A COUNTY GRIEVES
The quake brutally hit the seat of Beichuan County, an area of just 3.3 square kilometers, leaving 20,000 dead or missing.
On Tuesday, about 50,000 people returned to the county seat to mourn the dead, and a police official estimated that the number of visitors on Wednesday may have exceeded 100,000.
Burning incense and yellow chrysanthemums were strewn among the ruins, while firecrackers crackled now and then. In the distance, a woman carefully lit a handful of green incense, sending smoke swirling up into the sky.
Yuan Linqiong, a 48-year-old mother, came to burn paper money, clothes and cigarettes for her deceased son, a former soldier. Some Chinese believe that if they burn special "spirit" money or items, their deceased relatives will receive them in the other world.
"He liked smoking," Yuan said.
Though her son's body was never found, Yuan stands among the ruins and senses that he is quite near. She speaks serenely about him and about her dreams of him that used to occur constantly, but have tapered off recently.
Shi Shaozhen came with her daughter-in-law to mourn her youngest son and granddaughter. She blotted her tears with a tissue.
"My granddaughter's birthday was May 30," she said. "If she were alive, she would be six this year."
In China, it is customary for family members to mourn the death of a loved one for three years. When those three years are over, though, it means that it is time for the living to look ahead.