Special Report: Reconstruction After Earthquake
By Gong Yidong, China Features
BEIJING, April 12 (Xinhua) -- Liu Daihe, 43, lights a cigarette passed by
his cousin Liu Daishu and spreads the mahjong tiles over the table. Puffing
smoke into the 20-square-meter temporary house, he settles down to idle away
another day with friends and relatives.
It is a typical snapshot on the 11,000-household interim community to the
north of Mianzhu, one of the most damaged cities of the May 12 earthquake that
left more than 80,000 Chinese dead or missing. Liu and the 40,000 inhabitants
are enveloped in an atmosphere of both hope and ennui that contrasts with a
clearly felt grief eight months ago.
Demands of life
Before the catastrophe, Liu was a phosphorous miner for many years at
Qingping town of Mianzhu. But the mine, one of the local pillar industries, was
swallowed by the quake along with Liu's job.
As the breadwinner of the family, Liu looked for jobs elsewhere, but was
turned down because of his age. "I'm not competitive on the market. More
importantly, I don't have technical skills, except from doing hard labor in the
The assistance is also dwindling. Last year, the government handed out 200
yuan per person a month for eight months and 33.5 kilograms of grain per head
for three months, but all the financial and material support ended in January,
says Liu. "Nowadays, around 15 percent of the people in the community live on
what they had before," his cousin says.
The price of commodities has climbed due to rising transport costs, and Liu
and his wife, Chen Mingfang, have to rack their brains to make ends meet.
What worries the couple most is their 14-year-old son and 18-year-old
daughter, who are studying at secondary school.
Changying, the daughter, will take the national college entrance
examination this summer, meaning a lot of money will be needed if she is
enrolled into university. This term alone, she paid 2,000-plus yuan for tuition
fees and living expenses.
Her brother, Chenglin, pays 9 yuan a day for three meals in the school
canteen as part of a boarder scheme.
Liu's mother-in-law, who lives under the same roof, is covered by neither a
pension nor the rural cooperative medical care. Liu is relieved that the past
winter was mild compared with the previous year.
"Otherwise, she might have caught a severe cold," he says.
In the end, Liu was forced to accept employment in a private mine hundreds
of miles away in Yibin, southern Sichuan, where he was paid 80 yuan a day to
work from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m..
The pay was satisfactory, but the toil and loneliness in a strange city
were intolerable. The man of few words killed time by playing mahjong with his
colleagues, and sometimes, small-time gambling.
Unlike many parts of Sichuan where the natural conditions are harsh,
Mianzhu has fewer people moving to big cities like Beijing or Guangzhou for job
"Before the quake, Mianzhu was blessed with favorable conditions, with no
storms or landslides, and most of us preferred to stay in our hometown," says
Adding to their sense of security was the multitude of industries sprawling
across the city, such as the national key companies Dongfang Turbine, Lonmon
Chemicals and Jiannanchun Distillery, which absorbed a large number of local
workers." We are used to the pace of ease here," says Daishu.
Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Resources and Social Security of
Mianzhu confirm that around 20,000 people are working outside Sichuan Province,
accounting less than one tenth the total labor force.
Before the Spring Festival, Liu returned and worked at another small mine
in the adjacent city of Shifang, which was set up by one of his fellow