Journalism Reflection 5: China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province

May 12, 2008. Sichuan Earthquake.

More than 70,000 people lost their lives in the earthquake, 10,000 of them were children.

The 2010 Oscar Nominated Best Documentary—<China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province> recorded the sorrow and pain of those bereaved families, and the struggle of parents seeking justice for their children who died in the horrible disaster—It is true that earthquake is indeed a huge natural disaster, but the real reason for so many children’s death is the shoddy and unsafe teaching buildings.

At Fuxin Elementary School, where 127 students died, parents gathered together, placed framed pictures of their dead children, and burned incense and symbolic paper currency in memory of them. At Hanwang Elementary School, where 317 students died, a father who still hasn’t found his daughter stood amidst the ruins: “After 10 days I haven’t seen her face.” At Xinjian Elementary Schools, where 438 students died, parents questioned about the quality of school buildings and complained that the mortar and concrete did not meet standards.

China limits most households to only one child, which means most of families lost all their hopes. Desperate parents have to face a sudden and ever-lasting darkness in their future lives.

“Who inspected and built the buildings?” “Where is the government?” “Where did school money go?” Parents asked. But no one answered. The lack of response from local government caused parents to begin a 70-mile march to Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan. All they want are just explanation and justice for their dead children. However, the government found their march embarrassing so the officials tried everything they can to interrupted it. After official promised them to visit the school the next day and solve their problems, parents were pressured to go back to home.  Although inspectors and engineers from the Architecture Institute finally arrived as their promises, parents did not get a real and fair answer they deserved. $8800’s compensation per child, it is the price of a life. Even so, parents have to pledge that they would “obey laws and maintain social order.”

Produced by HBO, this documentary successfully displays part of China’s society in the aftermath of the earthquake. On the one hand, the subjects of this film are a group of grieving parents who just lost their children, but at the same time, their miserable story actually means more than that. Tears and angers; march and protest. “Party”, “Government”, “Army”, “People”, all these four elements were contained in the simple event, which sort of reveals the path that current China are taken, and certain model of social and political systems. As a broadcast journalism student, it’s my responsibility to tell a story with visual power, but more importantly, I need to dig out the in-depth story beneath the surface. I do not want to judge anyone, what I will do is to reveal the truth and provide facts and evidence.

Generally speaking, I do not have so much special feelings about the shooting skills in this film, but I really like several good shots in it. For instance, a father played a treasured phone message on which his little girl sings a song. Her voice lingers a long time, it’s a really impressive scene.

Official Website: HBO Documentaries <China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province>

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