Yesterday’s earthquake reached 7.8 on the Richter Scale. At this point, more than thirteen thousand are dead, including more than two thousand children, and the toll of dead reached 65,000. Russia, Japan and Taiwan joined China's rescue operation as troops poured into Sichuan province to free those trapped in collapsed buildings and it marks the first time the Chinese government has accepted foreign professionals to assist domestic disaster rescue and relief efforts. Even dogs have been deployed to sniff for signs of life under the wreckage.
I read the figures, watched the reports on television, shed some tears and then consigned the afflicted to the same corner of my consciences as the hundreds of thousands stricken in Myanmar. What else could I do? I had been stripped of a large part of my reserves of empathy after living in Africa. For the time being, I had no more capacity to care about others because caring about others, crying for pain of others, witnessing horrors faced by others had left me cold.
And I am afraid I need to be cold for a bit, at least for the moment.
The following week China observed three minutes of silence to commemorate those who perished as a result of the earthquake. The country and its 1.3 billion people stood still to bow their heads as car sirens sounded in memory of the dead. The country was united for a moment but the government disappointed in the coming months, covering up their shoddy construction of schools, and refusing to compensate the victims. The grief of those who had lost their children was palpable, horrifying, and compounded in a country where a people are only allowed to have one child. Wealthy people often have more than one child since they can afford to pay the fine but the majority of the population is subject “to the 300,000 officials whose job is to enforce the One-Child Policy and mandatory abortion, which is often referred to as “remedial measures” (bujiu cuoshi) in government reports, is endorsed explicitly as an official policy instrument in the regulations of 18 of China's 31 provincial-level jurisdictions.”
The protest was so great that the Chengdu Population and Family Planning Committee issues certificates allowing couples who only child was killed to have another child, temporarily rescinding the one-child policy. In addition, the government has also agreed to allow those families who were left with a maimed child as a result of the earthquake to have another child, hence insuring their own security during old age. And for those women who are now unable to conceive? The senseless loss must be insurmountable. In terms of the one-child policy, the government is left with two options - introduce democratic mechanisms that allow families to have as many children as they would like (leading to further overpopulation) or control an individuals right to choose (fomenting social discontent).
Our move to China was recent and a part of me remained in Africa. While China mourned for its dead, South African mobs continued on their rampage, killing and raping foreigners, and pillaging foreign owned shops. The year is 2008 and political analysts have predicted a civil war of sorts for some time, a consequence of the quick erosion of social welfare and social rights. How can black South Africans who were subjected to tremendous suffering at the hands of racist leaders, now propagate the same hate crimes?