When Sichuan shook
Updated: 2012-06-19 07:49
By Mei Jia (China Daily)
Left: Beichuan county student Chen Jian shows his will to beat death, while buried under a concrete slab. Right: Sichuan province's Beichuan county was one of the most severely affected areas of the quake zone and was razed to the ground. Photos Provided to China Daily
Two photo albums about the 2008 earthquake explore the disaster and its aftermath, including the recovery. Mei Jia reports in Beijing.
Two photo albums take a panoramic view of one of the world's worst natural disasters in the 21st century so far. The books, When the Earth Shook: The Wenchuan Earthquake and The Rebirth of Our Land: Creating a More Beautiful Sichuan, were published in English by Sichuan-based Xinhua Winshare Publishing and Media Co Ltd and the US' McGraw-Hill Education Group.
"The story of the disaster and the human spirit struggling against it, though a very important one, is not well known in the United States and not well known outside China," says the books' US publisher Philip Ruppel, president of McGraw-Hill Professional.
"It's a story we have to tell, for it offers a shining example of the enduring nature of the human spirit. Also, it's a story that touched me personally, for I experienced the same when the Sept 11 attacks happened. I was right there in New York."
He believes the Wenchuan earthquake, Sept 11 and Japan's 2011 earthquake are the three most devastating disasters in the recent decade.
At 2:28 pm on May 12, 2008, Sichuan province's Wenchuan county was struck by an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale. It's said to be the country's deadliest earthquake since 1976.
Beichuan county student Chen Jian failed to escape and was buried under a falling slab. While he awaited rescue workers, under the rubble, he held out his arm, while his face was mired with mud. His eyes showed the will to beat death. Chen was rescued hours later but died from severe injuries.
This struggle between life and death was captured, together with more than 200 photos taken by professional photographers and reporters on the scene, and is presented in full-color in When the Earth Shook, giving an idea of the scope of the disaster and its aftermath. The book also contains epic rescue and reconstruction efforts.
Director of the General Administration of Press and Publication Liu Binjie calls the book a "powerful and authoritative record" of the disaster.
"It marks history for future generations to examine and to learn," Liu says.
Victor Lu, editor with McGraw-Hill, says he saw many pictures of the disaster on news reports but was still touched by the new albums because "they delve deep into details that were left unseen".
"The books show photos of the affected families supporting each other and people whose houses were destroyed helping reconstruct neighbors' houses," Lu says.
Liu Zhouyuan, chief editor of Sichuan People's Publishing House, affiliated to Xinhua Winshare, is the Chinese publisher.
Liu believes the two books provide a unique view, with exclusive details and images unavailable on the Internet and in other media. The two books' 500 photos were carefully selected from 4,000.
"Months after the editing, I'm still easily excited by a look at the photos included," Liu says.
What excited Liu most are the bird's-eye views of the new homes and schools built in the affected areas. The Rebirth of Our Land features 30 aerial photos taken three to four years after the disaster.
"It's really dramatically changed and is in sharp contrast to the devastating images of the first album," Liu says.
The earthquake razed counties like Wenchuan and Beichuan to the ground.
The reconstruction included the rebuilding of 1.5 million rural houses and 250,000 urban houses, solving the housing problem of more than 5.3 million families and providing shelter for more than 12 million people.
"The colorful new houses in ethnic Qiang areas are in the mountains and along the rivers," Liu says. "Some residents say their living standards have been improved by 20 to 30 years."
He believes the earthquake led to huge concern and help from home and abroad because it was such a destructive disaster in a highly populated area.
"We want to provide an answer to people worldwide who assisted us," he says.
Liu says the united efforts of the people and the government was key to all the improvements.
"Reacting to a disaster of this scale, the government showed resolution and support, and encouraged the people greatly," he says.
Sichuanese people's ability to adapt to hardship, while maintaining an optimistic outlook, has been tested before and proved true again, he adds.
"More now than never, there's a growing market for information created in China that can be adapted to the rest of the world," Ruppel says. "And it suits our mission of spreading knowledge and learning that extends to sharing the wisdom of culture. The story about the Wenchuan earthquake is a story that we have to tell to meet the current thirst for information on contemporary China."
To appeal to Western readers, the publishers changed the wording, layout, covers and titles of the two albums, and added detailed geographic information.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clockwise from top: Rows of new houses rise above fields of blooming rapeseed flowers in Dujiangyan; The new Dashu Bridge in Hanyuan county; Residents move into new houses during the National Day holiday in 2009.
(China Daily 06/19/2012 page19)