Deceased get spring clothing

Updated: 2011-04-06 08:01

(China Daily)

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Tomb-sweeping traditions keep memories of loved ones alive

ZHOUQU, Gansu - Wang Qiming pressed a yellow paper ribbon onto his grandson's burial mound, while his wife burned joss paper in silence.

Nearby, other white and yellow paper ribbons, symbolizing spring clothing, decorated the graves of Wang's son and daughter-in-law.

"The spring has come. They'll need to change into thinner clothes," said the 78-year-old Wang.

Survivors of the landslide that leveled Zhouqu county of Northwest China's Gansu province last August delivered "spring clothing" to the dearly departed on Tuesday, Tomb-Sweeping Day, a traditional holiday for Chinese to mourn dead family members.

The disaster killed at least 1,434 people and left 331 others missing.

He Xinchao, a resident of the worst-hit Yueyuan village, and his 5-year-old son survived the disaster that left the rest of their family dead.

"Today I miss them more than ever," said He, who buried 16 empty coffins after the disaster because, of his 18 relatives who died in the landslide, only his parents' bodies were found.

The ribbons brought color to the myriad empty grave mounds where houses once stood along the Sanyan and Luojia valleys. Millions of tons of mud and rock gushed from rivers in the valleys, burying some so deep that the bodies could not be retrieved.

Nearly every building in Yueyuan village was destroyed. Only 150 of the village's 361 registered residents survived, while an even larger migrant population was lost.

A memorial garden in the village was completed on Tuesday. Names of those killed or missing are inscribed on a nearly 23-meter-long arched wall in the garden.

Feng Sheping was one of the workers who built the memorial. During breaks, he browsed through the names etched into the wall, pausing at the names of his father, son, sister, brother and many other relatives and friends.

Near the memorial, a giant rock rests in the place where Feng's home once stood. Some of his family members are still buried under this rock. Feng was working in the area with his wife and two daughters when they saw the landslide devour their house with his father and son in it.

More than 46,000 people lived in Zhouqu's 1.5-square-kilometer county seat before the landslide. Overcrowding was partially to blame for the disaster. Bungalows piled along hazardous valleys even blocked the flood discharge channels.

About 8,000 residents of Zhouqu are being relocated to the provincial capital of Lanzhou, about 500 km away. Another 15,000 people will move to a newly developed district called Fengdie New Area about 15 km away, according to Zhai Mingli, deputy head of the Zhouqu reconstruction office.

China plans to invest about 5 billion yuan ($765 million) in reconstructing Zhouqu. A large part of these funds will be spent on fixing the county's ecology.

Zhouqu, once known for its lush forest, had barely any trees left on its hills and valleys before the disaster after centuries of deforestation. Without vegetation, heavy rain can loosen soil and stones, triggering landslides.

A total of 2,246 people died and 669 others went missing in geological disasters across China in 2010, according to statistics from the Ministry of Land and Resources.



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