Bowing their heads in silent tribute, thousands of officials, soldiers and civilians gathered yesterday in ceremonies across China to mourn the 2,064 victims killed in a devastating quake that hit one week ago in a remote Tibetan region.
At the quake’s epicenter in Yushu County in Qinghai Province, hundreds of rescue workers, residents and children in school uniforms stood silently for a ceremony held on a hill with rubble from destroyed buildings behind them. The solemn gathering was aired live on TV.
Red Chinese flags flew at half-staff as the blaring of horns and sirens from cars, police vehicles and ambulances sounded in the background after three minutes of silence that began at 10am.
Dressed in black with a white flower pinned to his chest, Chinese Communist Party secretary for Qinghai Province Qiang Wei (強衛) called on people to unite and rebuild in the wake of the quake, which also left more than 12,000 people injured.
“Today, we are gathered here to pay our tribute and send our condolences … The earthquake showed no mercy, but we have love. Let us wipe our tears off … and strive to meet a brighter tomorrow and let a more beautiful, wealthy and socialist Yushu stand on the vast Tibetan Plateau,” he said.
Light snow fell in Xining, Qinghai’s capital, as tens of thousands gathered in the town’s main square for formal ceremonies.
Police, government officials, military troops and regular citizens lined up to lay white flowers on tables laden with bouquets.
In Beijing, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), along with other Chinese leaders, led a silent tribute “to express our profound condolences” during a Politburo meeting, while soldiers in Tiananmen Square lowered the national flag to half-staff in the early morning as students in school uniforms saluted.
The US embassy and its consulates in China, as well as the EU delegation, flew their flags at half-staff to show solidarity with China’s tragedy. The US embassy in Beijing also donated US$100,000 to China’s Red Cross and collected clothing, blankets and other items for quake victims.
A charity show on Tuesday night, broadcast nationwide by China Central Television, raised 2.175 billion yuan (US$319 million) for the quake-hit region, with donations mainly coming from the country’s private and state-owned enterprises, entertainers, dignitaries and news organizations.
China ordered all flags be flown at half-staff and called a halt to all entertainment, including online games and sports events, for the national day of mourning.
Newspapers across the country were printed in black and white, instead of color, in a sign of national mourning.
Similar arrangements were made two years ago following a larger and deadlier earthquake in southern Sichuan Province that left nearly 90,000 dead or missing. Such high-profile displays of government concern are also likely aimed at tamping any potential unrest among the mostly Tibetan victims.
Conspicuously absent from the ceremonies yesterday were any images of Tibetan Buddhist monks, who had played a large role in the rescue efforts.
It was unclear whether they were not allowed to attend or chose not to. In recent days, the state media have largely played down the monks’ role in relief efforts, focusing instead on government aid.