Biggest mourning since Mao died

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2008, 12:00am

It was a national display of public grief unmatched since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.

Then, the government declared a week of mourning. At 3pm on September 18, the nation stood to attention for three minutes while sirens sounded to mark his death.

Yesterday, pedestrians stopped, drivers stopped their vehicles, trains were halted and workers bowed their heads in front of factories and office buildings as air-raid sirens wailed and vehicle horns sounded.

Some people flew black kites, lit candles or burned incense and 'ghost money' to honour the dead, state media said.

Major newspapers and websites switched to black and white, while television anchors wore the colours of mourning. Some popular video-sharing websites were only accepting content related to the earthquake. Trading on the stock and futures exchanges ceased for three minutes. Some traders said investors had offered to buy stock of Sichuan-based listed companies to show their support.

'This is the first time in China's history of diplomacy we have such large-scale mourning activities. Our friends in every country are coming to our embassies to pay their respects,' Fan Jian, an official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told CCTV.

Television channels that typically show films were instructed to switch to programming related to the earthquake. Major cities ordered places of entertainment, including cinemas, to shut for three days.

The mourning continued well into the evening. All nightclubs and entertainment premises were shut down. Many people held candle-light vigils in parks and streets. 'Shenzhen has not been this quiet since the Sars outbreak,' a Hong Kong resident of the border city said.

'None of the bars in my neighbourhood is open and the bar owners closed their businesses out of their own will. This is amazing.'

At a popular Shanghai karaoke TV chain, Partyworld, a single employee at one branch turned customers away.

However, at least one Shanghai bar said it would remain open, and staff at others were evasive about whether they would shut their doors.