Thousands of students died in China after a massive earthquake hit Sichuan Province in 2008. In memory of the loss, parents recently conducted a public memorial in front of Juyuan High School. However, they were met by brute force from the Chinese police.
More than 100 families from Dujiangyan had gathered in front of the site of the collapsed high school in the morning for the memorial. Relatives were preparing to unfurl banners that detailed the facts and laws in regard to the incident in 2008. But the government was there to oversee the memorial. Banners and placards were snatched from the parents.
“The authorities wouldn’t let them hang them up, and they snatched away the banners and placards,” said one of the parents. “The government wanted to monitor [the memorial], and there were clashes… Now, the government has beaten up members of our group and they have gone to the hospital,” Chen, one of the children’s parents, told RFA.
The crackdown only happened after the relatives set up wreaths and burned funeral offerings, like paper money and incense, to the departed. The victims were taken to the hospital to receive medical attention.
In the 2008 earthquake, 9,000 school children perished. With a magnitude of 8.0, the devastation left in the mountainous regions of Sichuan was colossal. The earthquake hit schools the hardest, turning them to large crumbles and dust. The weak foundations of the buildings also played a role in their collapse. It was later revealed that the weakness could have been the result of corruption during construction that compromised the quality of the buildings. This angered the public, who immediately demanded answers.
Many attempts to bring the problem to the public’s attention were blocked by the government. The parents conducted several stage protests, petition events, and other activities to raise awareness about the tragedy. According to Tan Zuoren, a Chengdu-based writer who researched the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, human rights lawyers are not able to raise a finger due to compensation cases regarding the case of the victims, as well as threats to forfeit their licenses.
A similar incident occurred outside a city hall in southern China. Grieving parents from Dujiangyan were there to seek answers for the seemingly weak foundations of the school. They were arrested and beaten up. “They detained several of the parents’ representatives. We are trying to get them released. They detained eight people,” said Hu Jian, a resident of Dujiangyan, who also lost a daughter in the catastrophe.
A banned earthquake memorial?
According to a government source in Sichuan’s Mianyang City, any official quake memorial for the victims is non-existent. The municipal Communist Party secretary seemed uninterested in commemorating the anniversary of the tragic event. Aside from the state’s attempt at censoring the event, local media also seemed to ignore the anniversary as well.
“If you dare to commemorate it, they will arrest you on any old charge,” Huang, a resident of Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu. “Most parents — especially those who have given interviews to the media in the past — have been subjected to ‘stability maintenance’ in advance [of the anniversary]. Every year they are under 24-hour surveillance.”
Over 80,000 perished in the wake of the catastrophe. More than a decade after the quake, affected parents who rallied for compensation and financial assistance have yet to receive anything from the government.