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China mourns quake victims with lanterns, ribbons and letters to heaven
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10:51, May 13, 2009

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· Anniversary of May 12 Quake
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To the old man who has lived in the Yingxiu township of southwestern Sichuan Province for six decades, scenery by the hillside is slightly different this year with the addition of two new sights -- wild chrysanthemums and a graveyard.

"These flowers normally only grow on top of hills," 64-year-old Ma Fuyang nagged, pointing at the yellow dotting in the green. "They must be the villagers killed in that disaster, who didn't want to leave their hometown."

He gazed into distance, as rain dropped on his new straw hat which he wore especially for this special day.

Tuesday marks the first anniversary of the 8-magnitude earthquake in Sichuan. It is also the 311st day for Ma and 68-year-old Hu Jianguo to work as guard in the graveyard.

A girl mourns for her relatives in the old county seat of Beichuan, southwest China's Sichuan Province, May 12, 2009, the first anniversary of the May 12 Wenchuan earthquake. (Xinhua Photo)

One year ago on this very day, more than 6,000 people in the small town of 16,000 died, including Ma's 12-year-old granddaughter and Hu's 11-year-old grandson.

The bespectacled Hu knew well where his grandson rest in the graveyard, but Ma hadn't seen his granddaughter again after the quake, although the man with gray hair firmly believed that she must be somewhere under his feet.

A child holds a candle during an activity to commemorate the victims of the fatal May 12, 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, in Zhengzhou, capital of central China's Henan Province, May 12, 2009. (Xinhua Photo)

People began entering the graveyard in twos and threes after 7 a.m., many holding chrysanthemums in their hands. Candle light flickered in front of tombstones, tears dripping down cheeks of visitors.

Ma sighed at the scene, while Hu holding a besom murmured "my grandson..."


Not far from the graveyard was remnant of the Xuankou Middle School, where a ceremony was held at 2:28 p.m., the exact time when many clocks stopped in the quake last year, when more than 19,000 lost their lives in the disaster.

The ceremony was attended by Chinese President Hu Jintao and Vice Premier Li Keqiang.

In front of a white sculpture of a symbolic clock, all those inside the commemoration venue stood in silent tribute, before China's national flag was hoisted on the remnant.

Representatives mourn for the victims in the fatal May 12, 2008 Wenchuan earthquake during a ceremony marking the first anniversary of the quake in Qingchuan County, southwest China's Sichuan Province, on May 12, 2009.(Xinhua Photo)

Hu, who later placed a white chrysanthemum for the dead, expressed condolences to the victims in the May 12 Sichuan earthquake and to those who sacrificed their lives during the quake relief.

The grief was felt all over China.

About 2,000 kilometers away on the Tian'anmen Square in the heart of Beijing, thousands of people stood in silence for three minutes, before someone started to sing the national anthem. More people soon joined in the chorus.

Then they waved their arms and shouted "Come on, China", "Come on, Wenchuan".

Students gather around candles displaying "Wenchuan" and "512" during an activity to mourn for the victims of the May 12, 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, at the Harbin Institute of Technology in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, May 12, 2009, the anniversary of the fatal Wenchuan earthquake. (Xinhua Photo)

In front of a big screen outside the Institute Cervantes in the Chaoyang district, some Chinese and Spanish people stood in three lines to pay their condolences.

Numerous yellow ribbon were tied to railings, tree branches, lamp poles as well as taxis in the neighboring Tianjin Municipality on Tuesday.

At 2:28 p.m., Chen Lei from the Sino-Germany vocational school stopped giving out the ribbons, lowering her head to mourn for the dead.

"Looking at the ribbons all over the city, I wanted to cry," she said. "When we tie a yellow ribbon to our wrists, we are cherishing a wish in the heart, for those from the devastated quake zone."

In the northeastern Jilin province, police and prisoners in the women's prison gathered on the playground to release 512 white balloons.

In the eastern Anhui province, students in the Hanshan middle school set off traditional flying lamps. The lamp, made of paper and carried aloft by hot air from a candle inside, was recognized as a symbolic wishes.

In Jinan, capital of the eastern Shandong Province, 365 candles were placed in the shape of a heart and lit in the China's biggest long-distance coach station. Passengers and staff stood still for as long as 10 minutes before resuming their normal life.

"This ceremony was not only meant to mourn for the dead, but also to remind the alive their responsibility to help the affected."

In Lijiang of southwestern Yunnan Province and Tianchang of the eastern Anhui Province, people put water lanterns into rivers. On the lanterns words of "happiness" and "safety" were written.

"Lijiang was hit by an earthquake in 1996, when 309 people died, so we could understand how people in Sichuan felt quite well," said 43-year-old Li Yucun.

"We can't go Sichuan to help them. All we can do is to pray for their better future in our traditional way," she said.

Sirens wailed in northwestern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region at 2:28 p.m., which signaled start of a quake rehearsal.

"Compared with simply mourning, organizing a disaster rehearsal is a better way to mark the anniversary," said Shi Ruihua, a teacher with the Changqing School in Yinchuan, the regional capital.

"If natural disaster couldn't be avoided, at least we should teach everybody how to save themselves," she said.


Tuesday was a dark day for China. As many people chose to wear somber colors like blue, black and white, and the Web site of China Central Television advocated people to switch their mobile phone into silent mode so as to mourn the dead.

Web sites made special pages for the anniversary.

On Sina, China's portal Web site, the page was entitled "rebirth" in colors of black, white and green -- a color symbolizes hope.

A total of 11,111 messages have been left by about 7:28 p.m. by netizens to recall the day when the quake happened, while the online memorial has drawn nearly 1.4 million clicks.

China's biggest online community using real names www.kaixin001.com encourages netizens to grow virtual white chrysanthemums. It provided an easier way for ordinary people who can't participate in outdoor activities to mourn.

Many left messages like this: "Let those who have gone rest in peace. We will witness a better tomorrow for them." "People learn to be strong in grief. After injury, we will take off again."


In the quake-plagued areas, however, Tuesday was an occasion when people conveyed more than grief.

"Uncle Jiang, don't worry about little brother. He is stepping out of shadow and regaining happiness..." said seventh-grader Yang Qinchun from the Guixi middle school in a letter.

At the first anniversary of the quake, students in the school were asked to write letters to their lost beloved ones in heaven.

Seventh grader Chen Yang said to his mom that he grew up in the year.

"I have never realized how happy I was in the past until I lost you," he said.

"During the year, I got rid of many bad habits. I learned how to cook, which you always did before I went back home. I no longer argue with dad, who now praises me from time to time," he said.

Life of the quake-affected people is being restored to normal after sorrow and despair.

Lang Zheng is now in a kindergarten in Mianyang. The four-year-old now helps his grandmother to fetch slippers, and doing simple massage for her.

When the boy was rescued on the morning of May 13 last year, he saluted with his right arms to the soldiers in gratitude -- his left hand wounded then. Many anxious audiences watching TV smiled at the scene and then dubbed Lang the "saluting boy".

On his birthday this March, the boy made a wish: "I want to be a soldier." When asked why, he replied sincerely: "because they save people."

Compared with children, it seemed to be harder for adults to turn a new leaf of life.

Cheng Linxiang's work now is to lead a group of youngsters to lumber for construction of the new road.

The 39-year-old man who trudged for 25 kilometers on mountainous road to carry his 17-year-old dead son from the Xuankou Middle School in Yingxiu of the epicenter Wenchuan back home had touched many people.

He still had illusion sometimes now, seeing his son Cheng Lei holding his hand and asking him "dad, when can we have a car?"

But for most of the time he chose to work hard so as to forget temporarily the harsh fact.

His wife Liu Zhizhen always went to construction site of the Wenchuan No. 2 middle school to see if the school buildings were "strong enough."

"In the future my second son will study there," she said, forcing a smile. "I hope in case of quake in the future, he could be safe staying inside the school building."

Sichuan Province has vowed to build stronger school buildings that could resist quakes of up to 8.0 on the Richter scale. Before the end of this year, it planned to have 95 percent of the students back in school buildings, rather than tents or prefabricated structures. All students should be in regular school buildings by next spring.

Construction of the new Beichuan Middle School started at 2:28 p.m. Tuesday. The start was witnessed by 1,300 teachers and students, some weeping quietly. The school had 2,900 teachers and students one year ago, more than 1,300 of whom were killed in the quake.

The new 200-million-yuan building, which can hold 5,200 students, was sponsored by overseas Chinese from around the globe. It was designed by staff at renowned universities like Tsinghua University, the University of Hong Kong, Tongji University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"I hope my classmates could see it from heaven together with us," said tenth-grader Qi Mingkui.

"When an earthquake hits, it will not collapse again," he said, looking up into the sky, tears rolling off.

Source: Xinhua

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