Twins of a Sort Across the Earthquake Zone

Very soon after the earthquake last year, the Chinese government announced a twinning program: the 20 counties or areas most seriously affected by the quake were "twinned" with other Chinese provinces or municipalities, who were ordered to help with reconstruction to the tune of 1 percent of their annual GDP for three years. Many have sent workers as part of the deal.

Bridge Changshu

hide captionA bridge in Tumen, Mianzhu County is repaired thanks to donations from Changshu City in Jiangsu Province, though in this case the workers were hired locally.

Andrea Hsu/NPR

Beichuan was twinned with Shandong Province in eastern China. Wenchuan with Guangdong Province in the south. Shifang with Beijing. Dujiangyan with Shanghai. You get the idea.

Everywhere you go in the quake zone, you see signs of this twinning program - literally: A huge billboard as you enter Beichuan County that declares "Thanks to our motherland, thanks to Shandong Province." A banner in front of a bridge under repair that reads "Construction Compliments of Changshu City." Characters stenciled onto the sides of all the temporary housing barracks that say "Donated by (fill in the blank) Province/City." I first noticed these characters in Yingxiu, because the barracks there were donated by the city of Dongguan, my mother's ancestral home.

Barracks Jiangxi

hide captionBarracks in this transitional housing camp in Pengzhou were donated by Jiangxi Province.

Andrea Hsu/NPR

In Mianzhu, which is paired with eastern Jiangsu Province, there is even a whole housing development going up in the style of Suzhou, the ancient water town on the Yangtze River.

Traveling from place to place, you do see some discrepancies in the quality of the temporary camps that have gone up. In one camp in Dujiangyan, for example, there are paved roads and paths throughout and even a playground donated by TCL, a Chinese mobile phone and television manufacturer. Elsewhere, the walkways are brick and overgrown with grass, and the only form of recreation seems to be wandering around new construction. I do wonder what this means for the long-term development of these places, and whether this part of Sichuan will end up being as much of an economic patchwork as the rest of China.

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