BEIJING, March 23 (Xinhua) -- Many people in China were deeply moved upon learning that a Japanese man helped 20 Chinese students escape the deadly tsunami as he put his life at risk.
On March 11, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake shook the northeastern coast of Japan, triggering a devastating tsunami. Torrents burst into the streets of Miyagi prefecture, trapping 20 Chinese trainees from Sato Aquatic Co. in a small town in the prefecture.
As the disaster hit, 59-year-old Mitsuru Sato, a manager of the company, helped evacuate the trainees to a shrine on higher ground before hurrying back to fetch his wife and daughter.
"I saw him standing on the rooftop when a wave engulfed him," said Yi Ya'nan, one of the trainees from Dalian, a port city in northeast China's Liaoning Province, while weeping.
"He struggled to stay afloat in the water, but disappeared quickly."
Sato may never know his wife and daughter were found safe. He is still unaccounted for, like 5,000 others in the town, or about half of the area's population, though his relatives in Tokyo believe he is still alive.
"Without the help from Sato, we would have been killed," said Yi.
The 20 trainees flew back from Japan on March 19. Yi's mother said at the airport in Dalian that Sato gave her daughter and her colleagues a second life. "Although there is no clue to his whereabouts, we will never forget him."
Sato's touching story, later reported by Chinese media, has aroused wide public attention across China, especially on the Internet. At some web portals such as Sina, Tencent, Netease and Sohu, tens of thousands of Internet users paid tribute and hailed Sato's selflessness.
"Dear Mitsuru Sato, we'll always remember you and your selfless spirit. We wish that your family will all be safe!" a commenter named "Dora" wrote on the microblogging service of Sina.
"In such a devastated small town, none of the nearly 100 Chinese trainees are missing. This should be attributed to the help of local people like Sato," wrote another user.
There were many more touching moments during the catastrophe. Wu Jing, a 24-year-old Chinese intern at the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo, told Xinhua that his tutor contacted him shortly after the quake and told him he could ask the institute and teachers for help in case of difficulties.
Many local residents and agencies also showed understanding and great support when he applied to go back to China.
Also, some Japanese citizens even shared their limited food with Chinese nationals in the quake-hit regions.
About three years ago, Japan sent the first foreign rescue team to Sichuan in southwest China, which was flattened by a 8.0-magnitude earthquake. Many Chinese citizens were touched when seeing pictures of the rescue members paying tribute to recovered bodies.
After the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, many average Chinese citizens were glued to TV sets showing the horrible tsunami scenes and unfolding nuclear crisis.
Many sent their condolences to the victims and encouraged the survivors to be strong.
Chinese President Hu Jintao also offered his condolences to the deceased in Japan on Friday, exactly one week after the massive earthquake and tsunami hit.
China has sent a rescue team and pledged to send emergency humanitarian aid worth 30 million yuan (4.6 million U.S. dollars) and 20,000 tonnes of fuel to Japan.
Meanwhile, China Red Cross, some non-government organizations as well as several universities in major Chinese cities have begun donating money and daily necessities for the disaster-hit areas.
Sany Heavy Industry, a leading Chinese heavy machinery manufacturer, has offered a concrete pump truck with a 62-meter boom free of charge to help tackle the nuclear crisis.
Japan, in return, has shown its gratitude to China on different occasions.
Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto said on Friday in a written interview with Xinhua that Japan greatly appreciated the assistance and sympathy from the Chinese government and citizens who offered help after the catastrophic earthquake
"Japan is willing to proceed from the overall situation of bilateral ties to make substantial the Japan-China strategic and mutually beneficial relations," he said.
When staff at a convenience store in the quake-stricken area found out that Chinese rescue team members were buying daily necessities, they refused to charge.
Also, during a match of AFC Champions League between Shandong Luneng and Osaka Sakura last Wednesday in Jinan in the capital city of east China's Shandong Province, fans of the Japanese soccer team put up a poster reading "Thanks, China's rescue".
Observers believe that the grudge and bias lingering between some Chinese and Japanese people after the Japanese army invaded China during the Second World War began to fade as they offer help to each other during natural catastrophes.
"Whatever happened in history, the value for life and the pursuit of happiness should always be there," wrote an Internet user named "bingqiexiaoyu". "It's heart-wrenching to see helpless eyes in the face of disasters. Let's put aside some bias against each other."
Human feelings can transcend the boundaries of nations in the face of natural disasters, said Ma Guanghai, a professor from the School of Philosophy and Social Development in Shandong University.
Media commentator Zhao Jianxiong wrote in an article that the disaster itself was negative, but it provided an opportunity to enhance mutual understanding and trust between the two countries.
The heroic story of Sato will prompt more Chinese people to look at their neighbors with new eyes, Zhao wrote.
Some Chinese citizens who live in Japan also said they would stay with their Japanese friends through the hard times.
"Japanese rescue teams rescued their fellow citizens and also foreigners like us," said an internet user named "Kongshouduobairen". "I feel I should stay. I came to Japan four years ago and Japan is like my second hometown."
Special Report: Massive quake shakes Japan