Tangshan mourns quake victims on 34th anniversary amid "Aftershock"

08:01, July 29, 2010      

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Tangshan, a Chinese city that lost 240,000 lives to a devastating earthquake 34 years ago, relived the pain and sorrow once again Wednesday on another anniversary.

Not only Tangshan, the whole nation's memories of the catastrophe also came alive again as a film about the earthquake, "Aftershock", hit the big screen across the country.

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the industrial city in north China on July 28, 1976, which was believed to be one of the deadliest natural disasters of the 20th century.

Thirty-four years later, exactly on the very same day of the quake, Wu Ze, 46, came to a black marble wall that bears the names of all victims of the earthquake, including her sister's.

"I was 12 and my sister was 16 (when the quake struck). She was the smartest kid in the family and the best in her class. She was just gone overnight, " Wu said, unable to stop weeping.

"Every year on July 28, I come here for her," she said.

The Tangshan government built the 300-meter-long wall, widely known as the Chinese "wailing wall", two years ago for the public to mourn those they had lost, as most of the dead were hastily buried in mass graves.

The Tangshan Earthquake Memorial Park, where the "wailing wall" is located, saw its busiest day of the year Wednesday as people streamed in to mourn for their beloved ones.

An earthquake museum in the park also opened to the public Wednesday.

Covering an area of 12,000 square meters, the museum displays more than 400 photographs and 600 pieces of articles about the 1976 earthquake.

When the survivors paid their silent tribute to the dead in Tangshan, people across the country flocked into cinemas to watch the 130-minute "Aftershock," which offers a chance to share Tangshan people's grief.

The film, which left no dry eyes at its national premier on July 12 in Tangshan, set a box office record ten days later on July 22 when it was released nationwide. It grossed 36.2 million yuan (about 5.32 million U.S. dollars) - the highest ever box office collection for a Chinese movie on its opening day.

As of Monday, the movie has made over 160 million yuan in the four days since its release, according to the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT).

Film director Feng Xiaogang focuses on the aftermath of the quake through the story of a mother's three-decade-long journey to an emotional reunion with the daughter she thought she had lost in the disaster.

The mother, played by Feng's wife, Xu Fan, had to make a choice between saving her daughter or her son. She opted for the boy, and this made the daughter, who was saved by her foster parents, hold a grudge against her mother for more than 30 years.

"Only when you lose something, you get to know the feeling of loss," said the mother in the movie, a sentiment that, Xu Heping, a worker in Tangshan, could well understand.

Xu had to make the same choice - who should be saved first - when his parents, three sisters and one brother were all buried under the debris.

With the help of neighbors, Xu only managed to save his eldest sister while watching the other five family members die in front of him.

"I thought I had cried all the tears of my life on that day," he said, in tears.

"Seemingly, the city has already pulled through the catastrophe and has risen from ruins. But the trauma may never be healed," said 75-year-old photographer Chang Qing, who had recorded the earthquake with his camera.

In stark contrast to Wednesday's crowded scene at the memorial park in Tangshan, the last scene of "Aftershock" depicted a regular day at the park when an old man stood in front of the wailing wall, simply watching the names, for a long time, and in silence.

"It could be any of the ordinary days in the city. That's just so sad," said Zhang Youtian, a college student in Beijing.



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