This past Monday (May 12) marked the 6th anniversary of the deadly 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In a temporary classroom of a collapsed middle school, Wen Jiabao, Chinese premier at the time, wrote: “Much distress regenerates a nation.” After 6 years, what does the “regenerated” China look like now?
Looking back, 2008 was a year when patriotism can be felt in the air almost across China. There was the Sichuan earthquake when the entire country – young and old, rich and poor – was mobilized to offer help and condolence. It was a time when people actually watched Chinese state media with sincerity – stories of soldiers and police officers working at the front line of disaster relief brought people to tears.
There was also the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which more or less marked the global recognition of China’s rise, and the integration of China into the global economy. Chinese people in and outside the country united to celebrate this long-waited “back to greatness” moment. It was also the year when the recession hit the western world hard. All of a sudden, China looked so good.
Disaster and glory together have stuck the people of China together, who, over the years, unfortunately fall apart bit by bit. If China looked like a nation of harmony in 2008, today’s China feels more like a nation of discord.
“I will never forget the tears in my grandparents’ eyes when they brought me to the earthquake ruins. My aunt is still buried under the debris dam as of this very moment. I won’t blame it on the government’s non action, but I will never forget.” One netizen 路小雨__Joanna shared her family’s story.
Others, however, do blame the government. As one netizen 令狐海棠_1874 bitterly asked: “Six years ago, we were told that disaster relief came first, and questions later. Six years have passed, we still don’t have answers.”
Those unanswered questions include: why did so many schools collapse but not government buildings? how has donation money been used? Just last month, there were reports about rotten disaster relief supplies, such as food, water and clothes, found sitting in warehouses for the past 6 years.
An even more important question, however, is: what has changed about China since then? Instead of pride and positivity, China’s air is now filled with toxic particles, plus distrust, discontent, frustration and anger.
On the same day of the Sichuan earthquake anniversary, an old men set fire to a full bus in Yibin, Sichuan on Monday, leaving 1 dead and several severely injured. At the same time in the city of Hangzhou several hundreds of miles away, local residents clashed with police violently in protest against a waste incinerator. Earlier this month, a knife attack at Guangzhou train station left several people injured. Two months ago, another knife attack at Kunming train station left 29 dead and more than 140 injured.
There are also China’s slowing economy, the pending collapse of the housing market, the growing ethnic problems in Uyghur and Tibet, and the endless territory distributes with almost every neighboring country. If 2008 was a “Chinese dream,” that dream, to many Chinese, has been popped by now.
“Back in 2008, many people hoped that the earthquake can shake some positive boosts of change and reform into China…but soon they realized that it was but a dream.” Netizen 马勒戈壁 continued: “Those who have dreamed that dream 6 years ago should apologize…They helped to create a collective illusion that future will be better.” He continued.
But the sad reality is that this gradually awakening China is still plagued by amnesia.