CHENGDU - In a Chinese town destroyed in a magnitude-8.0 earthquake three years ago, the survivors have long gone, but the compassion and respect for the deceased never faded.
The central government had injected 420 million yuan ($ 64.7 million ) into preserving the ruins of the quake-razed old town of Beichuan Qiang autonomous county in Southwest China's Sichuan province, said Li Zhengshou, commander of the old town preservation headquarters.
Walking in the ruins, visitors may feel that the moment of the disaster is frozen, as they can see scattered clothes, cigarette butts, dusty dolls, and ropes that were made of sheets to save hundreds of students trapped in a dormitory building at a vocational school.
"The preservation of the quake ruins is a consolation to the deceased," Li said, adding that the 0.9-square-kilometer ruins are the largest quake ruins in the world.
The ruins are also a warning for human beings to revere Mother Nature and a platform to conduct scientific studies, Li said.
About 20,000 Beichuan residents were declared dead or missing due to the ferocious quake, nearly accounting for one-quarter of the overall death toll from the catastrophe.
The bodies of thousands of victims were buried in the ruins, most in a large cemetery, said Zhao Kaisheng, director of the headquarters office.
We would build a new county town of Beichuan while preserving the old town as quake relics, said Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao when he oversaw the rescue operation in Beichuan on May 22, 2008, 10 days after the tremor occurred.
The disaster, an indelible moment in the country's history, should be engraved in the minds of the Chinese people, and some ruins should remain as necessary evidence, Ge Jianxiong, a prominent Chinese historian, told Xinhua.
On the other hand, the ruins could serve as a lasting memorial for quake survivors, said Hu Guangwei, deputy director of the Institute of Sociology of Sichuan Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.
"Providing the bereaved people with a place to mourn their departed family members and friends may help them forget their sorrow," Hu said.
After the quake, four important quake ruins in Beichuan County, as well as Yingxiu, Hanwang and Hongkou townships in Sichuan, were listed by the central government as being under protection, Li said.
KEEP RUINS INTACT
In the past two years, the old town preservation headquarters has been striving to guard the final resting place of quake victims from rampant natural disasters.
A 254-meter-long and 18.8-meter-high dam was just completed to the south of the ruins to protect against mud-rock flows, landslides and flooding, which frequently submerged the old town soon following the quake, Zhao said.
The nearby mountains, which became unstable after the quake, have been covered with metal mesh to stop falling rocks. Also, workers are dredging a river that runs through the old town and building dikes to prevent the river from flooding.
Moreover, 23 half-collapsed houses in the ruins have been strengthened to maintain their original appearances and ensure the safety of visitors, Zhao said.
According to a preservation plan formulated by the Shanghai-based Tongji University, which is renowned for its architectural studies, the reinforcement work was performed with minimum changes to the buildings.
"For example, the reinforcement facilities we used can be dismantled without leaving major changes in the appearance and structure of the buildings," Li said.
An article published in Japan's Mainichi Daily News last month said the old town of Beichuan, which remains as ruins, made visitors feel that time had stopped.
The Japanese residents living in the quake-ravaged areas were rebuilding their lives, the article said, while raising a question about how to pass on the memories of the disaster to future generations.
"The ruins should be preserved so that we have a place to hold a memorial service during the Spring Festival and on Tomb-sweeping Day," said a woman surnamed Liu, who previously lived in the old town and lost eight family members in the quake.
"Beichuan people should never forget that the beautiful new county town was built at the expense of so many lives," Liu said.
Chinese traditions highly value the respect for the deceased, Hu Guangwei said. "The preservation of the ruins complies with people's needs."