The Chinese media are dealing with the earthquake with a hitherto unseen openness. State television has shown not only footage of heroic rescue workers but has also let survivors express themselves in public. The natural disaster has triggered a wave of donations.
Chinese flag at half mast as nation mourns victims of earthquake
There is a wealth of activity underway at the Shanghai Charity Foundation. The money counting machines are rattling away. All of China is donating -- people of all ages and all social backgrounds want to help the survivors of last week’s devastating earthquake.
Three-year-old Yihong is with her carer delivering money that has been collected at her kindergarten in the past few days: “I think that the children in the quake zone are very poor. I want to give 1,000 yuan. Their parents can buy them something to eat with the money.”
This is the first time that the Chinese have given so generously to survivors of natural disasters. Traditionally, money has been given to children, who put out their shoes during festivals and later find them full of coins. Non-governmental charities have only been allowed to operate since the beginning of the 1990s.
Hundreds of volunteers
Hundreds of bank employees are currently volunteering at the Shanghai Charity Foundation -- counting the money and registering the donors. Each donor receives a red card certificate with his or her name and the donation amount. For a price, the certificate can be framed or engraved in metal.
Mr Zhao has donated 5,000 yuan -- that’s twice the average income in Shanghai -- “So many families have been affected by the earthquake. It’s my duty to help them.“
The number one question in Shanghai at the moment is: “Have you already donated?” The second is: “How much did you give?” Celebrities are under pressure to donate and make the sums public. There are nasty rumours going around on the Internet and by text message about top sports stars, pop singers, and real estate billionaires not donating enough.
Measure of patriotism
China’s nationalistic firebrands, who last month declared an all-out war on French goods, have set the bar high. Last month, you had to boycott French products, this month you have to donate generously to demonstrate your patriotic fervour, your love for the motherland.
The criticism that foreign firms have not donated enough is getting louder. Yet, the charities say this is an unfair reproach.
A delegation from the luxury Portman-Ritz hotel handed over a hefty cheque to the Shanghai Charity Foundation this week. “The money comes from our hotel guests and employees. It’s very pleasing,” said Rainer Burkle, the general manager:
Reconstruction of schools
It’s still unclear how the donations will be used. The charity is waiting for instructions from the provincial government in Sichuan.
But the foundation’s president, Yuan Cai, has clear ideas of how he wants the money to be spent: “Most of the money should go to reconstruction. We want money to rebuild schools, old people’s homes, and other such establishments. Today a company came and donated three million yuan. They said they wanted the money to go into rebuilding six schools.”
If all goes to plan, the Shanghai Charity Foundation’s sister organisation in Sichuan province will obtain the rights to decide on how the money is spent. In the meantime, Chinese donors are queuing up to do their duty towards the survivors of last week’s devastating earthquake.