Posts tagged ‘Wenchuan County’

12/05/2013

* China’s Social Media Fuel Citizen Quake Response

NY Times: “Wang Xiaochang sprang into action minutes after a deadly earthquake jolted this lush region of Sichuan Province last month. Logging on to China’s most popular social media sites, he posted requests for people to join him in aiding the survivors. By that evening, he had fielded 480 calls.

地震催毀大量房屋,圖為進入汶川道路一境。A shot taken in the road h...

地震催毀大量房屋,圖為進入汶川道路一境。A shot taken in the road heading to Wenyuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Never mind that the government had declared that the narrow mountain roads to Lushan were open only to authorized rescue vehicles. Two days after the April 20 earthquake, Mr. Wang was hitchhiking with 19 gear-laden strangers to this rubble-strewn town. While the military cleared roads and repaired electrical lines, the volunteers carried food, water and tents to ruined villages and comforted survivors of the temblor, which killed nearly 200 people and injured more than 13,000.

“The government is in charge of the big picture stuff, but we’re doing the work they can’t do,” Mr. Wang, 24, a former soldier, said recently, standing outside the group’s tent, which was cluttered with sleeping bags, work gloves and smartphones.

The rapid grass-roots response to the disaster reveals just how far China’s nascent civil society movement has come since 2008, when a 7.9-magnitude earthquake in Wenchuan, not far from Lushan, prompted a wave of volunteerism and philanthropy. That quake, which claimed about 90,000 lives, provoked criticism of the government for its ham-handed relief efforts. Outrage mounted in the months that followed over allegations of corruption and reports that the parents of dead children had been detained after protesting what many saw as a cover-up of shoddy school construction. Thousands of students died in school collapses during the quake.

Like the government, which honed its rescue and relief efforts after the Wenchuan earthquake, the volunteers and civil society groups that first appeared in 2008 gained valuable skills for working in disaster zones. Their ability to coordinate — and, in some instances, outsmart a government intent on keeping them away — were enhanced by Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like microblog that did not exist in 2008 but now has more than 500 million users.

“Civil society is much more capable today compared to 2008,” said Ran Yunfei, a prominent democracy activist and blogger, who describes Weibo as a revolutionary tool for social change. “It’s far easier now for volunteers to share information on what kind of help is needed.”

One of those transformed by the Wenchuan earthquake was Li Chengpeng, a sports commentator from Sichuan turned civic activist. When the Lushan earthquake hit, Mr. Li turned to his seven million Weibo followers and quickly organized a team of volunteers. They traveled to the disaster zone on motorcycles, by pedicab and on foot so as not to clog roads, soliciting donations via microblog along the way. What he found was a government-directed relief effort sometimes hampered by bureaucracy and geographic isolation.

Two days after the quake, Mr. Li’s team delivered 498 tents, 1,250 blankets and 100 tarps — all donated — to Wuxing, where government supplies had yet to arrive. The next day, they hiked to four other villages, handing out water, cooking oil and tents.

Although he acknowledges the government’s importance during such disasters, Mr. Li contends that grass-roots activism is just as vital. “You can’t ask an NGO to blow up half a mountain to clear roads and you can’t ask an army platoon to ask a middle-aged woman whether she needs sanitary napkins,” he wrote in a recent post.

The government, however, prefers to rely on state-backed aid groups to deliver supplies and raise money, largely through the Red Cross Society of China. But that organization is still reeling from a corruption scandal in 2011 that severely damaged its reputation and spurred greater support for nongovernmental charities, which are generally thought to be more transparent.

Faced with a groundswell of social activism it feared could turn into government opposition, the Communist Party has sought to turn the Lushan disaster into a rallying cry for political solidarity. “The more difficult the circumstance, the more we should unite under the banner of the party,” the state-run newspaper People’s Daily declared last month, praising the leadership’s response to the earthquake.

Still, the rise in online activism has forced the government to adapt. Recently, People’s Daily announced that three volunteers had been picked to supervise the Red Cross spending in the earthquake zone and to publish their findings on Weibo.”

via China’s Social Media Fuel Citizen Quake Response – NYTimes.com.

Advertisements
Law of Unintended Consequences

continuously updated blog about China & India

ChiaHou's Book Reviews

continuously updated blog about China & India

What's wrong with the world; and its economy

continuously updated blog about China & India