An Olympics of hope for earthquake victims

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

DU JIANG YAN, China – There was a mother who lost her daughter. There was a daughter who lost her mother.

There was profound sadness in every direction, any and every bit of tragedy; yet gathered in the crowd in front of a couple televisions here at a sprawling refugee camp was the one thing the earthquake couldn't shake … hope.

For themselves. For their city. For their China.

The run-up to the Olympic Opening Ceremony was being shown, and here, where the games should matter the least, where a massive May earthquake had caused everyone to lose something – family, friends, homes, jobs – it somehow meant so much.

Misery is measured on a sliding scale at one of the humble camps for the survivors of a disaster that killed 70,000 and devastated this region of Southwest China.

No matter the loss, no matter the hardship ahead, no matter the flattened villages in the mountains just above here, where the abandoned rubble still rumbles, for many the future is all that matters.


Tents and rubble still dominate the streets.

(Dan Wetzel / Y! Sports)

"Not only did members of my family die, but members of everyone's family died," 75-year-old Mo Wanshan said through a translator Friday. "This disaster was so big, we have no choice; we have to think in a positive way."

The Opening Ceremony of these games, these beloved Chinese Games, was held almost 1,000 miles away in Beijing. There were fireworks and dancing dragons, and here, where you'd think something so trivial couldn't possibly help, it produced a festive mood of anticipation.

It couldn't raise the dead or repair the buildings or calm the shock or erase the nightmares. Nothing can. Nothing ever can.

Yet amid this outsized tragedy, the power of the idea these games represent couldn't be understated.

"The earthquake hit and people died," said Lin Hong Lun. "But we will not give up. We are very proud of this place; of all of China."

So hundreds jammed around those two big-screen televisions to watch the ceremony like it was a moment of renewal. Others would find friends with a TV hook-up. Some would return to their old apartments, which aren't fit for living but where electricity still flowed. Or maybe they'd gather around storefronts, standing in debris-filled streets.


Huang Hongying and son sleep in a refugee tent.

(Dan Wetzel / Y! Sports)

Huang Hongying sleeps on a dirt floor, in a government-issued tent with two homemade beds, her son and a puppy. She has virtually nothing.

"I couldn't miss it," she said.

To convey the pride the Chinese people have in these games, look not to the pomp and circumstance broadcast from Beijing, but to this ruined region that watched every flicker of it.

It's not just that their homeland has made so much progress that the Olympics could even be held here. It's that it represents what is possible for the nation's future if everyone continues to work, even with the heaviest of hearts.

"It was very hard to get the Olympics in Beijing," Mo Wanshan said. "I feel the dreams come true."

China is booming and it has not just enriched the people but emboldened them. There is a confidence now, they say, even among the elderly.

Mo is one of five people living in a 20-square-meter home without running water. Yet he smiles relentlessly.


Mo Wanshan and his granddaughter share a tiny home with three others.

(Dan Wetzel / Y! Sports)

"It's better than the tent," he said.

Huang Hongying is in the tent, but is thankful. Her in-laws have running water, so she can clean and cook there.

"I've been through life without water," she said. "Three days without drinking water. Half a month without a bath."

There is, of course, no way to replace the loved ones, especially the parents who cruelly lost the only child the government once limited them to having.

Yet some say there has to be a time to press forward if you can. And it is the individual who must do it.

It was part of a powerful message of individualism that was repeated all over town Friday. It is as telling as any about these changing times in China, where the government once did all.

They would not just rebuild their city and their lives bigger and better, they would do it on their own as soon as possible and not wait for the government to make it happen. They won't just accept their plight as, perhaps, generations past may have.

"We have to help ourselves," said Yuan Shiming, who reopened his small convenience store and is doing what he can to keep it running. "The government sends me 300 yuan (about $43 U.S.) every month. But that isn't enough. So I have to run the business."


Coverage is available on donated widescreens.

(Dan Wetzel / Y! Sports)

"We cannot just wait for the government alone, this is about us," Lin Hong Yun said from the camp.

As she spoke, her 4-year-old daughter, Mo Nica, danced to music playing from her mother's cell phone. For weeks in the tent city it was the only entertainment that kept the energetic child occupied.

On Friday, Nica wouldn't need the phone. She'd stay up late to dance to the songs from the television, the ones way up in Beijing, the ones about hope and history and a fresh new day for an old, old country.

Back here in the quake zone, it was joy enough that after all the misery, a mother still danced with her daughter and a daughter danced with her mother.

What to Read Next