A powerful earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter Scale in Tangshan, in the northern province of Hebei on July 28, 1976 left 242, 769 dead, 164, 851 critically injured, flattened homes and caused unfathomable despair. But even out of this dire situation love and hope grew - between paraplegic couples.
"We have been married for nearly 30 years. It is his taking care of me that helps me to survive, " An Fengling, 48, who was left paralyzed for almost 30 years after the destructive quake told the China Times.
Although An, then 18, survived the devastating quake, she was paralyzed after a beam hit her back and caused severe injuries to her spine. She has continued her life in a wheelchair since then, but now she has to stay in bed due to rheumatism and diabetes, according to the Beijing-based paper.
"My husband has never complained to me since we married each other in 1979. My temper makes me fight with him, but he is never angry with me," A says, while her husband, surnamed Gang, massages her swollen leg.
"Even though she has no feeling in her legs, I still massage them for at least two hours everyday," says Gang.
"There have been lots of difficulties facing us these past years. I workedas a vendor and we would get satisfied if we ate enough and felt full," Gang says.
"Our child is helped breed by police officers from a local police station," Gang told the paper without elaborating on his child's age.
An may be luckier than many of the 3, 817 paralyzed quake victims.Her husband is healthy.
In a separate report, the China Times says in 1978 50 residents that survived the devastating quake but were paralyzed, married each other in 1992 in spite of medical expert estimates that their life-spans would be less than 15 years.
Some paraplegics received treatment at Tangshan Convalescent Hospital. Love emerged as these unlucky patients got along well with each other. During their stay at the hospital, they chatted and exercised with each other. Men helped women fix wheelchairs and women helped with washing clothes, the paper says.
"Paraplegic couples will encounter difficulties from the public and their relatives. Worries about being burdens are common when they face their uncertain futures," a staff member with the civil branch of the local governmenttold the paper.
But love helps them search for happiness.
In the late 1980s, some patients started to appeal to the local government and various departments, demanding support for their marriages, the paper says.
A community for paraplegics who would like to marry was established in 1992 after a three-year effort.
"Every morning, paraplegic couples travel to nearby markets using their electric vehicles to buy vegetables. Then, they begin doing chores and preparing for lunch. After a short rest at noon, some will chat with their neighboughs or play cards," community head Yang Changlu says.
"Most of the couples make a living on subsidies. Some who had jobs before the quake are eligible to receive 300 to 400 yuan (US$37.5-50) or 1000 to 2000 yuan (US$125-250) per month from their companies. Others will get 225 yuan (US$28) as their minimum living income," says Yang.
However, most couples are reluctant to move into the community because they are accustomed to their lives at the hospital, according to the paper.
"They are worried about their future lives but when they learn that they can overcome their difficulties, more and more couples moved into the community and started their lives," the community's first head and planner Wang Baozhan told the paper.
The 30th anniversary of the Tangshan quake falls on July 28, 1976.
(China Daily July 24, 2006)