Liao Bo and Zheng Haiyang, once classmates, yesterday met for the first time in front of the debris of the former Beichuan Middle School since the devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake last May razed the once bustling building to a huge pile of debris.
Both wheelchair-bound ever since the quake, the 17-year-olds lit red candles kept on the ground to pay tribute to their schoolmates and teachers who did not make it out of the debris alive.
Zheng Haiyang (left) and Liao Bo mourn at the former site of Beichuan Middle School yesterday. [China Daily]
More than 1,300 of the Beichuan Middle School's 2,900 students were killed in the quake.
Stories of courage and heroics from the school, broadcast across the nation, moved millions to tears.
Liao, a senior high school student who lost his left leg in the quake, came all the way from a rehab center in Beijing to pay tribute to the dead.
Zheng, whose smiling face under the debris, published in newspapers across the globe, touched millions of hearts, was also left partially paralyzed.
Despite being severely injured, Zheng helped several injured students to safety.
Liao and Zheng used to share a desk in their class of about 35 students, just about a handful of whom survived the quake.
There were no tears rolling down their cheeks when the two friends met for the first time after the disaster. The pair and several other survivors of their class have never met in person since the quake.
Calm and collected, they moved toward each other after lighting the candles and spoke in a very low tone for a few minutes.
In the backdrop lay the debris of the destroyed school building, now surrounded by a 2-m-high fence.
"I just want to have a look at the school and mourn my classmates," Liao said, his eyes moist.
Zheng's dream to become a star basketball player was torn to pieces by the sudden quake.
But encouraged by Zhang Haidi, chairwoman of the China Disabled Persons' Federation, he rekindled his sports dream and decided to take up Paralympic sports, despite being paralyzed below the waist.
He participated in the pre-test for athletes for the 2011 National Games for the Disabled Persons.
"I may have a hope in wheelchair racing," he said. "You can't move on if you don't accept reality."
"There are a lot of people who love me and want to see me happy I can't let them down."
Zhang Hua and Yang Mingyu, mothers to two teenage boys whose bodies have still not been dug out of the debris, were among the many parents who came to the site to mourn their lost children.
"Our children are dead. There's nothing we can do about that," Zhang said.
Yang hoped the authorities would build a monument at the site of the school, with the names of all the deceased students and teachers etched on it.
"My son went to school in the morning, but never came back. He's still down there somewhere," she said.
Students who survived the deadly quake now attend classes at the nearby Changhong Vocational College in Mianyang.
Work to reconstruct the Beichuan Middle School will start on May 12, the first anniversary of the earthquake.
More than 90,000 people were killed or missing and millions were left homeless, the government statistics have shown.
Chinese from both home and abroad have donated nearly 200 million yuan (US$29 million) for the reconstruction project.
(China Daily April 3, 2009)