By David Bandurski — As the rescue effort in Sichuan enters its seventh crucial day, Chinese and foreign media continue to report the story with intensity. One major focus of coverage, and the story all viewers are waiting for, is the tale of miraculous survival. But in his latest commentary on the Wenchuan quake, CMP director Qian Gang cautions media — and the rest of us — not to lose sight of what is most important: life.
Qian Gang’s editorial, which appears in today’s edition of Southern Metropolis Daily, follows in full.

The Last Push, For Lives Not for Miracles
By Qian Gang (钱钢)
Today is now the seventh day after a massive earthquake struck Wenzhou. The rescue teams are turning their efforts to saving the last lives they can. People across the nation are watching. How many survivors are still left among the wreckage? And can they hold on long enough for the crews to reach them?
These seven days, with their constant aftershocks, lack food and water, unattended injuries and collapsing spirits, have already taken many lives in the darkness. On this seventh day, the chances of survival among the wreckage are small and diminishing. But people cannot give up, no matter how fragile are the hopes. They must put in all the effort they can for those fortunate enough to have survived.
It is entirely possible that people like this exist. After the earthquake struck, while they were pinned within deep pockets, they may not have been mortally injured. Some might have found water, some might have found food, and some might have extraordinary stamina.
After the Great Tangshan Earthquake, Wang Shubin (王树斌), a coal miner in Kailuan, ate the buckwheat husks and chaff from his sleeping pillow, and he survived for eight days. Another who survived for eight days, a nurse named Wang Zilan (王子兰), was incredibly lively [when she finally emerged], and said she that amidst the darkness she had constantly wound her watch in the firm belief she would be rescued. Then there was 46 year-old Lu Guilan (卢桂兰), who survived in the rubble for 13 days, without a morsel of food or a drop of water. He stayed alive by drinking his own urine, and when he was found, though he could not move his limbs, he woke and shouted, “Long live the People’s Liberation Army!”
All of these are called “miracles.” And we can believe that these kinds of miracles will happen again in Sichuan’s earthquake zone. But as the final push begins, I want to offer a good-natured reminder: What is most important?
Lives. Of course, lives. Do people not know? It is in the thirst for life that people seek to create miracles and witness miracles. But we should recognize the fact that when the search for survivors becomes a lofty pursuit, and we begin using this word “miracle”, the rubble of the disaster area becomes an area of particular dramatic focus.
It becomes the goal that rescuers on the ground want to spare no expense in reaching, and it becomes the focus of news media who crave news results (新闻效果). Countless cameras are poised for that one instant, to capture moments of human emotion. This is not exactly reprehensible, but considering first the lives of survivors, I’d like to express a couple of my concerns.
At this crucial time, the areas where the search for survivors goes on must be totally quiet. After Tangshan, some of the miracle survivors were found in the dead of night by “listening” teams (潜听队). In the event that a survivor is found, the whole process of removing the rubble and rescuing them is extremely delicate. This can go on for a long time as water and food are conveyed, intravenous fluids are administered, or even surgery conducted. All of these require that the experts are given a decent environment in which to work, so they can calmly and delicately go about their business. Of those survivors rescued in Tangshan, only Wang Shubin was filmed for a documentary feature. And at that time there was no such thing as live television.
We must also face the facts of the disaster area head on. As locating survivors is given top priority, other aspects of relief that are equally serious and urgent, but beyond the glare of the spotlight, cannot be overlooked. The lightly and seriously injured, the aged and the young, they have escaped the grasp of death, but they are injured and in pain, and under the threat of poor sanitation and other secondary effects, they remain extremely vulnerable. Deployment [of personnel] must quickly be reorganized — handling the bodies of the dead will become the key focus of work on the ground.
We are all waiting for the miracle of life. But “life” is more important than “miracles”. Life is more important than the glory or success of any profession [i.e., journalism].
For life, and not for miracles, let us with purer hearts struggle on together!

[Posted by David Bandurski, May 18, 2008, 1:43pm HK]

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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