Tibetans philosophical about their loss and thankful for help

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 August, 2010, 12:00am

So much has been made of the strife between ethnic Tibetans and the majority Han Chinese, but two Tibetan families who suffered devastating losses in the August 8 mudslide in Gansu say the Han authorities have treated them with kindness and sensitivity.

Yang Daijin and Du Yonghong have no complaints, and while other families cry out for relief and compensation as the area grieves in the aftermath of the disaster in Zhouqu county, these two men of faith accept their fate with tranquillity.

Yang - a 63-year-old ethnic Tibetan who has been living in Jiedi village, about 33 kilometres from Zhouqu - said his only son, Yang Houqing, was killed in the mudslide.

'My son was 27 years old. He came to Zhouqu with my daughter-in-law, who was due to give birth to a child soon,' Yang said, with tears in his eyes.

According to Yang, among the 2,000 ethnic Tibetans who lived in his village, four had been killed in the landslide. But the story of travelling to Zhouqu to search for his son is one of a community bonding together.

'More than 100 fellow villagers came here with me after learning of the bad news,' he said. 'We tried our best to recover my son's body and searched almost every corner of the county seat around the clock.'

Yang said the effort was futile. All the family could do then was to bring a monk to the scene to lead the mourning and chant scriptures for his son for more than two hours on Friday, which under Tibetan Buddhist doctrine is considered the most important ritual to ensure that the dead rest in peace.

'My heart was broken to lose my beloved son,' Yang said.

Even so, he is a man at peace. He blames no one for the disaster and says he is satisfied with what the local officials have done in the aftermath. He does not even care whether any compensation for his son is forthcoming. 'We're not the only family who lost members in this disaster, so it's not important to me whether we get any compensation or not.'

Du, 60, is another ethnic Tibetan. He has lived in Zhouqu for decades and took a Chinese name instead of a Tibetan one when he started attending school. Among the 13 households that had moved to Zhouqu from his home village, four people had died, he said.

He considered himself and his family lucky to narrowly escape from the disaster. As the water from the torrential rain loosened the rocks and mud, Du, his wife, his son, his daughter-in-law and his grandson fled their home shortly after midnight on that Sunday morning.

'I heard a huge sound, and my home - on the second floor of a four-storey residential building - was submerged in water just minutes after we had all managed to get out and stand on a safe place,' Du said. 'It was terribly dangerous.'

He said he had used almost all of his savings, 230,000 yuan (HK$263,000), to buy that 136-square-metre apartment in April.

Yet Du said: 'I have no mind to claim any compensation. After all, saving the wounded and searching for the dead are the most important things to do at this stage.'

He also echoed Yang's praise, adding that he was satisfied with what the government had done and stressed that the Communist Party had treated them very well.

According to rescuers, most of the people living in central Zhouqu were Han Chinese, and about one-third of the 135,000 population were ethnic Tibetans. Most of the Tibetans lived in mountainous areas at least half an hour's walk away from downtown Zhouqu, which may explain why fewer Tibetans were killed.