AT 2.28 pm (IST 11:58 am) on Monday, 1.3 billion people united in grief, silent for three minutes to mourn an estimated 50,000 people killed in the most powerful earthquake to rock China in 32 years. Only air raid sirens and the horns of trains, automobiles and ships ‘wailing in grief’ shattered the silence of China's first national mourning for citizens lost to a natural disaster.
The death toll is expected to top 50,000 (from 34,073 confirmed dead by Monday noon) and China's leadership is urging citizens to stay strong and maintain ‘social stability’ as hope of finding survivors faded — especially for children buried under 6,898 crushed schools since May 12.
At 4.58 am, about 2,600 people watched the flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, where the national flag flew at half-mast. “Brave and strong China! Brave and strong Wenchuan!” shouted thousands gathered at the Square.
In Beijing citizens wore ‘Beijing Go Go’ T-shirts and emptied out on streets to mourn together. Traffic stood still and many wept. Television anchors wore black.
Public entertainment has been cancelled for three days. All entertainment and movie channels on television will be blacked out during this period. The national flag will fly at half-mast across China and its diplomatic missions abroad until Wednesday.
At 2.28 pm, trading was suspended for three minutes at the stock exchanges in Shanghai and Shenzhen, and commodity markets in Shanghai, Zhengzhou and Dalian. China's ruling Communist Party faces its biggest test in recent times as it copes with the aftermath.
Angry citizens are already asking questions about the quality of construction in rural Sichuan where thousands lie buried.