2009   China, Canada China Earthquake • The People in the Pictures
China Earthquake • The People in the Pictures Image Cover
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Director:Susan Teskey
Duration:52 min
Summary: At 2:28 in the afternoon of May 12, 2008 the ground in China's Sichuan province shuddered and cracked open. Buildings, roads and lives were torn apart in seconds.The massive earthquake would leave over 80,000 dead or missing and millions homeless. China's Earthquake: The People in the Pictures tells the story of four people who lives have been changed forever by this disaster.

The Sichuan earthquake was a story of extraordinary human drama. It was also an event of worldwide political significance. China presented a new face to the world through the media coverage, openness to international aid, and sympathy from its leaders and people for the quake's victims.

Young Sichuan TV reporter Zhang Qian was in the middle of the disaster zone. For the first time, she and other reporters filed uncensored live reports. China watched transfixed as she talked to Chen Jian, a 26 year old trucker who had been pinned down by massive concrete slabs for three days. By phone, he told his young wife his only wish was to spend the rest of his life with her. Cameras captured the dramatic conclusion to his story.

Near the giant quake's epicenter, 9 year old Lin Hao and his second grade class were also trapped. After digging himself out, Lin defied death, crawlingback into the rubble to rescue two of his classmates. He said simply, "I was the class monitor, it was my duty to look after them." Lin Hao's grit had made him a hero, but his smile made him an instant celebrity. At the Beijing Olympics, he was at the side of basketball superstar Yao Ming as they led the Chinese athletes into the stadium. The "Little Hero" had become a symbol of China's triumph over disaster.

2008 had been a difficult year for China. In March, the uprising in Tibet, and China's response to it, had unleashed massive protests against the Olympic torch and calls for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics. China's international image was in tatters. The Sichuan earthquake would help change that. At first, Beijing banned coverage from the disaster zone, but heart rending images and stories were already pouring out. The coverage unleashed an outpouring of public support and sympathy around the globe and helped turn around China's international image.

One of the stories was of 11 year old Li Yue, a schoolgirl in Beichuan, a town that had been destroyed by the quake. She and her class were buried under a mountain of rubble. Although she did not know it, eleven of her family had been killed. Her mother was working thousands of kilometers away. Li Yue could hear rescuers above her, but they couldn't reach her. She spent days under the rubble surrounded by dead classmates, fearing the worst.

Finally the girl who had always dreamt of being a ballerina was rescued, but at a terrible cost. Li Yue's left leg was pinned under a concrete slab. In the end, it was her leg or her life. Her defiance of death brought her honours from the Chinese government. And a starring role at the opening ceremony Paralympics. Her dream of dancing again had come true.

One of the most extraordinary images to come out of the earthquake was that of a communist party official on his knees in the street begging angry protesters to stop. And one of the most heartbreaking stories from the quake is that of the parents of Sichuan's dead schoolchildren.

Fuxin #2 School was one of 12,000 schools that collapsed during the quake. At Fuxin, parents wanted to know why the classrooms had become their children's tombs while buildings around had remained standing. Electrician Sang Jun's 11 year old son died there.

Although local officials begged them not to protest, the parents demanded an investigation into corrupt practices and shoddy construction. At first, the government promised to investigate. But as the weeks passed, the post-quake openness disappeared. Chinese media was told to stop covering the story and soon the government turned against Sang Jun and the other parents in surprising ways.

After the Olympics Lin Hao and his family moved to Shanghai so he could get a better education. But they have found that life isn't easy, even for heroes. Although Lin Hao is in demand for commercial projects, the family is struggling with his success and survival in Shanghai. Will they have to return to Sichuan?

Li Yue and her mother are now in Beijing. She spent months at the rehabilitation center there, and is struggling with a new challenge - learning to walk again. And she is haunted by the days she spent under the rubble. Li Yue may never have a normal life.

Did the Sichuan earthquake mark the beginning of a new China of greater openness and freedom? What is the future for the survivors of Sichuan? Through the stories of the people who lived it, the documentary looks at those questions. China's Earthquake: The People in the Pictures goes beyond the headlines to bring viewers tales of endurance and hope, of sorrow and rage, of life extinguished and life reborn.

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