Quake-hit Longtoushan Town Photo: Zhang Han
If it were not for the earthquake that hit Ludian County, Yunnan Province on August 3, the geographic names, such as Longtoushan, Xiaoqingshan and Lijiashan, would remain unknown to the outside world. On August 6, sino-us.com reporters took a two-hour trek to a quake-hit area and chronicled the real life of the people there.
Li Huaikui, an 11-year-old child living in Lijiashan Village, has to get up at 4:30 am and hike 2.5 hours to his school, Huodehong Central Primary School, the nearest school from his residence.
The child is not the only one in the village who needs to tramp over hills and dales to reach the school, but he stands out among his peers because of his identity as an orphan.
The peaceful life of Li Huaikui was ruined by the August 3 earthquake that left a dilapidated house as the last haven for the little boy.
The disaster also devastated the life of Li Huaijiang and Li Jun, the village's young men who earn a living in cities in hope of bringing their family members out of the mountains someday.
But Li Xinyan, the father of Li Jun, has a different idea that he will never leave his ancestral house in Lijiashan Village even though he pathetically gets an annual income of 500-600 yuan from farming. The idea remained unchanged even after the earthquake destroyed his ancestral house.
Li Xinyan cries near his ancestral house in Lijiashan Village. Photo: Zhang Han
Nearly all the houses in Lijiashan Village were razed to ground during the earthquake. In order to fulfill his father's requirement, Li Jun pitched a tent in a flat ground that is only 10 meters away from his family's damaged ancestral house.
"I must keep my ancestral house in my sight when I look up at it," said Li Xinyan, recklessly disregarding the concern of being killed or injured by a possible aftershock.
Yang Feifei burst out weeping when she saw the body of her 7-year-old niece was excavated from the debris.
Yang Feifei lives in Luomakou Village, Longtoushan Town, Ludian County. In 2013, Yang Feifei started accommodating her niece, who had lived in mountain-top Zuojiawan Village, in order to make it convenient for the little girl to go to school.
Luomakou Village, which now serves as the base camp for the rescuers, was not badly damaged by the earthquake, but the little girl could not escape death.
The earthquake occurred when the girl was left home in Zuojiawan Village by her father Yang Chunlin who at that time was picking wild pepper in the mountain.
"I should have been killed (in the earthquake). Why is she?" chattered the desperate father.
Many villagers told the reporters that it was the wild pepper that saved them from the earthquake because many people were harvesting wild pepper when the earthquake happened.
In 2013, the Yang Feifei family earned total income of 8,500 yuan from wild pepper plantation, but now the Chinese spice can only be sold for 35 yuan per jin (500 grams).
Wild pepper plantation is the local people’s major source of income. Photo: Zhang Han
Wild pepper plantation appears to be the local people's only source of income, though a 2013 government propaganda document said that Ludian County is a land abundant in minerals, such as iron and silver.
The excessive mining has mobilized the soil of mountains, leading to many landslides after the earthquake.
House reconstruction fund?
Citing lack of money, Li Changhu, chairman of the People's Congress in Longtoushan Town, said that his town could not afford to build quake-proof buildings.
Between 2009 and 2013, Yunnan provincial government reportedly appropriated funds of 10.832 billion yuan to reconstruct or renovate decrepit dwellings in rural areas. But sino-us.com reporters found no details about what villages were covered by the house reconstruction program.
"Yunnan Province has invested hugely in reconstructing decrepit houses in mountainous areas, which has helped reduce the deaths caused by mudslide from 300 people to 100 people annually," Duan Liyuan, head of civil affairs department of Yunnan Province, told sino-us.com.
When asked why nearly all the dwellings in Ludian County were destroyed during the earthquake, Duan responded that the government had difficulty in rebuilding the dangerous houses in the county because the region is a key poverty-stricken area of China.
In September 2012, the local government launched a program which was said to invest 215,000 yuan to reconstruct decrepit dwellings in Lijiashan Village, but the program actually was not implemented. "We have not seen any house reconstruction funds," said Li Huaijiang.
Although some Lijiashan villagers have built steel bar-framed houses, 60 percent of houses in the village are made by brick and clay.
At a press conference held on August 7, Huang Pugang, head of the local seismological bureau, attributed the huge casualties to the weak quake-resistant ability of the houses built on the seismo-active fault.
In July, Yunnan's government officials boasted that Yunnan Province was among the provinces which carried out the reconstruction of dangerous houses very well. But people in Lijiashan Village told the reporters that they have not seen any officials come to their village to teach how to rebuild the dangerous dwellings.
(The article is translated and edited by Ding Yi)