The media called Li Qingsong's rescue a "miracle". He was pulled out unscathed from under the rubble after more than 104 hours.
A week after his brush with death, the 20-year-old decided it was time to repay his saviors, and joined the relief work as a volunteer.
Yesterday, the man known for his optimism and humor was seated behind a reception desk along a major road to Shifang, his hometown and one of the worst hit areas in the May 12 earthquake. He was helping direct drivers transporting relief materials.
Earlier, Li had teamed up with a unit of soldiers that rescued him and harvested wheat and vegetables.
"The PLA gave me a second life," the temporary worker at a local chemical plant said.
His urge to do something for the quake victims has prompted him to join the relief work, Li said. Although he said he might be too young to understand the meaning of life, he was more than willing to share his story with others.
Li said he has been full of energy since being released from hospital a day after he was rescued.
His narrow escape has made him a better person, relatives and friends said. "He used to be a rebellious sort with a very short temper," his cousin said, with Li listening quietly sitting next to him.
The new volunteer said: "I want to do something for the quake victims," and plan to join the People's Liberation Army later this year.
Li was watching TV alone in a spacious lounge on the second floor of a five-story factory that collapsed.
He rushed toward the stairs on hearing loud shouts of "run, run" from the other rooms. But he was met by a wall, with a 20-cm crack, which was about to fall on the staircase.
Not knowing what had actually happened, he ran back to seek shelter under a bar counter. On his way back, he heard the wall collapse, burying the sound of five fleeing employees.
Seconds later, the second floor caved, and Li was trapped among the marble bar counter and other fallen slabs. But the space was big enough for him to lie down or squat.
"It's like living in a tent the bricks were my pillow ... and the floor served as bed," Li told his cousin brother after he was rescued. "Also, a slight wind was blowing in a natural air-conditioner."
About 90 minutes later, he found out he was not the only one trapped under the debris. That was when his 31-year-old colleague Bian Gangfen came out of a coma and began crying.
"From the sound, I could tell we were very close," Li said. "It seemed she was just on the other side of the slab." Actually, she was trapped face down with a gigantic slate on her back.
For the next four days, the two kept cheering up one another. "It began raining on May 13. So I told her jocularly: 'How lucky you are because you can drink some water. You can also swim if it rains longer'."
Li tried to kill time by smoking and playing with the lighter even though his "enclosure" was totally dark. He swallowed cigarette butts and note pads when he could no longer control his hunger. "They taste extremely terrible."
Outside, Li's parents and cousin were moving from one hospital to another in search of the only son in the family. They lost all hope after they could not find him in any.
"But our hope re-ignited when a rescue team said it had found two survivors in the rubble and that one of them might be surnamed Li," his cousin Yuan Jia recalled.
Li crawled out after almost 12 hours of rescue work. The rescue workers had given him a hammer, too, so that he could break his way out with their help.
After emerging from his trap, the first sentence he spoke was: "A woman is still inside. You must save her." Bian was pulled out 20 hours later.
(China Daily June 2, 2008)