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Cataclysmic lessons

Updated: 2013-05-09 14:42
By Erik Nilsson (China Daily)


Cataclysmic lessons

Mountains can be evil. Yes, they're usually beautiful, but they're often as seismic as they are scenic.

People can be good. Yes, they sometimes exude as much malevolence as mountains, but they're usually more helpful than hurtful.

I didn't realize this dichotomy's depth before I set out on 13 journeys through the Wenchuan quake zone nearly half a decade ago. I discovered a place where the earth juddered, and its peaks instantly shed their stony skins, blasting flashfloods of rock over vast swaths of Sichuan province that killed up to 90,000.

Juxtaposed against this tectonic ferocity is humankind's gentleness. Sichuan's quake zone is the collision of nature's worst and humanity's best.

Most of the hundreds of survivors I've spoken with over the years echoed the same revelations – they cherished love and help from others, and realize they must love and help others.

That's much of the reason why the rescue and recovery in Sichuan is hailed among the world's best following a mass catastrophe.

Today, many survivors say the quake would have been one of the greatest events to happen to them if not for the casualties.

Nobody can raise the dead.

Otherwise, up to 30 years of development were compressed into five, they explain. Many destitute settlements were reconstructed to resemble neighborhoods in richer countries.

That's because neighbors helped neighbors. Soldiers saved civilians. People from around the country and the world donated. And domestic and international volunteers devoted their time, energy and expertise to the rescue and redevelopment.

Both survivors and outsiders learned we're in this together. Any one of us on this rock we call Earth can be victimized by the planet, including its seizures, as happens in quakes.

The Wenchuan disaster is globally acclaimed as the tragic “birth of Chinese civil society”.

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