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Quake-hit towns spring to life

A stone-made timepiece is placed in front of the ruins of Xuankou Middle School in commemoration of the victims of the 2008 earthquake. Photo: Wu Jie/

The watch hands of a stone-made timepiece placed in front of the ruins of Xuankou Middle School are permanently fixed at 2:28 pm in commemoration of the victims of an 8-magnitude earthquake, the most devastating temblor since the establishment of the People's Republic of China, which hit Wenchuan in the afternoon of May 12, 2008.

The buildings of the middle school, which is located in Yingxiu town, Wenchuan county, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, western China's Sichuan Province, suffered less structural damage, and the ruins were well conserved to remind the Chinese people of the calamity.

The earthquake devoured one-third of the population in Yingxiu town, which had been famous for its prosperity in western China, and caused direct economic losses worth 4.5 billion yuan.

Despite the fact that the middle school was just built in 2006, the earthquake, which claimed 55 lives, still badly damaged the structure of a five-storey lecture theater, in which a 28-year-old teacher used his shoulder to prop up the falling door frame to help the students escape from the classroom. "The young teacher did not survive the earthquake," said Ma Mengxia, a student of the school, who remained silent when asked about his family members, only staring in the direction of her home located on a nearby hillside.

New Yingxiu town

Helped by the southern Chinese city of Dongguan, which invested billions of yuan on the reconstruction, a new Yingxiu town rose straight from the ruins. Equipped with basic infrastructure such as hotel, restaurant and shopping mall, the new town is attractive to tourists due to its unforgettable experience of an earthquake and its distinct Qiang ethnic culture.

The new Yingxiu town will be promoted as an "emotional town", which will be known for tourism characterized with anti-seismic education, according to a sweeping reconstruction plan.

A new school, which serves as a substitute of the damaged Xuankou Middle School, was built at a location that is a 10-minute walk from the school's ruins. Because the construction funds were donated by the CPC members from across the country, the new school was named Qiyi Middle School (Qiyi means July 1, 1921 when the CPC was established). Covering an area of 18,039 square meters, the well-appointed boarding school, which is designed by Tsinghua University and an academician, is able to accommodate 1,200 students, and its buildings can resist a 9-magnitude earthquake.

Revitalized Shuimo town

Ancient Shuimo town cannot be forgotten when it comes to stories about the reconstruction after the earthquake.

The reconstruction project, which was subsidized by Guangdong city of Foshan, changed the character of the ancient town, which dated back to the Shang Dynasty, from an industrial town to a tourist town where Han people and ethnic minority groups live together.

The reconstruction project, which cost over 100 million yuan and took more than a year to finish, includes a new landmark building, the Chunfeng Pavilion, a shrunken replica of Lhasa's Potala Palace, which combines the architectural features of Han, Qiang and Tibetan styles. The pavilion, which implies ethnic solidarity, boasts excellent ceramic-made mural paintings. Standing at the top of the pavilion, one can get the panoramic view of an ecological town with modern infrastructure facilities.

Chunfeng Pavilion is the landmark building of Shuimo town. Photo: Wu Jie/

Next to the Chunfeng Pavilion is the Chanshou Street, along which low-rise buildings used for both residential and commercial purposes are located. The street, located in the central part of the town, serves the purpose of sightseeing, recreation and shopping.

Tour guide Luo Tingting said that there are more than 250 stores, which can also be used as residence, on the street. The shop owners are basically from Chengdu and can enjoy cheaper rent because the local people want to repay the helpers for their contributions to the reconstruction of the town, said Luo, a member of Qiang minority and a graduate of Aba Teachers Collage.

Chanshou Street in Shuimo town Photo: Wu Jie/

According to Liu Hongbao, head of the reconstruction work group, the design idea of the Chanshou Street stems from the efforts to revitalize the old town's tradition that is based on the harmonious existence of Han, Qiang and Tibetan cultures.

Indebted hearts

Touring Yingxiu and Shuimo towns, I was moved by local people's sense of gratitude. In the newly built Yingxiu town, wooden boards with the inscription "Thank You" can be seen everywhere. In Shuimo town, local people always said that life could not be the same without the help from the Party and the compatriots.

"We never had to suspend classes due to the people who offered help," said Ye Xiaojun, a teacher from Aba Teachers Collage, which was badly damaged by the 2008 earthquake.

Between 2008 and 2011, the students of the collage were sent to different parts of China to continue their study. After a three-year reconstruction, the collage was rebuilt in Shuimo town in 2011. Now the collage has 7,600 students and 500 teachers in 14 departments.

"I want nothing from my work (in Shuimo town), I just want to thank the people who offered help," said Luo.

(The article is translated and edited by Ding Yi)

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