After The Quake In China: A Survivor's Story

May 13, 2013
Originally published on May 13, 2013 5:25 pm

Zhang Ming lost her 5-year-old daughter, her parents and her home in the powerful earthquake that hit Sichuan province five years ago. She now operates a stall selling soft drinks, homemade tofu, popsicles and souvenirs. She and her husband had another child, a daughter who is now 4.

Here's how she describes her life:

We opened this stall after we moved here to new Beichuan. Our house in old Beichuan collapsed, and there was no way to live there any longer. My parents and our 5-year-old daughter were all there, while I was working elsewhere. They all died. Five people in my family died, including our daughter. But there's nothing we could do. It was a natural catastrophe, and a man-made disaster.

Business here in new Beichuan is no good. Especially this year, it's been really bad. In this street, almost 70 percent of people are losing money. Maybe we'll lose money this year. Or we might just break even, but we also have to pay salaries, and electricity and water fees, and taxes. So maybe we'll be able to earn just enough for one person to live off. This year is worse than last year. No one comes here now. I don't know why the tourism industry is so bad, but it's probably because of the wider environment, and new government policies [cutting down on extravagance].

My husband survived, too, and we gave birth to another daughter, who is now 4. But we're facing many problems, because of our age. Originally we married late, and had a baby late, so we were already quite old when we had our first child.

Now we're almost in our 40s, and our kid is only 4, so that is problematic. I'm already 38, which is not young. Here in Beichuan, it's the countryside and it's quite traditional, so by 38, many people are already grandparents. At the time of the earthquake, our daughter was in pre-kindergarten. She was about to go to primary school, so I'd have been able to leave her there and get on with my business.

But since the quake, I have spent the past four years having another child and looking after her, so I haven't been able to do much else. To be honest, after the quake, I really felt it wasn't worth doing anything. We'd lost everything. But time really can heal everything. Now we are facing the problem of how to survive, so we don't have time to think of anything else. If you have too much free time, you think about things too much.

Our daughter doesn't know anything about the quake. She's only 4 years old, and I don't want her to be influenced by it. Our situation is quite common. In her age group at kindergarten, there are more than 200 children, and 80 percent of them are post-quake babies [belonging to parents who had lost their only children].

Even if you talked about it to her now, she wouldn't understand. And if you talked about it a lot, she'd ask you a lot of questions about things that you are unable to face, and that would be really painful. So I don't talk about it. On the day of the Lushan earthquake [April 20, 2013], she asked me, "Mama, what's an earthquake?" What was I to tell her?

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