Special Report: Reconstruction After Earthquake
By Xinhua writers Yi Ling, Wu Chen, Quan Xiaoshu
BEICHUAN, Sichuan, April 22 (Xinhua) -- The publicity
department of Beichuan is bustling with activity, as it has been for most of the
The staff have worked relentlessly since the
devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, pumping a constant supply of information to
However, one office remains eerily calm -- recently
delivered documents and papers lie undisturbed on the desk alongside a photo of
a young boy.
The empty chair belongs to department vice-director
Feng Xiang, and on this matter the publicity officials have little to say.
Feng, 33, committed suicide at his home on Monday,
three weeks before the first anniversary of his son's death on May 12.
The 7-year-old, whose body was never found, was among
the 87,000 people who were confirmed dead or missing. Another 370,000 people
were injured, and at least 15 million people were displaced.
The police are still officially investigating Feng's
death, but many local officials say he was under too much pressure.
"His death saddens me," says Zhao Wu, a vice-director
of publicity in Dujiangyan city, near the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu,
"but it is not surprising. There could be more tragedies like this."
Immediately prior to his suicide, Feng had finished
compiling a commemorative book on earthquake relief and reconstruction of
The approach to May 12 has been "extremely
sensitive", says Jia Xiaoming, a Beijing-based psychologist. "Local officials
are unleashing their restrained grief a year after losing their loved ones, a
feeling that could destroy the purpose of life."
Jia says officials had to set aside their own grief
at losing family, leaving themselves with much less time to recover than
ordinary people. "They missed the opportunities to let go of their feelings more
The hard work and dedication they have shown since
the quake are no remedies for psychological trauma, says Jia.
Li Minghong, Communist Party head of Caoshan village
of Beichuan County, says work has been stressful.
"You face pressure both from the general public and
supervisors," says Li, who lost his 17-year-old daughter in the quake.
"Officials who lost their families, children in particular, feel even more
pressured psychologically when they cannot share their grief with others."
Other officials took their own lives before Feng.
Dong Yufei, an acquaintance of Feng, hanged himself in a temporary office in
October. Beichuan's agriculture commission head and disaster relief director
lost his 12-year-old son and other relatives in the quake.
Sichuan provincial government has compelled officials
in quake-affected areas to take vacations.
"Do Saturdays and Sundays exist on your calendar?"
asks Feng's colleague, Ma Haiyan, when asked if he has taken days off.
"I have been too busy to have a vacation," says Wu
Kaiming, director of the publicity department of Wenchuan County.
"Even if I did take days off, my mind would be filled
with agendas for today and tomorrow," he says. "I'm better off staying in the
Wu admits his stress is often vented in quarrels with
Zhang Tongrong recalls how he was unable to visit his
father before he died of liver cancer.
"I can't behave like this in public," says Zhang,
vice Party chief of Wenchuan, visibly upset. "I must show my strength and
trustworthiness to the people."
The welfare of local officials deserves more care and
attention as it significantly affects reconstruction, says Xu Kaiwen, a
psychologist with Beijing University.
"There is always a limit to how much pressure or how
serious a psychological trauma one can stand," says Xu. "A glass can be big or
small, but if the water keeps pouring in, it will overflow eventually.
Grassroots officials are among those under the most pressure. This could cause
problems if they get no help.
"Their psychological condition will directly affect
the efficiency and effect of policies made at higher levels," warns Xu, who has
been researching trauma after the Tangshan Earthquake, which killed more than
242,000 people on July 28, 1976.
Xu says sustainable and reliable psychological aid
should be provided to local officials. "Ideally doctors should regularly meet
their patients, help them feel assured and repair parts of their relations with
Wu Kaiming hopes he and his colleagues can relax a
while after the first anniversary.
"But I really doubt it. The reconstruction does not
allow us to stop for a rest. Time waits for nobody."