From August 12 until the Olympic Games close on August 24, China has asked citizens and foreign experts to post views on the nation’s next mega challenge post-Games — the rebuilding of 51 counties, towns and villages buried in its mountainous southwest Sichuan on May 12.
While this year marked three decades since the opening up of China through economic reforms, it was also hit by the country’s worst natural disaster since three decades. The 8.0 magnitude earthquake left nearly 70,000 people dead, five million homeless and a 147 billion dollar (one trillion yuan) reconstruction bill.
The financial toll of the earthquake is China’s highest disaster-induced loss since the founding of the Republic in 1949. But funding reconstruction is not the government’s only major concern. The world’s fourth-largest economy grew at an average 10.5 per cent since it won the Olympics host bid in 2001. Official economists said on Sunday that China would not suffer a post-Olympic recession.
But soon after the quake, the leadership faced its toughest home test. Parents and outspoken bloggers who make Chinese netizens the world’s largest online community, compared the construction quality of almost 7,000 toppled ‘tofu’ schools to Beijing’s Olympian monoliths. Protests by distraught parents of dead students were stifled. Hosting the Olympics cost Beijing a record $43 billion, and the Games venues were built to withstand an 8.0 magnitude quake.
As the Communist Party of China now seeks to stabilise its grip over public opinion for an ‘orderly’ reconstruction, China’s top planning body, the National Development Reform Commission, has publicised a recovery plan. It especially asks the masses in the disaster belt to send opinions and suggestions.
This time, the draft assures, priority will be given to the reconstruction of schools, hospitals and public services based on the ‘safest, soundest and most reliable architecture.’
It promises every family a house, an income above the pre-disaster level, and insurance per person --- a tall order since the reconstruction will sweep a rugged area of 1,32,596 sq km home to nearly 20 million people. Homes, offices, industries, telephone, power, water and sewage facilities will have to be restored.
The Chinese took 10 years to rebuild Tangshan, east of Beijing, after the previous major quake struck in 1976.
This time the deadline is only three years, riding on a strategic effort to mobilise the citizens’ famous national spirit. So the plan envisages quake memorials, and artists have been instructed to produce works on touching stories from the disaster zone.