A devastating earthquake which measured 8.0 on the Richter scale hit Sichuan Province on May 12, at 2:28 p.m. local time (May 11, 1:28 a.m. in Minnesota). As of May 21, the region had experienced over 7,000 aftershocks, some as strong as 6.0 on the Richter scale. The official report of victims of the earthquake as of noon on May 21 was grim: 41,353 dead, 274,683 injured, 32,666 missing. Experts estimate that the death toll will climb above 50,000. Not since 1976, when an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale hit Beijing, has an earthquake been so deadly. (The 1976 earthquake claimed over 240,000 lives and is considered the deadliest earthquake in modern history.)
Under the catastrophic conditions, China is coming together as a nation to begin the recovery. There was an official 3-day national mourning period May 19-21.
While controversy surrounding the Olympics and Tibet began to give rise to Chinese nationalism in various forms, this tragedy brings a different focus. This unity is seen in signs in Hong Kong that say, "The earthquake is merciless, but Hong Kong cares for you." as well as donations pouring in from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao. The message is clear: "We are all Chinese." This is reminiscent of Americans’ response after the attacks of 9/11 when people rallied to help victims of the terrorist attacks and all Americans became New Yorkers.
People throughout China are donating time, money and resources to help earthquake victims. The Chinese government mobilized troops to villages to find and assist survivors. Perhaps some of the most inspirational stories are of individuals who have, with selfless acts, epitomized all that is good in humanity. There is the soldier, who when told to abandon a rescue mission because the situation was too dangerous to proceed, fell to his knees crying and begging to be allowed to go back and save one more child. A teacher gave his life to protect four students. A homeless beggar, Xu Chao in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, returned to a donation center numerous times with more money to help victims of the earthquake. When asked why he donates his standard reply is, "The victims are in a more difficult situation than me; and I would like to help them however I can".
The rapid response to the earthquake is not only coming from within China, but from around the world. First aid and medical teams from Japan and Russia have gone to China to assist victims. Government leaders from around the world have expressed their condolences and pledged to help. Foreign companies have also made generous donations. There are also reputable national and international organizations such as UNICEF and Red Cross that are accepting donations for earthquake victims.
In the Twin Cities, the Chinese community has united swiftly to help victims of the earthquake by organizing benefit concerts and fundraisers. Some groups will give donations to disaster relief in general to help meet many of the needs of the area affected by the earthquake. Other fundraisers support a specific goal, such as the one lead by CAAM which will be used to help rebuild a school.