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Fault lines bring rivals closer

Wen Jin is a Chinese girl with a Japanese name tag — Fumino — on her Starbucks apron in a Beijing café where every other Chinese person has a second English name.

world Updated: Mar 18, 2011 01:06 IST
Reshma Patil

Wen Jin is a Chinese girl with a Japanese name tag — Fumino — on her Starbucks apron in a Beijing café where every other Chinese person has a second English name.

As I picked up my coffee, Fumino said that when disaster struck Japan, historically China's archrival, she wept and spent sleepless nights until she could Skype her friends in Tokyo where she studied for five years. "I like Japan. It's a beautiful country," she said.

Such sentiment is rarely heard on Beijing streets, where anti-Japanese protests were seen last year as Sino-Japanese diplomacy hit crisis mode over a bitter territorial dispute. The earthquake has temporarily set aside mutual nationalistic sentiments. Japan came to China's aid after the Sichuan quake which killed over 87,000 people in 2008; memories of that disaster are still alive in China.

On Monday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made his annual media appearance and asked if there was a Japanese journalist in the audience so he could offer Chinese support. A 15-member Chinese rescue team was the first overseas team to reach the quake-hit zones. A Chinese rescue official told Xinhua that his men had stopped brushing teeth to save water.

Chinese university students have organised donation drives. At Tsinghua, they set up two donation boxes: one for Yunnan, where a quake killed 25 people last week. and one for Japan.

The quake toll in Sichuan and recently in Yunnan was blamed on inferior construction materials. The death toll in Japan, a country renowned for quake-proof construction, has shocked Chinese residents on the need to be better prepared. Earthquake survival kits are in high demand online. Coastal residents are hoarding iodine-rich salt in panic purchases in case radiation reaches China. Two Beijing museums with an earthquake and fire simulator each say record numbers are arriving for survival lessons since the Yunnan and Japan quakes.