The strongest earthquake to hit China in three decades has sent the nation into an abyss of grief. As of noon on Friday, the quake that hit southwestern Sichuan Province on May 12 was known to have killed 55,740 people and injured 292,481 others.
However, amid the tragedies, stories about children have lightened people's hearts and given them confidence.
Children, one of the most vulnerable sections of the population, have become an unexpected force for inspiration. Here are some of the words and deeds of the brave boys and girls.
I AM NOT AFRAID. PLEASE DON'T WORRY ABOUT ME
-- Trapped 7-year-old Ren Siyu in the epicenter, Wenchuan, tried to reassure rescuers as they were hurrying to dig her out from under the debris of her kindergarten, where she had been trapped for two days.
Badly injured and blood-stained, Ren hummed a childhood song, "Two Tigers", while waiting to be freed.
"I will forget the pain when I sing," she said.
"Some are born as an angel to give people hope," one Internet comment said of her.
GIVE ME A COKE, ICED, PLEASE
-- That's what 17-year-old Xue Xiao told rescuers after being put on a stretcher. With severe injuries to his right arm and right leg, Xue was free after 80 hours under a collapsed four-story building in Mianzhu.
The Chinese public was moved by his optimism and passion for life and nicknamed him "the coke boy".
"He sends a beam of ease and liveliness into a grief-stricken nation," one Internet comment read.
Xue's right hand was later amputated.
I LOVE MY SISTER
-- Amid the outflow of panicked survivors from the epicenter, 11-year-old Zhang Jiwan in Beichuan trudged 12 hours with his 3-year-old sister on his back.
With their parents far from home as migrant workers and their grandparents too old to care for them, Zhang became the man of the family at a time of crisis.
The picture of the siblings became widely popular on the Internet.
"You are the backbone of China tomorrow," one comment said.
The boy and his family eventually reached a resettlement center in Mianyang City later that day with a reporter's help.
THE SALUTE BOY
More than 10 hours after the quake struck, 3-year-old Lang Zheng was rescued from the quake debris in Beichuan. After being put on a stretcher, an injured and fragile Lang slowly raised his right arm and saluted his rescuers in gratitude.
The moment was captured by a photographer and his gratitude moved the whole nation.
"At such a young age, he knows how to show gratitude. I should stop complaining about my own misfortune and learn to be grateful for what I've got," said one Internet user.
Lang, from the Qushan Township kindergarten of Beichuan County, sustained a fractured left arm and had parts of his left fingers amputated.
(Xinhua News Agency May 23, 2008)