NPR logo Earthquake Aftermath Observations

Melissa Block

Earthquake Aftermath Observations

A few glimpses of the aftermath of the Chinese earthquake, as portrayed in Chinese media:

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao Sichuan

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao pictured in Sichuan newspaper photo. hide caption

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State-run Chinese television is running lots of footage showing squadrons of soldiers in green camouflage fatigues, and rescue teams in orange jumpsuits. They're seen headed toward the earthquake zone — some with shovels, some with large backpacks, some running onto huge military transport planes. The footage is often accompanied by a dramatic soundtrack — heroic music that wouldn't be out of place in a Spielberg film score.

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao is in charge of directing the relief operation; he flew here immediately after the earthquake struck. He's seen often on TV, calling out to people in devastated areas, "As long as there is a glimmer of hope, we will continue the rescue operation!" A photo of him is on the front page of the Chengdu newspaper today. He's in the badly-hit town of Yingxiu, standing over a bandaged survivor lying on a stretcher on the ground.

Chengdu nurses

This strip reads: Don't believe rumors! Don't spread rumors!" hide caption

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The Chengdu paper's front page also has a red banner column that warns its readers "Don't believe rumors! Don't spread rumors!" Stories have spread — disseminated by text message or blog or old-fashioned word of mouth - that dams have collapsed, and that the water supply here in Chengdu is contaminated. The Xinhua news agency reports that 17 "malicious rumor-mongerers" have been punished for spreading "false information, sensational statements, and sapping public confidence."

Red donation boxes have been set up on sidewalks here in the provincial capital, Chengdu, and along the route of the Olympic torch as it works its way across China. On television, you see long lines of people passing by the boxes, stuffing wads of 100 yuan bills into the slots. Red Cross workers are shown bundling the bills into huge stacks.

And — thankfully — amid all the unspeakable destruction, there are images of survival. State-run television shows footage of a young woman trapped under rubble, about to be rescued. "I have always believed that you would come save me," she tells the soldiers.



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Thank you for sharing your stories with us. It helps to understand how much the Chinese government is making sure that things are handled as quickly as possible.

Are there any changes in your plans for the scheduled project you were preparing before the earthquake began? Will you still do it with revisions?

Sent by reedfriend | 8:04 AM | 5-16-2008

Melissa Block's report from Chengdu on the young couple's search for their parents and child was a poignant and powerful as Ann Gerrils reporting from Baghdad during the Iraq invasion--thank you making the coverage so personal.

Sent by Tom Dart | 8:10 AM | 5-16-2008

Thank you for your coverage of the earthquake and rescue. NPR does a much better job than other major media. It shows that NPR really cares.

Sent by a concerned reader | 9:42 AM | 5-16-2008


The scale of destruction from the earthquake is by far larger than 911.

911 brought the Americans together; it unified the nation. Does anyone remember the approval rating of Mr. Bush after 911?

The earthquake did the same to Chinese people. The nation is unified in the face of unthinkable disaster, natural or man-made.

Would you please compare the footage you see today in Chinese "state-run" TV to the footage a few years ago aired by American "free" media after 911?

Sent by wei | 9:43 AM | 5-16-2008

Thank you for your report, Melisa.

The tone of "state-run TV" sounds negative, but I understand where you are from. Every country's government does good things and bads things to people, whether intentionally or not. But in this disaster, I have full faith for the Chinese government and I praise the Chinese military and the government for the great efforts.

As a Chinese living the the US, after experiencing the Olympic torch relay in the western countries and seeing how the western media selectively broadcasted all the negative, anti-China reports, I lost my faith for the "free" western media which I once considered fair.

However, by far NPR is the only one that I still have faith for, and listen whenever I have my radio is on. Please keep up with the good work and stay safe in Sichuan.

Sent by HY | 10:27 AM | 5-16-2008

An anonymous Chinese netter said on my Chinese blog ( that s/he was not impressed with NPR's coverage of the Sichuan earthquake. But I have to disagree. It's true that people in the U. S. tend not to know and care much about the rest of the world (I was listening to Fareed Zakaria talking about "The Rise of the Rest" yesterday on NPR).

When American friends asked me where I am from before, I said Chengdu, Sichuan, and >90% of time they did not have a clue where it is ("Is it near Shanghai or Peking?"). I had to tell them that Sichuan is known for the spicy foods and panda, etc. The American media is usually not very "international" either. With all this in mind, the job ATC and NPR has done in coverage of the China earthquake does stand out and is commendable.

Sent by jidian | 10:39 AM | 5-16-2008

The word "state-run" is just objective and true. It does not deny that the state-run media in China does better job this time. If the word gives people negative impression, it is not fair to blame NPR.

Sent by jidian | 10:58 AM | 5-16-2008

Yes, I also have to commend NPR for its reporting, especially the reporting of Melissa Block. Sometimes it seems as if the cable media is ignoring this tragedy. I turn to NPR and sometimes BBC news for updates. I am not Chinese, but as a global citizen I find it impossible to turn away from NPRs coverage of this natural disaster.

It seems to me that, for all its faults, the Chinese government is doing the best it can to save its citizens under unimaginable circumstances. For now, the Chinese media seems to be reacting the same way the US media did after 9/11. I don't see how the "feel-good" images of rescues by the soldiers and comments by the Chinese premier is any different than the constant replay of George Bush at Ground Zero or all the videos of the heroic firefighters and policemen. Eventually, the government will have to answer why so many schools toppled and some gov't buildings did not. From the reporting it seems as though there may be issues of shoddy construction and corruption at the local level.

Sent by taizhu | 11:32 AM | 5-16-2008

Another thing I have to point out. The meaning of the Chinese word yao-yan, or yao is different from the English word "rumor." A rumor can be later proved true or false. In Chinese, yao is factually false. There is no truthful "yao." The Chinese word YAO implies intentional mis-information.

The translation "DON'T BELIEVE RUMORS" does not convey the original sentence 100% accurately. I cannot come up with a better translation though. I can only add this footnote.

Sent by wei | 12:40 PM | 5-16-2008

I love Melissa's reporting through this earthquake. She brought us the most heart-felt stories, well above politics or prejudices. She sees the stories from a fellow earthling's perspective, from the family's perspective. I'm hopping on board of NPR membership because of her reporting.

Sent by Liao | 12:43 PM | 5-16-2008

To ATC and NPR:

I have posted several not so friendly comments here. It is not against the station or the journalists.

I am a Chinese living in the United States. I have seen too many stereotypes held by both sides. What is even worse is that those stereotypes are reinforced by numerous incidents. The Tibet events a few months ago reinforced the image of Chinese government as oppressive in the west and the image of the Westerners as hostile to a rising power in China. Too many incidents like this. I do not want to see the earthquake become another one. Unfortunately, it might already happened.

Those events are complicated, and if we reduce them to old stereotypes, we lose the bigger picture and it deepens the misunderstanding and mistrust from both sides. As two major powers in 21st century, I don't think that is the desirable outcome for either nation.

I hope the journalists can challenge those stereotypes, do not over-simplify issues, put reporting in the cultural, historical context.

It won't be an easy task, and I know I am over-demanding. NPR as one of the most trusted news outlet in America, shall we, as listeners, set the bar higher? This is not for profit, commercial time, ratings or prizes. It is to create the mutual-understanding and mutual-trust among two nations.

Sent by wei | 12:59 PM | 5-16-2008

Thanks Melissa Block and crew for this continuing coverage. I respect all your effort and great work.

Sent by JY | 1:03 PM | 5-16-2008

I became of a member of NPR (Minnesota) after listening to Melissa Block's reports. Keep up the good work, and be safe.

Sent by mk | 1:32 PM | 5-16-2008

When I first heard that Melissa and Robert would be in Chengdu I was so excited. Three years ago I visited this city and some surrounding villages during a study tour with Heifer International.

Sadly, because of the earthquake the reporting is very different from what I had hoped. Melissa and Robert do an outstanding job in this very difficult situation.

Perhaps listeners and viewers want to help, but don't know how. Heifer International is an organization that provides livestock to poor farmers worldwide. Families who receive animals sign a contract to pass on one or more of their animal's offspring to another family in need. They also pass on training that Heifer provided to them. China's Heifer staff of 24 young, talented, and educated people is located in Chengdu. From an email I know they are all OK. But we don't know the fate of the farmers participating in the Heifer projects. From Melissa's reports we know that animals also died in the quake and that feed is in short supply.

One effective way to help is to buy animals through Heifer International. The organization already has projects near Chengdu and the Chinese government is very supportive of this NGO even matching funds for some communities.

Melissa and Robert, you may be able to interview some Heifer staff members. They all speak English.

Heifer's website is; their headquarters is located in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Sent by Margrit Carr | 2:03 PM | 5-16-2008

Melissa, Robert and other members of the NPR team in China, Thank you very much for your recent coverage on China's earthquake. I am a Chinese living in the States and have long been a member of NPR. I've been procrastinating in the local spring membership drive. But after hearing your coverage on China's earthquake, I renewed my membership right away. NPR is the most trust-worthy media in the States and I want to thank you for your excellent coverage of international affairs.

Sent by Anne | 2:33 PM | 5-16-2008

Ways to help....

(In the U.S.)
Heart to Heart International
401 S. Clairborne, Suite 302
Olathe, KS 66062
Bank: First National Bank of Olathe
Bank Address: 444 E. Santa Fe Street
Olathe, KS 66051
Bank ABA# 101001720
Account #0063452

All donations to this address c/o Heart to Heart Sichuan will go directly towards relief work here.

Sent by marge clements | 3:12 PM | 5-16-2008

Just like America, the Chinese people will pay for its freedom once this crisis is over. America has become a police nation, what China will become after this, we don't know.

Sent by Nick Fury | 3:23 PM | 5-16-2008

I salute to Melissa Block, Robert Sigel and the entire Chengdu Team for their first-class journalism and bravery in the face of such devastation and ongoing dangers to their persons.

I will be making a donation to the quake relief efforts and to NPR over this weekend.

Sent by Nutmeger | 6:30 PM | 5-16-2008

I don't like all the politics that ooze from your comments, people. I pray for the victims of this tragedy and I support the government of the Peoples Republic in any effort they are making to help their people. I know there are American doctors on the ground giving whatever help they can and I am proud of them. I am not a communist. I am a conservative American. This tragedy should bring all of us, Chinese and Americans, beyond politics and cynicism. Give strength to the young soldiers in the People's Liberation Army. They carry the bodies of people who are beloved by their families to a suitable grave. I'm so sorry for all the pain and suffering of the Chinese people.

Sent by Gregg Butler | 8:23 PM | 5-16-2008

I heard Melissa Block's moving story of the mother who lost her two year old child, her mother and father during the earthquake. It was then that I decided to become a member of public radio.

Sent by Susanna Ruiz | 2:50 AM | 5-18-2008

To Gregg Butler
Thank you, thank you very much. You show your real concern and sorrow about the suffering people, rather than praise the journalist for a good report. Thank you.

Sent by calligraphor | 11:42 PM | 5-18-2008

It is interesting that the same article can be read very differently by different readers. To me, the first response is "I wonder why Bush did not go to New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina hit."

It is not so much about "politics", but more about "public administration". The issue is "What does a leader need to do immediately after a disaster?"

I believe the early appearing of the Chinese leaders after the earthquake should and actually did inspire their government and countrymen to come forward and help. The actions that played out in China reminded me an interview 3 days after Katrina hit, on 9-1-2005.
click "listen now" for the 7-minute-interview

The person in charge of managing the situation obviously was less informed than NPR, and called the live eyewitness report a rumor. Here I just say that he could have done a better job if Bush showed up at New Orleans immediately after Katrina hit, because no one would want to or dare to be slower than his big boss.

In my opinion the Chinese leaders did their job that was required to do, and they did well. Whether it is for show to gain the popularity is immaterial when making a decision that matters millions of people's life.

Sent by CCH | 10:03 AM | 5-19-2008

It would seem that this is a wonderful opportunity for the US to improve relations with China on a broad scale. Our government has always taken a hard stance against China and in the wake of this disaster, it would be in everyone's best interest to do whatever is necessary to help the Chinese people recover from this.

US companies have the skills, the technologies and the materials to greatly enhance the recovery and rebuilding process. It would provide much needed assistance to those people displaced, provide a market for US goods and services and go a long way to improve the relationship with China, a worldwide economic force. Politics aside, American companies should not let this opportunity pass to do something good for the Chinese people and for themselves. This is truly a win/win situation.

Sent by Gary | 2:59 PM | 5-20-2008

I was wondering what happened to US Katrina $854 millions offered by foreign countries including China 5 millions plus all the cargos unloaded in the Kansas military base by Air China, less than 5% used "for disaster victims or reconstruction as of 4/29/07

Sent by Mary | 4:39 PM | 5-22-2008