From the window of my Beijing office, everything seems normal. Â Traffic is jammed on the ring road near my building, humidity and pollution are mixing to block out the clean blue sky of the morning, everyone is keeping their noses to the grindstone.
TwoÂ daysÂ ago,Â the entireÂ countryÂ was shaken by anÂ earthquake that originatedÂ several kilometres underÂ Â Wenchuan county, Sichuan province – over 1500km southwest from Beijing. Â Yet even here, around 2:30 in the afternoon, everyone in Beijing office buildings first wondered why felt like theirÂ headsÂ were spinning, thenÂ realized that their entireÂ buildings were swaying.
It took about halfÂ an hourÂ to understand the scopeÂ of the event from a trickle of messages on mobile phones as we stoodÂ in parking lots scatteredÂ around Beijing, waiting for someone to say thatÂ it wasÂ safeÂ toÂ go back toÂ ourÂ offices (of course,Â thisÂ informationÂ couldn’tÂ be forthcoming).
I get the feeling now that it wasn’t just theÂ buildings that had shaken across China with thisÂ earthquake,Â though – it feels like the national psycheÂ has alsoÂ taken a bit of aÂ hit.
It’s the wordÂ on theÂ street: 2008, the olympicÂ year, isn’t turning outÂ toÂ be that great for China.Â Â At first, it was my colleagues and friends listing the tragedies: Hand,Â foot and mouth disease, trainÂ collisions, the torchÂ relay protests, Tibet protests, andÂ nowÂ thisÂ earthquake.Â Â Then I even started toÂ see itÂ in theÂ news.
TheÂ casualty list is climbingÂ in this tragedy.Â Â ResponseÂ hasÂ been hampered byÂ bad weatherÂ in Sichuan (immediatelyÂ following the earthquake,Â heavy rainsÂ prevented flyingÂ over theÂ region), extreme mountainous topography, a collaposed transportation network and any other bad luck you can imagine. Â The army has been reported to be lacking in equipment that can help fish people out of the collapsed buildings.
We have alsoÂ seen an unprecedented openingÂ ofÂ hearts andÂ wallets in support of the people whoÂ have suffered the worstÂ of theÂ earthquake. Â ReportsÂ indicate that hundredsÂ ofÂ millions of RMB have alreadyÂ beenÂ receivedÂ by the Chinese Red Cross SocietyÂ andÂ otherÂ responsibleÂ organizations. Â Significant donationsÂ have also beenÂ received from Hong Kong and TaiwanÂ companiesÂ andÂ individuals.Â Â “Donation” is a word on the minds of every person in China, it seems. Â I expect that support fromÂ overseasÂ – andÂ in particular, overseas ChineseÂ -Â willÂ not be small.
IÂ have started thinking.Â Â ItÂ hasÂ beenÂ an unluckyÂ yearÂ so far for China.Â Â ButÂ oneÂ thing that all these eventsÂ have accomplished is a “gelling”Â of Chinese people bothÂ in China andÂ around the world.Â Â I think that people who long emigrated from China to the West are starting to get a feeling for what China has become again, and a feeling for being Chinese again. Â I suspect that this will have enormous implications in the years to come as all peopleÂ of Chinese ethnicity find a new identity – particularly in countries that have relied on immigration such as Canada, the US, Australia and others Southeast Asia.
As we watch this tragedy unfold in Sichuan province, and wish the survivors an orderly recovery, let’s startÂ toÂ consider long-term implications of the increasing national feelings that Chinese people everywhere seem to be demonstrating.