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Thursday, April 15

When the living look like skeletons: Shamed, China's leaders pledge to make amends to Tibetan earthquake victims and "all ethnic peoples."

Before there was McDonald's, before there was Chuck E. Cheese, the one restaurant you could haul a rambunctious brood to on a weekend night without getting glares from the waiters was a Chinese restaurant. The Chinese worship children; they have infinite patience with them, even with the brats. So when I saw photographs of well-fed Chinese soldiers rescuing half starved-looking Tibetan children from the earthquake rubble I thought, 'If those pictures get on Chinese TV, Hu is toast.'

I guess he thought the same thing because he cut short his attendance at an important BRIC summit in Brazil and raced home. That halted the summit because his attendance there was key. He also announced that because of the earthquakes in western China on Wednesday and "the great loss of human life," he was cutting short his Latin American tour and wouldn't visit Venezuela or Chile as planned.

He also packed off Premier Wen Jiabao to the Tibetan plateau to address the earthquake victims. After flying Thursday night to Qinghai province's Yushu county, close to the epicenter, Wen climbed atop a pile of rubble and pledged to "build a good life for all ethnic people after the earthquake."

The speech was translated simultaneously into Tibetan. Remarking on Wen's speech, The Los Angeles Times reports today:
[...] Almost since the moment the quake struck at 7:49 a.m. Wednesday, Chinese state television has been filled with images of hero Chinese soldiers and paramilitary working hand-in-hand with local Tibetans - some of them Buddhist monks - in common cause to rescue victims of the earthquake.

"I think the Chinese already are looking at the larger implications of this earthquake. They see it as an opportunity for the Communist Party to win sympathy through its generosity," Robbie Barnett, a Tibet scholar at New York's Columbia University, said Thursday. He says he believes that the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, may see it "as an opportunity to find some common ground." [...]
Well that's true but the analysis is overlooking that Hu is well aware of the raw wounds of Chinese parents who lost their children in the Great Sichuan Earthquake in May 2008. Because of the one child policy in China, most of those children were the parents' only child.

It wasn't until May of last year that the Chinese government finally released their version of the number of children killed -- without releasing the names; it was more than 5,300. That number is probably far less than the actual number killed.

That's not the half of it. Many of those children were killed because the earthquake struck during the school day and thousands of shoddily built schools disintegrated. The Chinese authorities promised investigations into the shoddy building practices then dragged their feet and clamped down on parent protests about the issue.

Now the Chinese have to sit in front of the TV and watch more children's bodies pulled from the rubble of collapsed schools in Qinghai province. Even though the quake struck before the school day, many of the children were boarded at the schools. And the Chinese have to see that many of the children look like skeletons. The Han Chinese are still ticked off at the Tibetans about the Tibetan protests in 2008 but I know the sight of those children trumps everything.

Even before the earthquake in Qinghai the situation there was bad:
Many residents of urban areas of Yushu are impoverished former herders and farmers resettled in public housing under a controversial program that the Chinese government said would preserve grasslands and alleviate poverty. Tibetan human rights groups have complained the practice has deprived people of their traditions and livelihood, leading to social unrest.
On top of that, at last count the quake killed 760 people, injured more than 9,000 and made more than 100,000 homeless, the majority of them Tibetan.
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