Sichuan earthquake, 10 years on

Sichuan earthquake victims remembered by bereaved parents and survivors amid tight security

Official ceremony held in Wenchuan epicentre, memorials held across the province to commemorate the 87,000 who died 10 years ago on May 12

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2018, 10:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2018, 12:34pm

The 10th anniversary of the earthquake in Sichuan that killed more than 87,000 people was marked in the southwestern province on Saturday amid tight security, as bereaved parents and survivors paid their respects.

An official memorial ceremony was held outside the Xuankou Middle School in Yingxiu township, Wenchuan county – the epicentre of the magnitude-8 quake that devastated the province on May 12, 2008. 

Wreaths with yellow flowers were laid at the memorial site where the hands of a broken clock are frozen at 2.28pm, the time when the earthquake struck.

Sichuan earthquake, 10 years on

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor attended the ceremony along with Sichuan officials including party chief Peng Qinghua. There was a heavy police presence at the event and it was closed to the public.

“Everyone was crying as we stood out here,” said a 27-year-old teacher who was still a teenager at Xuankou Middle School when it collapsed, killing 55 people including 43 students. 

“Coming here now is still pretty shocking ... It’s been 10 years, and we’ve buried the pain and grief in our hearts,” she said after visiting the site with former classmates from Xuankou once the memorial service was over.

Rebuilding after Sichuan earthquake, one brick and one life at a time

President Xi Jinping sent an open letter to an international conference held in Chengdu on Saturday to mark the anniversary, highlighting China’s achievements in post-disaster reconstruction.

“China will enhance its ability to prevent disasters and protect people’s lives and property,” the letter read.

There was also extensive coverage in state media, with recovery stories about quake survivors and people singing the praises of the ruling Communist Party for improving their lives.

Local officials in Wenchuan county declared the anniversary a “Thanksgiving Day” but the gesture was not welcomed by parents who lost their only children in the quake and are still searching for justice. 

The disaster destroyed thousands of school buildings across the province, killing more than 5,000 children, and parents say many of them would have made it out alive if the “tofu dreg” schools had been better built.

Lu Shihua, a father from Piankou township whose daughter died in the quake, said putting the focus on gratitude rubbed salt into the wound.

“It’s a day of catastrophe. Where does thank you begin from here? The longing for my daughter Lu Fang has never stopped,” Lu said.

“This year was extra sad because hundreds of parents gathered to remember their children at the same time – hearing the mothers crying broke our hearts all over again.”

Lu said he could not sleep the night before the anniversary. He attended a memorial on the collapsed site of Beichuan Middle School, where more than 1,000 students died. 

Beichuan county was one of the hardest-hit areas, and a giant tombstone has been set up there for the thousands of people buried beneath it. The school site is now an earthquake memorial museum, and parents and activists say the bodies of almost half of the students killed there remain buried under the ruins. 

Sichuan earthquake: grieving parents still clinging to a premier’s promise, unfulfilled

On Saturday, hundreds of parents gathered to hang a long white banner on the museum to commemorate the students who died. Retractable banners were also put up with students’ names and grades, along with their photos. Local authorities have refused to allow the parents to put up tombstones for their children.  

“They long for their children to be remembered in this world,” Lu said. “They shouldn’t just be a brief memory.” 

Security was also tight in other parts of Sichuan. In Dujiangyan, another quake-hit township, a reporter with Hong Kong-based i-Cable TV News was dragged away and physically assaulted by two men when covering the anniversary. 

Sichuan earthquake rights activist Tan Zuoren and his wife were meanwhile escorted by security police on a tour from Thursday and not allowed to return to Chengdu until Monday. 

In Chengdu, police raided the Early Rain Reformed Church and summoned its pastor, Wang Yi, for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. The prominent underground church had arranged a prayer session to mark the day.

For Yang Xingfeng, the pain of the anniversary was unbearable this year after her husband Yang Anquan, 57, died two days ago. Yang had petitioned for a fair official explanation for his son’s death at the Beichuan Middle School and was diagnosed with a heart condition after the earthquake.

“Today is the 10th anniversary of my son’s death, and my husband also left me on Thursday,” Yang said. “My world is collapsing.”