Economist - China helps itself
- From: cksf <chow-kow@sick-fûçkk.org>
- Date: Fri, 23 May 2008 13:16:01 +0800
Economist - China helps itself Topic List < Prev Topic | Next Topic >
Reply | Forward < Prev Message | Next Message >
The Economist, UK
The earthquake in Sichuan
China helps itself
May 22nd 2008 | JIANGYOU
From The Economist print editionThe government's relief effort is impressive; even more inspiring is
what ordinary people are doing to fill the gaps
SOME 200 survivors of China's deadliest earthquake in more than 30
years line up for a handout of food. It looks good. There is rice
gruel, braised diced pork, courgettes and hot steamed buns. There are
also no officials. The Communist Party likes to be seen as society's
main benefactor, but this is private aid.
The party has mobilised its own forces on a huge scale in response to
the disaster on May 12th in the south-western province of Sichuan,
which has left more than 74,000 dead or missing, 247,000 injured and
5m homeless. More than 100,000 troops and police have been deployed to
help survivors and to rescue people trapped by rubble and landslides.
Hopes of finding more are fast dwindling. But the scale of
non-governmental involvement has been just as striking.
The food handout in Jiangyou, a small city 115km (70 miles) east of
the epicentre, was being carried out by volunteers from an ad hoc
group of private catering companies from another province. The
recipients were refugees from the nearby town of Beichuan, which was
all but flattened by the earthquake. Their appetising hot meal
contrasted with the instant noodles and biscuits offered at other food
Even had it wanted to, it would have been difficult for the government
to keep relief efforts in the hands of its usual instruments: military
and civilian officials, the Communist Youth League and the Chinese Red
Cross. The disaster struck at a time of nationalist fervour fuelled by
a widespread feeling that China was being unfairly criticised for its
handling of unrest in Tibet. Sentiments were further aroused by
blanket coverage of the earthquake in the state-controlled media?a
departure from the party's usual tongue-tied approach to disasters.
Responding to the mood, the government declared three days of public
mourning from May 19th. Disasters do not normally rate such
attention?the last day of public mourning was 11 years ago, on the
death of Deng Xiaoping. In Beijing thousands of people gathered in
Tiananmen Square to observe an official call for three minutes of
silence. They also, spontaneously, chanted slogans and punched their
fists in the air, shouting ?Come on China!? as police looked on
warily. In Chengdu, the provincial capital, on May 21st a police car
shadowed about 100 unofficial relief workers who marched through the
streets after dark, carrying candles and chanting patriotic slogans.
A fast-growing middle class with money to spare on travel and, as it
now seems, on charity, did not wait for official encouragement to help
out in Sichuan. Thousands of volunteers headed to the disaster zone,
from businessmen to Christian youth. Their cars, some bedecked with
flags and slogans, ply the expressway between Chengdu and Jiangyou.
Hundreds of taxis helped ferry the injured to hospitals in the city.
At Mianyang, a big city close to Jiangyou, police erected barricades
on an approach road to a stadium sheltering some 20,000 refugees, to
prevent its being clogged by volunteer vehicles. A government plea for
unofficial volunteers to stay away from the disaster zone and
concentrate instead on activities such as raising money and donating
blood has fallen on deaf ears.
The government seems little inclined to deter the volunteers more
rigorously. It knows that public opinion is mostly on its side. The
prime minister, Wen Jiabao, appears to have earned considerable kudos
by rushing to the scene and staying there for five days to direct
relief operations, at one point in tears.
Inside the stadium grounds, which are guarded by militia in camouflage
uniforms, stalls set up by volunteer groups offer the refugees
services ranging from psychological counselling to the (seemingly more
popular) charging of mobile-telephone batteries. An American nurse at
one stall helps doctors examine children. In the town of Shifang,
south-west of Jiangyou, Buddhist monks say prayers for victims in a
temple where the government has settled hundreds of refugees.
The combination of government and volunteer effort appears to have had
good results. In refugee camps on the periphery of the disaster zone,
tent areas appear clean and orderly, with adequate supplies of food
and clean water. There have been no reports of serious outbreaks of
disease. Most refugees seem in reasonable spirits. Tents, however, are
a problem. Officials say there are still far from enough proper ones.
Many refugees are sheltering under makeshift tarpaulin structures.
Some Chengdu residents, fearing aftershocks, have taken to sleeping in
tents. Demand has pushed up the cost of a small tent fourfold,
residents complain, despite government orders to retailers to rein in
prices of relief-related materials.
Much of the volunteer effort has involved individuals or small groups.
China is still wary of large NGOs and has none that is truly
independent of the government specialising in disaster relief. But in
recent years the party has begun to acknowledge more openly that there
may a role for them. Official press coverage of the earthquake,
although careful to highlight the party's contributions, has also paid
rare tribute to the unofficial volunteers.
The government has been encouraging firms to give more generously to
worthy causes. From this year it has increased tax incentives for
corporate donations to charities. But this applies to only a small
number of government-approved organisations. For the sake of
earthquake relief the authorities are letting down their guard. But
the government gives little encouragement to new NGOs and often treats
the small existing ones as potential germs of political opposition.
The response to this disaster might ease its fears.
aka running dog chow-kow-sick-fûçkk(cksf)
- Prev by Date: NST : Staying the course to counter the attack
- Next by Date: Umno unfazed by 1,000-odd defections
- Previous by thread: NST : Staying the course to counter the attack
- Next by thread: Re: Economist - China helps itself