Help for Sichuan quake victims a reminder of the ties that bind us

When the disaster struck eight years ago, the people of Hong Kong donated billions towards relief and reconstruction, and the generosity has not been forgotten

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2016, 10:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2016, 10:23pm

Hongkongers will always feel a moral obligation to help fellow Chinese in need. The earthquake that devastated Sichuan (四川) eight years ago today certainly brought that out and the province’s people are as mindful now as when the disaster struck of the generosity that was shown. With the last of the scores of projects undertaken nearing completion, the remainder of a HK$9 billion donation from the Hong Kong government will be put towards panda conservation. Ensuring the beloved animal and its habitat are protected and properly promoted is a fitting way to use the remaining funds.

Apart from the government’s contribution, citizens donated more than HK$1 billion for relief work and reconstruction. Help had previously been given to the victims of natural disasters on the mainland, but not before had there been such an outpouring of charity. Looking back at the images of the tragedy and the toll it wrought, though, it is easy to understand why purse-strings were so readily loosened. Although the quake’s 8.0 magnitude did not set records for the amount of energy released, it scarred the nation’s psyche as no natural disaster had before.

There were more than 87,000 deaths and 370,000 injuries, while at least 4.8 million people were made homeless. Among those killed were thousands of school children; the quake struck mid-afternoon, as students sat in classrooms not built to withstand such seismic force. Along with the roads and infrastructure destroyed were 60 per cent of the province’s panda habitats. For the first time, Beijing called for outside help and Hong Kong responded with an unprecedented level of generosity.

That seems difficult to comprehend given the animosity some Hongkongers now feel towards mainlanders. Sichuan’s waiving of entrance fees to the Wolong panda facilities is not going to appease such people given the remoteness of the area and cost of travelling there. But Sichuan’s citizens harbour no such antipathy towards our city and are grateful for the part we played in rebuilding their lives. It is a partnership that neither side should forget.