A girl lays flowers in front of a monument for the Wenchuan quake at the site of old Beichuan county in Southwest China's Sichuan province, May 12, 2011. Beichuan was among the most damaged areas on May 12, 2008. [Photo/CFP]
In China, custom has it that three years mark the end of mourning for a deceased family member -- after that, it's time for the living to look ahead. But in Beichuan Qiang Autonomous County, the worst hit county of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, it certainly isn't that easy.
Thursday marks the third anniversary of the massive quake that rocked Sichuan Province and killed more than 85,000. Covering just 3.3 square kilometers, the quake brutally hit Beichuan county seat, leaving 20,000 dead or missing.
On Tuesday, about 50,000 people returned to the county seat to mourn for the dead, and a police official estimated that the number of visitors on Wednesday could exceed 100,000.
Among the ruins, burning incense and yellow chrysanthemum were everywhere, while firecrackers crackled now and then. In the distance, a woman grasped a handful of green incense and carefully lit it. The smoke coiled up into the sky.
Yuan Linqiong, a 48-year-old mother, came to send money, clothes and cigarettes for her deceased son--a soldier. Chinese believe that if they burn special "spirit" money or other items, their deceased relatives can receive them in the other world. "He likes smoking," Yuan said.
Her son's body was never found, yet Yuan stands among the ruins and senses he is quite near. She speaks serenely about him and about her dreams of him--dreams that were constant after the quake but have faded recently.
Shi Shaozhen came with her daughter-in-law to mourn for her youngest son and granddaughter. Shi blotted her tears with tissue. "My granddaughter's birthday was May 30," she said. "If she were alive, she would be six."