dead and welcoming a safer new Beichuan.
People in Sichuan, young and old, are taking their time to shake off their nightmarish past.
In Anxian County, Lin Xingcong and his bride are giving finishing touches to their new home. "We'll plant orchids here," Lin said as he pointed to the clearing between two houses, "with seeds from my old home."
Nine-year-old Xiao Daipeng, a primary school pupil in Shifang City, forced a smile as he subconsciously touched the stump of his right leg. "I wish I could score better in science class," he said when Xinhua reporters asked what was in his dreams.
"In the future? I wish I could find a good job," said Xiao.