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Feature: China quake survivor's ballet dream kept alive
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09:19, September 09, 2008

When 11-year-old Li Yue, dressed in a pink tutu and took center stage at the Paralympics opening ceremony last Saturday night, few people could associate her with a quake-shattered town in southwestern China.

Ballet at the Paralympic openning ceremony

But the girl performing a ballet to Ravel's Bolero was the same one who was trapped for more than 70 hours in her school's rubble less than four months ago and never expected now she was missing a leg.

Two days after the opening ceremony, photos of the ballerina from her wheelchair were still published in Chinese newspapers and web sites alongside older pictures of Li. She is seen waiting for help in the ruins among the dead bodies of her schoolmates and there are pictures of her lying in a blood-tainted hospital bed after her left leg was amputated to save her life.

The Chinese nation were seized again with painful memories of the devastating May 12 earthquake that killed nearly 70,000 people in the southwestern Sichuan Province

As Li danced gracefully from her wheelchair, among a group of ballerinas with hearing impairments, the Chinese audience was reminded of the May 12th quake. Wiping away tears, the audience gave Li a warm applause.

Li began learning ballet two years ago. Nearly four months after her life was saved, Li's dream for the stage was kept alive.

"I can't imagine it," said the girl's mother, Li Jiaxiu. "She danced to instant fame."

Her mother accompanied Li to a Beijing hospital for treatment and for weeks of secret ballet training and rehearsals with Zhang Jigang, artistic director of the Beijing Paralympics opening ceremony.

"She certainly did her best. She was so tired at the end of the performance that she fell asleep on our way back to the hospital."

All Li remembered about the 8.0-magnitude quake that shattered her home county of Beichuan, was how she woke up from a coma in the dark and could not move. She exchanged a few words of encouragement with two classmates on her side, saying they would all get out alive. But soon enough, her friends became silent and never answered her again.

To help her get through the 70 hours of pain, hunger and despair, the sixth-grader recalled her teacher's comment that "theslim and graceful girl was born to be a ballerina." Li would eventually become one of only seven children to survive the rubble of Qushan Primary School.

"The corpses of my classmates stunk... I carried on because I imagined I was dancing all the time," she later told her sister at hospital.

"Am I brave?" she said in a whisper to rescuers who found her two days after the quake. Policemen burst into tears because without proper equipment to free her left leg from under the weight of the ruins, they could not pull her out immediately.

Rescuers eventually decided she had to sacrifice a leg for her life, and amputated.

The first two months after the quake were a nightmare. Li Yue fought constantly with pains from her injuries and shattered ballet dream.

In June, director Zhang Jigang sent someone to visit Li at her hospital in Xi'an, and invited her to perform at the opening gala.She cried with excitement.

Li arrived in Beijing with her mother towards the end of June. Her role at the Paralympics was kept in secrecy for at least six weeks. Li had to get up at 6 a.m. for treatment in order to sneak out of the hospital in southern Beijing. Later in the day, she had to travel two hours north in order to get ballet training at the Tibetan School.

On her busiest days, the girl had to skip lunch, train long hours and go to bed after midnight. She lost two kilos in a month.

Hard work finally paid off when Li got to dance for her dead classmates, for all the quake-affected people in Sichuan Province and for all the handicapped people.

"Now at last, her own dream has come true. I hope this is also the end of her quake misery," said her mother Li Jiaxiu.

Li Yue said she would never give up her dream. "With just one leg I probably won't be able to dance again. I might take up choreography or learn a musical instrument instead."

Li is just one of an estimated 83 million handicapped people in China who need extra care in order live independently.

With the disabled in the spotlight, the Beijing Paralympics is undoubtedly an opportunity for the Chinese capital to build more handicapped accessible facilities. It's also a chance to extend extra care to the disabled which make up 6.34 percent of the population.

Starting from last week, the famed Beijing roast duck restaurant chain Quanjude began offering menus in Braille and all waiters have learned sign language to better serve impaired customers.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government has financed more than 6,000 schools and special training centers for disabled people along with nearly 20,000 rehabilitation centers, said Lu Shiming, vice president of China Disabled Persons Federation.

"Instead of just providing relief, we are now providing the handicapped people with rehabilitation services, training, jobs and insurance to help them feel respected and able to live as healthy people," he said.

Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security announced on Monday all China's 83 million handicapped people were covered by the social security network, and about 20 million of them had jobs.

Source: Xinhua

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