|Shang Xingqiong and her husband, Yang Liheng, enjoy a happy and peaceful life [Women of China/Fan Wenjun]|
At noon on the day the magnitude-8 earthquake devastated Beichuan, an autonomous county mainly inhabited by Qiang people, in northwestern Sichuan Basin, on May 12, 2008, Shang Xingqiong, Secretary of the Leading Party Members' Group of the county's federation of industry and commerce, and Li Zi'an, Shang's then-husband, went to work as usual. A few minutes after they arrived at work, Shang was forever separated from her husband. The hills around the county collapsed and, seemingly in an instant, Beichuan was in ruins. Residents were crying — some hysterically — throughout the city.
Shang was named interim president of the county's women's federation after the tremor. "In Beichuan, one of the areas worst hit by the earthquake, most people lost one or more family members. All of the residents were grieving for their dead friends and relatives. As a cadre from the women's federation, I had to do my job well, with a loving heart, even though I also lost family members," recalls Shang.
Li Anmin, Shang's son, was studying at Shanghai Jiao Tong University at that time. When he returned to Beichuan, he noticed immediately that Shang was pale, and that she was covered in mud. "She walked toward me with difficulty. She hugged me, and she cried. She was upset with me for not staying at the university ... I held my mother tightly in my arms. I could not say anything, as I had lost my father," Li Anmin recalls.
People generally regarded Shang as their backbone, and they wanted her to help them solve their food and accommodation problems. Even though she was greatly distressed by the loss of her husband and six other relatives, she worked through the anguish and helped coordinate the disaster-relief efforts. She was exhausted; yet, she never complained about anything, as she thought she was lucky to be alive.
Nearly 17,000 women were injured, to varying degrees, during the earthquake. Shang helped allocate goods (for the winter) to women and children. During that effort, she discovered many of the women survivors were depressed and/or angry, and that they hoped to receive psychological assistance. So, Shang established the "three-homelands" project to help the women. The purpose of the project was to help women regain their interest in life, and to establish new social connections. It was also to help women who lost their spouses to establish new families. Given her efforts, many women renewed their confidence in life.
Shang believed reemployment would be an effective way to help women heal their psychological wounds and make a living. The county's women's federation organized Qiang embroidery training classes in Beichuan. Many women participated in the classes.
Shang feared that many women would feel depressed as the Spring Festival approached in 2009. She guided employees of women's federations, at all levels in Beichuan, to offer psychological assistance to women in the region. "I received much concern and love. My clothes were donated by loving people. I was unable to make any recompense. What I could do was spare no effort in doing all of my work well," says Shang.
In addition to the fatalities in Shang's family, several of her family members were badly injured during the quake. She was also depressed for a period of time. "At that time, many leaders cared for me, and they encouraged me to rise above the grief. In 2009, I was guided to watch the county's reconstruction planning graph. It was the first time that I looked forward to a bright future. I renewed my confidence in life," recalls Shang.
Her colleagues introduced her to Yang Liheng, a man who lost his wife, daughter and grandson in the quake. They hoped she would like the man and the couple would be able to establish a new family. "He is considerate. We get comfort from each other when we encounter difficulties. We both think it is our greatest wish to live the rest of our lives happily," Shang says.
Yang's parents are seriously ill, and her late husband's mother suffers from emphysema. Shang takes care of the three elderly people.
"Thanks to the government's policies, the plan for a new county has come true. Now, we are living happy lives. We take good care of our family members, especially the elderly people, and that is how we can give back to the loving people in society," says Shang.
Now, Li Anmin is an employee with the Urban Planning Bureau of Mianyang. He hopes to be an eyewitness to the reestablishment of his hometown. "It is fortunate that my son lives close to me. After the tremor, I think family affection should be the most important thing in our lives," says Shang.
She is now Vice-Director of Beichuan County's Committee for the Wellbeing of Youth. Recently, Shang has been promoting a plan, for step-families, which focuses on the problems of raising and educating children of combined couples. Shang spends much of her time accompanying her family members. She says a family's safety is the greatest happiness. All of Beichuan's residents place the greatest priority on safety, as the tremor taught them what was most valuable in life, Shang says.
(Source: Women of China English Monthly May 2018 Issue)