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From Tangshan to Wenchuan: a fault line through modern China
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By Sunday, the death toll was 69,170 with 17,427 missing, according to the State Council Information Office. A total of 374,159 people were injured, and more than 1.41 million survivors had been evacuated.

In another first, a three-day period of national mourning for the dead was declared and flags were lowered to half-mast.

The list of "firsts" goes on:

-- Blood donors in cities had to wait to be called in to donate blood because banks were full;

-- People nationwide rushed to make donations to what has become China's biggest ever charity fund;

-- The flow of volunteers into Sichuan caused traffic jams;

-- The media put out a steady stream of reports on the rescue and relief operations;

-- Foreign rescue teams from Japan, Russia, the Republic of Korea and Singapore assisted in the search for survivors.

In an unusual move, President Hu visited tent factories in the southeastern province of Zhejiang, a major manufacturing base, to urge them to step up production, as tents were badly needed by survivors.

As a result, the world saw an orderly, united and stable China, free from rumors and scare-mongering.

Professor Yan Shuhan, of the Central Party School which trains cadres for the Communist Party of China (CPC), says the public reactions to the two disasters differed thanks to fundamental changes in the CPC's concepts of governance over the last 32 years.

The strategic concept of "putting people first", initiated by Hu in 2004 to promote a civil society, has been implemented, Yan says.


As the CPC has improved its concepts of governance, it has made distinct responses to the two quakes and the public notice the difference.

Meanwhile, a much stronger economy and a more active society after 30 years of development has enabled people to mobilize and muster resources at a time of great need.

In the 29 years from 1978 to 2007, the overall national strength has increased markedly and living standards have improved steadily.

China's GDP jumped from US$147.3 billion to US$3.43 trillion with an average annual growth of 9.4 percent. Foreign trade rose from 20.6 billion dollars to 2.17 trillion dollars, averaging an annual growth of more than 16 percent. Foreign reserves had increased from 167 million dollars to US$1.53 trillion by the end of 2007.

Wang Tongsan, an economist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says the economic progress has laid a solid basis for the government in its efforts to conduct rescue and relief work as well as reconstruction.

By Sunday, the government disaster relief fund had reached 53.76 billion yuan (US$7.68 billion): 49.15 billion yuan from the central budget and 4.61 billion yuan from local budgets.

Economic development has also brought advanced technologies and improved management, allowed the rapid deployment of hundreds of thousands of rescuers to the quake zone.

More than 200 military and civil aircraft have made about 6,600 flights since May 12. The daily flight volume was dozens of times more than usual, according to the PLA Air Force Air Traffic Control Department.

"Troops and other rescuers were swiftly airlifted into quake zones and they were able to use all manner of rescue machinery and equipments to save many lives," Wang says.

The Wenchuan quake also saw companies, organizations and individuals across the country helping with an unprecedented donation drive.

As of Sunday, domestic and foreign donations had reached 45.65 billion yuan in cash and goods, of which 14.15 billion yuan had been forwarded to the quake zone. It was the first time charitable donations had surpass 40 billion yuan.

Moreover, the Wenchuan quake also distinguished itself from the Tangshan quake for the involvement of the huge number of volunteers.

An estimated 10 million volunteers from across the country went to aid survivors, taking part in rescue work, medical and psychological care, relief distribution, maintaining social order and cultural activities.

Philanthropist Chen Guangbiao, chief executive of Jiangsu Huangpu Investment, dispatched 120 drivers and 60 digging machines from eastern China to Sichuan to assist rescue and relief operations and road repairs.

In the face of catastrophe, people across the nation acted and did what they could to help, including Xiao Yun -- despite the controversy.

(Xinhua News Agency June 16, 2008)

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