You are here

Talking Points: May 13 - 27, 2009

The USC U.S.-China Institute's weekly newsletter - news about U.S.-China relations and China-focused talks, conferences, performances, and screenings.
May 13, 2009

USC U.S.-China Institute Weekly Newsletter

Talking Points
May 13 - 27, 2009

A 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit Sichuan province a year ago, killing nearly 90,000 people and leaving more than five million homeless. Chinese officials marked the anniversary by releasing a “white paper,” designating May 12, 2009 as the first “Disaster Prevention and Reduction Day,” and organizing national and local ceremonies to mourn the dead. Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao spoke in quake devastated Yingxiu saying, “Faced with unprecedented disaster …. and under the strong leadership of the Party’s Central Committee, the State Council, and the Party’s Central Military Commission, the entire Party, the entire army, and the country’s people of all ethnicities … mobilized the fastest, widest and strongest relief efforts to save as many lives as possible….”

The Chinese government marshaled immense resources to aid in rescue and relief. Helicopters were dispatched, and in some cases soldiers parachuted into remote areas to offer help. Blood drives were organized and injured were shipped to distant hospitals. Cities such as Shenzhen were called upon to rapidly deliver prefabricated housing.

May 12, 2008, though, may be best remembered for the unscripted and widespread outpouring of support from ordinary Chinese. People loaded up private SUVs with supplies and headed out. They took up collections. They utilized cell phones and websites to gather and disseminate information. They raised money (corporations, and foreign governments and individuals donated heavily as well, as of Monday a total of US $11.2 billion had been raised).

And ordinary Chinese insisted on mourning the dead.

This prompted the government to declare three days of mourning. At the outset, people stopped, horns honked, and websites went black and white. Never before were disaster victims so formally remembered.

People in China were transfixed by remarkable stories of rescued women giving birth and some of the trapped holding out for days. They carefully monitored the rescue efforts. Media outlets from across China ignored directives calling on them to utilize only centrally produced stories and images. They met the reader and viewer demand by sending in their own reporters and camera crews. This unintentional openness further stimulated popular support for relief efforts.

The openness also meant that the collapse of 6,900 school buildings drew special notice. According to official statistics released this week, 5,335 schoolchildren were among those killed. Some charged that some school buildings collapsed because they were poorly constructed. Distraught parents and others argued that officials had been bribed to award construction contracts to unscrupulous builders whose shoddy techniques were overlooked by similarly corrupt inspectors.

In fairly short order, provincial and other authorities moved to squelch this grumbling by offering parents compensation for their loss (payments have sometimes been equal to several years earnings), pledging pensions, or when necessary sending in security officers to break up meetings, turn away reporters, or lock up the occasional organizer/blogger. As the first anniversary neared, Chinese news organizations were directed to highlight achievements in reconstruction. (Click here for the Xinhua anniversary website.)

There are some who remain defiant. They reject the government’s explanation that so many school buildings collapsed simply because of the ferocity of the quake (which was 8 times stronger than the 1994 quake that caused damage across Los Angeles). They note cases where buildings adjacent to schools did not collapse. Ai Weiwei, one of those who designed Beijing’s Olympic Stadium, is the best known of these critics. He’s told the New York Times that officials are harassing volunteers who are helping him pull together his own list of children killed in the disaster. He argues, “What the government has done is irresponsible…. The Chinese people deserve better.”

A year later, staggering rebuilding challenges remain. Millions are still in temporary quarters. Some who lost jobs are scrapping by leading tourists through rumble or by hawking photo and video compilations of the tragedy. Huge sums of money have been allocated for infrastructure rebuilding. People are putting their lives back together. Some of the most inspiring are children who have been fitted with prosthetic arms and legs and are learning to use them. Some couples who lost children have given birth or are planning to have a child.

If you would like to contribute to the recovery effort, a number of organizations including the Red Cross Society of China are accepting donations. They and most other relief organizations (e.g., the American Red Cross) have issued reports on what they and their funds have accomplished.

We, too, mourn those lost on May 12, 2008 and celebrate the work of all those who have sought to help.


US-China Today has offered a number of articles on the quake. These include reports on a film by Pan Jianlian, a Chinese filmmaker, on media coverage of the tragedy, and on one American group’s aid efforts. The latest issue of the magazine includes features on hip hop music in China, China's increasing investments in Latin America, and the second class status of migrant children

Thank you for sharing Talking Points with friends and colleagues.

Best wishes,
The USC U.S.-China Institute
Support the institute at:


07/27/2009: 2009 Summer Residential Seminar at USC
USC, Davidson Conference Center
Los Angeles, CA 90089
For more information please visit:
An intensive nine-day equivalent of our "East Asia and New Media in My Classroom" professional development seminar for K-12 teachers employed outside of the greater Los Angeles area.

05/15/2009: Life Writing as Literary Relic: Image, Inscription, and Consecration in Tibetan Biography
UCLA 243 Royce Hall
Los Angeles, CA
Cost: Free and Open to the Public
Time: 3:00PM - 4:30PM
A CBS Colloquium Series Lecture by Andrew Quintman, PhD (Cotsen-Mellon Fellow, Princeton University).
05/18/2009: The Erosion of Paternalistic Democracy in Chinese Factories
UCLA 10383 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA
Cost: Free
Time: 4:00PM - 5:30PM
UCLA Center for Chinese Studies presents a discussion by Joel Andreas on China’s workplaces, an area in which market reforms have undermined democratic institutions.
05/20/2009: China in Africa
Grand Ballroom, The National Press Club
529 14th Street NW 13th Floor , Washington, DC
Time: 9:00AM - 5:30PM
The Jamestown Foundation presents a conference on China's activities in Africa.

05/21/2009: 2009 California-China Trade & Investment Conference: Developing Stronger Commercial Ties
Sheraton Los Angeles Downton Hotel (Grand Ballroom)
711 S. Hope Street, Los Angeles, CA
Cost: $125 (early registration), $150
Time: 8:30AM - 6:00PM
Between California & ChinaA day long conference on how to build successful U.S.-China trade relationships.

North America

05/14/2009: The United States and China: Still a "Fragile Relationship"?
Harry Harding Auditorium The Elliott School of International Affairs
1957 E Street, NW, Room 213, Washington DC
Time: 5:00PM - 6:30PM
The Sigur Center for Asian Studies presents its 13th Annual Gaston Sigur Memorial Lecture featuring Harry Harding on US-China relations.

05/19/2009: The Future of U.S.-Taiwan Relations
Lindner Family Commons
The Elliott School of International Affairs
1957 E Street, NW, 6th Floor
A conference presented by the Sigur Center for Asian Studies and the Formosa Foundation.


02/12/2009 - 06/07/2009: Noble Tombs at Mawangdui: Art and Life in the Changsha Kingdom, Third Century BCE to First Century
China Institute Gallery
125 East 65th St., New York , NY
Cost: $7
An exhibit featuring treasures of the Marquis of the Changsha Kingdom and his family.
04/11/2009 - 07/13/2009: Treasures through Six Generations: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from the Weng Collection
Boone Gallery, The Huntington Library
1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA
An exhibition of Chinese painting and calligraphy highlighting works spanning 900 years
11/03/2008 - 11/03/2009: Ancient Arts of China: A 5000 Year Legacy
Bowers Museum
2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana, California 92706
Bowers Museum presents a collection that portrays the evolution of Chinese technology, art and culture.
11/14/2008 - 11/14/2009: Chinese Art: A Seattle Perspective
 Seatle Asian Art Museum
1400 East Prospect Street , Volunteer Park , Seattle, WA 98112–3303
The Seattle Asian Art Museum presents an opportunity to see a collection with representative works from each dynastic period.
11/15/2008 - 11/15/2009: Masters of Adornment: The Miao People of China
Bowers Museum
2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana, California 92706
The Bowers Museum presents a collection of exquisite textiles and silver jewelry that highlights the beauty and wealth of the Miao peoples of southwest China.

02/12/2009 - 02/12/2010: Art of Adornment: Tribal Beauty
Bowers Museum
2002 N. Main, Santa Ana, CA
Cost: $5
An exhibit featuring body adornments from indigenous peoples around the world

Please invite others to subscribe to USCI’s free email newsletter for regular updates on events and programs. We will not share names or email addresses with any other entity. Sign Up.

We provide information about China-related events as a community service. If you would like your event considered for inclusion in the USCI calendar, please click here to submit event details.

If you would like to support USCI by making a donation please visit


USC U.S. – China Institute
3535 S. Figueroa St.
FIG 202
Los Angeles, CA 90089-1262
Tel: 213-821-4382
Fax: 213-821-2382

You have received this e-mail because you have subscribed to receive updates from USCI. If you feel this message has reached you in error or you no longer wish to receive our updates, please click, unsubscribe, and enter "Remove" in the subject line.