In a First, China Commemorates Normal Citizens

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For the next three days all public entertainment will cease and the Olympic torch relay will be suspended. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Chengdu, near the earthquake's epicenter, and says such a mourning period is unprecedented.

BILL WOLFF: From NPR News in New York, this is the Bryant Park Project.

(Soundbite of music)

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. News, information, the psychology of t-shirts. I'm Rachel Martin.

MIKE PESCA, host:

And I'm Mike Pesca. It's Monday, May 19th, 2008. I will bite?

MARTIN: Don't snicker. It's serious.

PESCA: T-shirts have psychology?

MARTIN: They do.

PESCA: I'm chortling, for the record, OK.

MARTIN: So this is what happened to me over the weekend. I ran a race with BPP producer Ian Chillag and supervising producer Matt Martinez. We did this...

PESCA: Did you have to call him that during the race?

MARTIN: Yeah, yeah.

PESCA: Hey, supervising producer...

MARTIN: And they - I was nice and agreed to pick up the registrations and t-shirts the night before on Friday night. But I get there and there are no small t-shirts. Fine. There are only medium, large and extra large. So then I am flummoxed...

PESCA: Vexed, perturbed.

MARTIN: I'm thinking to myself, two boys. What size do I get them? I don't know. I'm not a boy. I feel like all boys wear large in my world. All boys wear large.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I'm holding the large and I'm thinking this could fit like two Matt Martinezes. I don't even know. I don't know what to do.

PESCA: Yeah. And Ian's is one of those stand-sideways-and-you'll-miss-him type of guys.

MARTIN: Yeah. But then I go into this whole thing about when a guy - what's less offensive? To have a t-shirt that's too small or too large? Because maybe guys want to feel big, so they'd rather have it be too small.

PESCA: Right.

MARTIN: So I erred on that side and got them mediums.

PESCA: It depends on the torso of the guy, right? If they could pull off the - the really muscular men wear the t-shirts that are a little too small. But I think most guys don't mind swimming in their t-shirts a little bit.

MARTIN: Really?

PESCA: I think so. Although I've got two - I'm looking at two guys in the control room. Jacob, how say you? And tell me what Josh says. Err on the side of large or small?

JACOB GANZ: I think we want - well, Josh says large. I say a little bit small.

PESCA: Jeez.

MARTIN: OK. So clearly there are no rules.

PESCA: Yeah, and those are two skinny guys.

MARTIN: Hey, the psychology of t-shirts, folks. So, coming up on today's show, we're not going to talk anymore t-shirts. We promise. But we are going to...

PESCA: That's it. We have done with the t-shirts.

MARTIN: We are going to talk a little politics, in a couple of different veins. President Bush has equated...

PESCA: A t-shirt wearer.

MARTIN: Talking to Iran - He's called it, or equated it, rather, to the appeasement of Hitler.

PESCA: Not a t-shirt wearer.

MARTIN: Most everyone who heard that thought that he was talking about Senator's Obama statements...

PESCA: T-shirt wearer.

MARTIN: About talking with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

PESCA: Definitely not a t-shirt wearer.

MARTIN: Not quite appeasement, but we asked today, what's wrong with talking to Iran, or Hamas, for that matter? One of John McCain's foreign policy advisers will be on the line to talk with us about that.

PESCA: And we will get a check in on weekend politics. Barack Obama, t-shirt wearer, is in Oregon, Hillary Clinton, non-t-shirt wearer, in Kentucky and t-shirt wearer John McCain on "Saturday Night Live."

(Soundbite of TV show "Saturday Night Live")

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): But I also want to speak to Democrats. Imagine the excitement of leaving the convention and still not knowing who the nominee is.

(Soundbite of laughter, applause)

Sen. MCCAIN: That would be crazy, crazy exciting!

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Jim VandeHei from Politico.com will get us caught up on all the weekend's shenanigans.

MARTIN: And the first freshman class of Wyoming Catholic College is finishing up its school year. The college bans cell phones, TVs and allows only limited access to the Internet. We will talk with one of the students there about that strange world. We'll get the day's headlines in just a minute, but first...

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: A three-day period of mourning for the victims of last week's massive earthquake is underway in China. It began today at 2:28 p.m. local time, the exact moment a week ago today the 7.9-magnitude quake struck central China. Today throughout the country, sirens wailed as people stopped working and came out into the streets to observe three minutes of silence.

PESCA: For the next three days, all public entertainment will cease, and the Olympic torch relay will be suspended in honor of the victims. The confirmed death toll is now over 34,000. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Chengdu near the epicenter of the quake. He says a mourning period like this one in China is unprecedented.

ANTHONY KUHN: It's something that I think most Chinese people have never seen before. Perhaps with the death of a national leader, yes, but we have to remember this is for average people, and that really does make it a first for China.

MARTIN: NPR's Melissa Block was in one of Chengdu's main squares. She describes what happened after the three minutes of silence were observed.

MELISSA BLOCK: Many people started wailing in grief, sobbing, thinking back of what this country has been going through, and then this rally turned quickly from grief into an intense burst of patriotic fervor, with people joining hands, raising them above their heads and chanting, go, go, go, China, China, stand up, be strong.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

PESCA: Meanwhile, at least 15,000 more people are still believed to be trapped under rubble, including 200 new victims, relief workers who have been buried by mudslides over the past three days. And as hope fade for those trapped in the rubble, attention is turning to the millions left homeless and hungry.

MARTIN: The Chinese government has announced compensation payments for victims' families and stipends and grain rations for survivors. Anthony Kuhn says that, like the period of mourning, these efforts are seen as a sign of a Chinese leadership with a different approach.

KUHN: Many people are calling this a very shrewd political move by the leadership that points out new priorities for China. It shows - the message it sends is that the nation has to put people first, before the Olympics, before celebrations, anything like that.

PESCA: And Kuhn says that in spite of some questions about its efforts, the government is getting mostly favorable reviews.

KUHN: Both on the Internet and in person, on the scene of these disasters, eye witnesses are saying, why didn't the soldiers get here more quickly? Why were the schools so shoddily constructed that they collapsed? But I think, generally speaking, people feel that the government has been trying hard. They take note of the fact that the top leaders have been touring the province. I think there's just a lot of reflection going on, which is important and encouraging.

MARTIN: Meantime, China's deputy industry minister today said that Chinese businesses have suffered quake-related losses that add up to nine and a half billion dollars. You can go to npr.org throughout the day for updates on this story. Now let's get more of the day's news headlines with the BPP's Mark Garrison.

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