The death toll from the Qinghai earthquake has exceeded 2,000 and is still rising. But natural disasters do bring in their wake good things as well as bad. This time, from the destruction in Yushu county has emerged a genuine Hong Kong hero, someone extolled by the mainland as well as the local media.
Wong Fuk-wing, who was killed while rescuing children and teachers at an orphanage where he was a volunteer worker, was by no means a household name.
His life, until a decade ago, was unremarkable. In an attempt to find out more about his background, I looked through 10 years of the WiseSearch database and found not a single article in English about him, but there were a few in Chinese.
He was a working partner in a small cargo-moving company and drove a truck. But then, he read a book, Challenging Death, written by Sui Jiguo, a 38-year-old PLA officer, who had survived a brain tumour only to be told in 1998 that he had leukaemia and had only a few more years to live.
Sui decided to draw attention to the need for bone marrow donors so other leukaemia sufferers could benefit. In 2000, he walked across China, carrying his message that 'only if society as a whole supports bone marrow donations can the leukaemia patient have more of a chance to survive.' He also wrote a book.
There are more than 400,000 leukaemia sufferers in China and, since a bone marrow match is only one in 100,000 (except for relatives) Sui set a target of recruiting 100,000 donors.
By chance, Wong found Sui's book in Guangdong and was so moved that he sought him out. The two men met in Hunan province, in April 2001, when Sui was walking from Beijing to Hong Kong to publicise the need for bone marrow donors. Wong joined Sui on the way and made Sui's quest his own. In July 2001, Wong registered as a bone marrow donor with the Red Cross Society of China and became a volunteer for the society.
And on January 1, 2002, Wong set off from Hong Kong to walk to Beijing, a journey that would take him three months, both to publicise the need for bone marrow donors and to raise funds. Interestingly, he was largely ignored by the pro-communist press in Hong Kong. He reached Beijing on March 31 and raised about US$19,000, to a large extent because of publicity drummed up by Apple Daily.
The following year, after Sui's death, Wong was diagnosed with tuberculosis and diabetes. However, he remained determined to help others. After the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, he went to the disaster area to help the victims.
While Wong had to make a living driving a truck, he decided to spend three months a year as a volunteer.
As fate would have it, early this month, Wong went to Yushu county and volunteered to help out in the Ci Xing Xi Yuan Hui orphanage in Yushu town. He was there when the earthquake struck. He first saved several orphans and at least one worker. But when he went back in to try to save even more people, an aftershock struck and he was buried in the debris.
Little known in life, in death his achievements are now recognised. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said Wong's 'brave acts, high and upright in character, are an inspiration to the people of Hong Kong'. Wong's sister said his motto was: 'Live in a meaningful way.'
Sui was an inspiration to Wong. And now Wong has become a model to countless others. Big things grow from little things and, while the lives of two men are not little things, the way they lived and died will inspire many others to examine their lives and to live in a meaningful way.
There is little more that a man can do for his fellow man, in Hong Kong or anywhere else. Wong is a man for our times.
Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator. firstname.lastname@example.org