May 12 Notes: Life After the Earthquake

China Development Brief, No.58 (Summer 2013)

中文 English

Mianzhu County was one of the hardest hit areas by the May 12 Sichuan earthquake with a total of 11,117 casualties, 90% of all housing destroyed, and estimated economic losses of 142.3 billion yuan. With assistance from Jiangsu Province, reconstruction in Mianzhu was divided into nine categories and 108 individual projects to the tune of 12.4 billion yuan. I remember that year the whole city was filled with the rich smell of alcohol from the Jiannanchun Distillery1. As for the reconstruction, with Jiangsu’s assistance, Mianzhu was rebuilt in less than three years and the city was changed beyond all recognition. Compared with other hard-hit areas, it was completely rebuilt in a newer, more sophisticated architectural style.

In this emotionally fraught place, the story I want to talk about most is reuniting with old friends. Some of them are volunteers, some of them are stars thanks to the post-disaster media attention, and some of them are ordinary local citizens. By returning to their stories, we might be able to see the impact and change the earthquake wrought on their lives.

“Inseparable, reluctant” Volunteers

The very first volunteers we see are friends, Lao Gao (老高) and Li Jie (李杰).

Lao Gao is from Shenzhen; Li Jie is from Henan. In the year of the earthquake, Lao Gao had just quit his job as a cell phone customer service representative; Li Jie had just been discharged from the army. Because of the earthquake, because of fate, they both came to Zundao. Initially, they volunteered at a “Happy Holidays” event for teachers in Zundao. Prior to August 1, 2008 – before Zundao’s teachers and students moved into temporary schoolrooms – a number of NGOs, including the Shenzhen Mountaineering Association (深圳登山协会), China Vanke Civil Society Project Office (万科公民社会项目办公室), Chengdu 512 Voluntary Relief Center (成都5.12民间救助中心), and the China Social Entrepreneur Foundation (友成企业家扶贫基金会), jointly established the “Zundao Volunteer Coordination Office” (遵道志愿者协调办公室). Their first event was the “Happy Holidays” program which established 12 educational centers in 10 villages in Zundao. The objective was to provide a safe and happy learning environment for the children as well as give peace of mind to their working parents. The “Happy Holidays” program attracted over four hundred domestic and international volunteers to Zundao. After the program ended, they volunteered in a livelihood reconstruction program raising rabbits, and later on in Mianzhu’s New Year traditional painting program.

These days, Lao Gao and Li Jie can be found in a small teashop they started together on the second floor of a residential street in Mianzhu City called “Lai Bar”. The shop has been open for a year, but it has been a painstaking effort to keep it going; sometimes they cannot even raise the 600 yuan needed for rent. “If it is so difficult, why do you keep on going?” I asked Lao Gao. Lao Gao replied, “I couldn’t do this without my children.” Already called “Great Uncle” by a number of children, the young man from Shenzhen had left about four or five years ago looking for work at charitable foundations. Lao Gao spent less than a year away, discovering the majority of charity organizations were more interested in fundraising than in areas that interested him. So in the fall of 2011, he returned to Zundao. Lao Gao depended on the tea shop to earn a living, so that he could keep an eye on the children of Zundao. This Shenzhen young man was an ideal big brother to kids, just like the German volunteer Eckart Loewe who was seen on Chai Jing’s “One on One” program. While he has stayed the same, his kids have grown up. In 2008, many of his kids were still young students and teenagers. Five long years later, the children have grown up and entered society.

Lao Gao’s partner, Li Jie, is in a similar situation. The teashop has been unable to make ends meet for a few months, leading Li to consider whether it is worth keeping open. Li Jie had also previously left Zundao, spending a year in Beijing as a security guard. Through a curious coincidence he returned, albeit reluctantly. In fact, many volunteers who once struggled and worked here have “reluctant” feelings. Especially in the initial stage of the earthquake relief, when a small office was receiving a continuous flow of millions of yuan worth of supplies and donations every month providing warmth for the victims. They found happiness in helping others, from designing programs to running events. Their self-worth was tied up in their ability to help. The status of a volunteer at that time, with that aura, was really captivating, to the point where some people would ignore their own hunger and eat less so that others could be fed. In Zundao, there was one case we frequently talked about and were unable to understand. On our volunteer team there was a man who had been written about in the Deyang Daily Newspaper. His house in Xi’an had burned down along with 50,000 yuan in cash. His family was not wealthy and he was the only son, and yet the matter had not even been fully settled when he decided to return to Zundao to continue volunteering.

When I rudely asked, “Do you think that volunteering is a drug?” Lao Gao and Li Jie both denied it. They responded that they “want their own favorite things, to go their own way”. They wished that their chosen path would be enough to keep them adequately provided for, to realize their ideals, and to bring happiness to others as well as themselves. Like Lao Gao and Li Jie, a few volunteers have insisted on staying up until now after the Sichuan Earthquake, but many people who did volunteer found it extremely difficult to get their life back on track afterwards. In my personal analysis, a collective heroism pervades the volunteer community where their romanticism and idealism are fully realized. Returning to the daily grind of the real world is a great shock, making it difficult to go back.

She’s Even More Alone After the Quake

At Lai Bar, I met with another friend that I was very pleased to see – Xiao Qi (小琪). She was my first friend during my year in Zundao. We became close when I taught her English while she taught me embroidery. Xiao Qi became a star during the earthquake aftermath when the news media turned her method for coping into the ideal of self-reliance after a tragedy. So far, every year on the eve of the earthquake’s anniversary, she still receives five or six media interviews by phone; in 2009 she was even invited to a Japanese university to share her story.

The earthquake brought dramatic changes to Xiao Qi’s life. She is from Penghua Village in Zundao and lost her grandmother in the earthquake. Xiao Qi began to hand embroider things as a way to lessen her grief and calm her mood. Afterwards, she proposed that the Volunteer Office set up a women’s embroidery workshop in the village, as a possible way to help the village’s young women move on faster from their psychological trauma. Unexpectedly, the very next day she was turned into a “post-quake self-help” hero through China’s social media. Since then, an unknown woman with a passion for embroidery has become Penghua Village’s biggest celebrity. This celebrity effect has caused several of her Mianzhu New Year’s embroidered pictures to sell for 3,000-5,000 yuan and indirectly facilitated an aid program in Changzhou to invest nearly 10 million yuan in a teaching studio in Penghua Village.

When I saw her, Xiao Qi was holding an adorable two-year-old baby girl. After the earthquake, she got married and became a mother. I had not expected so much excitement from our reunion and was unable to hide my unfamiliarity. Her first words to me were in the Sichuan dialect, “Oh, you look so different!” Xiao Qi had experienced many big changes over the past few years, especially once she had gotten married. She was without a close friend to talk to. Once we were extremely close friends, but over the years I had not given the young married woman the least bit of thought. Xiao Qi said, “The year I got married, I called you countless times but without any success. How come you never called back?” When she asked me this question, I became filled with remorse. I think that the past is the past. Along with our different life experiences, friends are sometimes inadvertently forgotten. I asked her with some guilt how her life had gone since then. Xiao Qi said that she was living alone with her daughter. Like many other rural families, she and her child were left at home by her husband. Her in-laws live in Xinjiang Province and her husband went to Hainan for work, and she was only reunited with her distant family during the Spring Festival.

As for the media, this young mother, who is carrying her child around most of the time, no longer welcomes the attention. As for her former role as a volunteer, she is beginning to have doubts. She feels that outsiders who come to Zundao to help are not really motivated, the majority of them only putting in a minimal effort. When the reconstruction effort in Zundao came to an end, all of the volunteers and support staff left, leaving the young people of Zundao in a lurch. This meant that the fresh and vibrant community reverted back into an old-fashioned, boring, and conservative rural society. As a result of her experience with the earthquake relief, meeting so many people and working with the girls at the embroidery workshop, she has left behind her big dreams inspired by her volunteer friends from around the world, and the conservative rural community. After her horizons were broadened, she could neither move on nor go back to the traditional agricultural society she had been born and raised in. Xiao Qi found herself lonelier after the earthquake.

From Volunteer to Microfinance Celebrity

Li Jiaying (李加英) and I hit it off the first time we met. Her story is the best reminder that even the smallest person can change the course of the future.

Jiaying was originally a clothing factory worker, but when the factory was destroyed in the earthquake she was laid off. Naturally optimistic, she immediately signed up as a volunteer at Zundao’s “Happy Holidays” at Qin Jia Kan School (秦家坎教学点). All that glitters is gold: her enthusiasm, earnestness, and experience allowed her to become a star among the volunteers. Six months of working as a full-time volunteer turned out to be a life-changing experience for the better. In December of 2008, the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation’s (CFPA, 中国扶贫基金会) Microfinance division was recruiting program officers. Jiaying only had a high school diploma and her volunteering experience, but her enthusiasm and sincerity won over the hiring team and she became the CFPA’s number one loan officer recruit. The facts have proven that the recruiter had a good eye for talent. In 2009, during the height of rural reconstruction, Li Jiaying had the best microfinance record in the entire country with only a year of experience. She was invited to Beijing to receive an award from the father of microfinance and founder of Grameen Bank (孟加拉乡村银行), Muhammad Yunus.

When I saw Jiaying, she had already risen to a managerial position. But this manager was still full of her old enthusiasm.

Jiaying invited me to go and see some of the newly rebuilt homes. Her hometown of Qinjiakan did not appear to be as lucky as Penghua Village. Penghua’s residents hardly had to pay any money before being the first to move into newly built homes; she received only 20,000 yuan in reconstruction subsidies. When Penghua’s residents were already living in their new homes, construction on her home hadn’t even started yet. A 120 square meter home required nearly 70,000-80,000 yuan, and 120,000 yuan in total to renovate and furnish it. This is an astronomically high number for a family of three with only one adult working. When Mr. Zhou, a business man who came to pay a visit and heard about her situation, he offered to give her 100,000 yuan to build her house. She replied, “Thank you. I believe I can build the house on my own.”

Jiaying was lucky enough to be employed as a loan officer for CFPA when 2008 ended and she treasured this hard-won opportunity. For a middle-aged woman with only a high school diploma, this job was actually a massive challenge. When she started, she was computer illiterate and did not even know how to type in pinyin. She rode on a motorcycle from house to house during the day, handing out promotional pamphlets and her business card, and studied how to use EXCEL spreadsheets at night, busy until the early hours of the morning before she got up to start a new day. There is no rest for the weary; this computer illiterate peasant woman had the number one performance in Mianzhu County after one business quarter. After a year, she had made 4.8 million yuan in loans on her own, making her CFPA’s number one salesperson nationwide. In 2010 she achieved another “first” by having the most “effective clients”.

Jiaying has said that so many of her “firsts” are thanks to the six months she spent as a volunteer at the Zundao Volunteer Coordination Office. During those six months, she traveled to each of Zundao’s ten villages and searched for their most disadvantaged and marginalized citizens, so she knew the towns inside and out. When she started providing information about microfinance loans to villages in January of 2009, each village leader thought she was still affiliated with the Volunteer Coordination Office. Her microfinance pamphlets were emblazoned with “Zundao Volunteer”, and when people needed money to rebuild, they thought of their old friend Jiaying.

“You’ve already paid off your loans?” I asked? “I paid them off ahead of schedule,” she told me proudly. Her family was once 100,000 yuan in debt; now they have a savings account, a small car, and a comparatively well-off standard of living. Jiaying managed to not only improve her career, but change her household into a happier one. Her alcoholic husband cleaned up his act and started work driving a bus between Zundao and Mianzhu; her daughter was admitted into the best high school in Mianzhu and has one of the highest grades in her class. Jia Ying’s fifteen-year-old daughter proudly calls her mother a “hero”.

Today, the reconstruction seems to be drawing to an end and the money-lending business seems to be on an inevitable downturn, but Jiaying appears to be busier than ever. There are still new challenges awaiting her, as various branches of the finance industry are falling over themselves to have this energetic and passionate loan officer to come and teach them her secret to success. She said she tells her colleagues “People who help themselves are aided by other people; people who help others are aided by heaven.”



  1. Editor’s Note: Each county in the earthquake zone was paired with a wealthy coastal province which provided reconstruction assistance. 



编者按 本期发表的《震后人生》、《遵道:一个中国式灾后重建的样本》是作者《汶川地震五周年纪行》系列报道中的两篇,其他文章已连续登载在中国发展简报网站上 (。

绵竹是512地震的十个极重灾区之一,据统计共有11117人遇难,90%农房受损,经济损失达1423亿元。绵竹的重建由江苏省对口援建,分为9大类108个项目,规模为124亿元。 记得那年,整个城市弥漫着剑南春酒厂散发出来的浓郁酒香。在对口援建方--江苏省的打造下,不到三年时间,这座城市焕然一新,并由于援建方的建筑风格,显得比其他极重灾区的重建更精巧和雅致。




老高,深圳人;李杰,河南籍。地震那年,老高刚辞去移动公司客服的工作;李杰刚从部队退伍。因地震,因缘分,来到了遵道。最初,他们在遵道当“快乐假期” 项目的志愿者老师。2008年8月1日之前——遵道的师生搬进板房学校之前,深圳登山协会、万科公民社会项目办公室、成都5.12民间救助中心、友成企业家扶贫基金会等多家民间团体联合成立了“遵道志愿者协调办公室”。他们的第一个项目是“快乐假期”,这个项目在遵道10个村办了12个教学点,目的是给孩 子们提供一个安全而快乐的教学环境,同时也让家长们安心干活。“快乐假期”吸引了国内外400多名志愿者慕名而来。项目结束后,他们又做了“养兔”等生计 重建的项目,再后来参与了绵竹年画复兴的项目。

如今,老高和李杰在绵竹市半边街一个居民区的二楼开了一家小小的奶茶店,取名“莱吧”。开了一年,可以说是惨淡经营,有时甚至连600元的房租都交不起。 “如此惨淡,怎么还在继续?”我问老高。老高说:“我就是离不开我的孩子们。”这个当时被孩子们称为“高大伯”的深圳年轻人在过去的四、五年也曾经离开 过,回深圳找了份慈善基金会的工作,呆了不到一年,发现大多数公益机构只讲“筹款为王”,非他个人意愿,便在2011年的秋天又回到了遵道。曾想靠奶茶店 维持生计,这样他便能经常见到遵道的孩子们。像在柴静节目中出现过的德国志愿者卢安克一样,这个深圳青年的理想是做一个孩子们的“陪伴者”。然而,他仍是 他,孩子们已经长大。2008年还是少年的学生这时多已是半成熟的青年,甚或娶妻嫁人。不长不短的四、五年间曾经单纯的孩子们进入社会后,也变得复杂,有 些还沾染上让人看了不是滋味的社会习气。

另一个合伙人李杰,同样在为养活自己而苦恼。奶茶店持续几个月的入不敷出让他开始考虑这样的坚持值不值得。李杰在过去的几年也曾经离开,去北京当了一年的 保安。鬼使神差又回来了,用他的话说“舍不得”。其实,对于曾经在这里战斗过的志愿者们,都有“舍不得”的情结。特别是在抗震救灾那个阶段,小小的办公室 每个月收到价值上百万元的社会捐助物资,从不停地给灾民送温暖中,他们找到助人的快乐,从设计项目、执行项目的过程中,他们感受到自己的能力和价值…… “志愿者”这个身份,在那样的时段、那样的气场中,它确实是一种魅惑,以致于让有的人中了“毒”,自己饥不果腹也要帮助别人。在遵道,时常被我们拿来讨论 并感到无法理解的一个例子是,我们团队一位曾经上过《德阳日报》的志愿者,西安的家里失了火,5万元现金被烧成灰烬,他家里并不富裕且是家中唯一男性,事 情没处理完就毅然过来继续当志愿者。

对于我那并不客气的问题“你觉得你们中了志愿者的毒了吗”,老高和李杰他们俩双双否认,“想做自己喜欢的事情,想走自己的路”是这对难兄难弟给出的回答。 他们希望自己选择的这条路能解决自己的温饱,能实现自己的理想,能给别人和自己带来快乐。像老高和李杰这样在四川地震当志愿者后一直坚持留下来的很少,但 很多人当了志愿者后,很长一段时间都难以回到原来的生活轨道。以我自己的体验分析:在一个集体英雄主义情结弥漫的群体中,浪漫主义和理想主义得到充分发挥,而回到一个日子循环往复的现实世界,心里自然会有巨大的落差,以致难以回去。


在莱吧,我还见到了最想见到的朋友——小琪。她是那年我在遵道认识的第一个朋友,以“我教英语她教刺绣”的方式获取了她的信任。她应该算是地震时期的明星 了,是国内媒体树立起来的一个“灾后生产自救的典型”。迄今,每年的5·12纪念日前夕,她仍然会接到五六家媒体的采访电话;2009年她甚至还被邀请到 日本的大学分享她的故事。

地震给她的人生带来戏剧化的改变。她是遵道棚花村四组村民,地震时失去了最心疼她的奶奶。为了减少悲痛,会刺绣的她用手中线来平抚自己的心情。后来,她向 志愿者办公室提出想在村里成立一个女子绣坊,帮助村里的年轻妇女尽快走出心理阴霾的建议。没想到,第二天她就成了“灾后自救”的典型在网络媒体传播开来。 从此,一个无名的绣女成了遵道棚花村的大明星,她的女子绣坊成了外来考察团的必经之地。在这种名人效应下,她的几幅绵竹年画绣图水涨船高卖到了三、五千, 并间接促成了对口援助单位常州投资近千万元的年画传习所项目在棚花村落户。

再见到她时,她抱着一个可爱的两岁女娃娃。灾后,她结婚并当上了母亲。这个重逢并没有料想的兴奋,陌生感是掩饰不了的,她的第一句话是用四川话对我这个广 东人说:“好不习惯哦。”过去的几年,她的人生经历了几次大的转变,特别是在走进婚姻这个人生重大节点时,身边没有一个朋友可以倾诉,这个年轻的少妇对我 这个曾经信任的朋友几年来的不闻不问是有心结的。她说:“结婚那年,我给你打了无数的电话,你的电话成了空号。你怎么不给我一个电话?”面对这样的问话, 我是自责的。我以为过去了也就过去了,再加上不同的生活场景和空间,一些朋友就在不经意间淡忘了。带着愧疚,我问她生活过得怎么样。她说,她一个人在家带 孩子。像大多数农村家庭一样,她和孩子成了留守一员。她的公婆在新疆农垦,丈夫远赴海南做装修,一家人只能春节的时候才能团聚。

对于媒体,这个在大多数时间一个人带孩子的年轻妈妈不再持欢迎态度,对于曾经的志愿者,她也开始产生了怀疑。她觉得外面的人其实没有真的用心来关心灾区, 大多数只为了完成自己的工作和角色。当遵道重建进入尾声时,各路志愿者、对口支援者相继撤退,对遵道的年轻人来说反而不适应。这意味着:新鲜、有趣的社区 又重新回到一个老气横秋、保守无聊的农村社会。对于她这样一个因为地震而见识了不少人物和大场面的女孩子来说,抛弃她的不仅仅是曾经激发了她的大梦想的来 自五湖四海的志愿者朋友们,还有生她养她的保守的村庄。她,无法随着被拓展的观念与阅历继续前行,又不可能回到传统的农业社会之中,比地震前更孤独!



加英本是服装厂女工,厂子在地震中毁坏,她成了下岗人员。天性乐观又爱折腾的她第一时间报名成为遵道志愿者协调办公室“快乐假期”秦家坎教学点的志愿者老 师。是金子总会发光,她的投入、认真、经验让她很快成为志愿者队伍里的明星人物。半年的全职志愿者经历后来成为了她完成漂亮人生转变的重要砝码。2008 年12月,中国扶贫基金会的小额信贷部——中和农信有限公司招项目官员,机构原本要求学历至少是大专以上,只有高中学历的加英以真诚和出彩的志愿者经历在 面试中打动了评委,成为该机构第一个破格录取的信贷员。事实证明,招聘方是具有伯乐眼光的。2009年,灾区农村进入重建的高峰期,入职才一年,李加英的 小额信贷放款业绩就达到全国第一名,为此她还被请到北京,接受了世界小额信贷之父——孟加拉乡村银行的创始人尤努斯的颁奖。


她邀请我去重建好的新居看看。她所在的村组秦家坎不像依山的棚花村那般幸运,棚花村的村民几乎不掏什么钱并且第一批住上了新房子,她得到的资源只有国家不 足2万元的重建补贴。当棚花村的村民们住上新房时,她家还没开始建。一栋120平米的房子清水房差不多要花七八万,加上装修12万左右。这对于一个双下岗 的三口之家来说是个天文数字。当有个前来参观的周姓老板听说了她的故事,主动提出赞助10万帮她盖房。她说:“谢谢。我相信自己有能力靠自己的双手把房子 建起来。”

当2008年底幸运地被聘用为中和农信的小额信贷员时,她异常珍惜这来之不易的机会。对于这个只有高中毕业学历的中年女子来说,这个工作的挑战实在太大 了。那时,她还是一个电脑文盲,甚至连拼音打字都不懂。白天,她骑着那辆男式摩托车挨家挨户送宣传资料递名片,晚上回到家学习使用EXCEL表,天天忙到 凌晨一两点。苦心人天不负,第一个季度后,这个连打字都不会的农妇做到了绵竹地区第一名的业绩,一年后,她一个人完成了480万的放款,成为了中国扶贫基 金会全国范围内的头牌业务员;到了第2010年,她又多了一项“第一”——拥有有效客户数最多的业务员。

她说,这么多的“第一”得感谢在遵道志愿者协调办公室当志愿者的半年经历。这半年,她跑遍了遵道的10个村,对于每个村的人口、弱势群体(当时我们更名为 待帮扶群体)了如指掌。当2009年1月,她拿着小额信贷的信息表下村时,各村组的村长还以为她代表志愿者协调办公室慰问来了。她的小额信贷信息表被嵌上 了“遵道志愿者”的信用标签,人们认为志愿者李加英是在他们重建最需要资金的时候雪中送炭来了。

“你现在的欠款还完了吗?”“早就还完了。”她对此感到自豪。一个曾经负债接近10万元的家庭现在有存款,有小车,成功过渡为小康之家。她不仅在事业上 完成了自己的跨越式发展,还用智慧构建了一个让人羡慕的幸福家庭。曾经酗酒的丈夫变得上进,开着小面的往返于绵竹和遵道跑客运,成了家里重要的经济支柱; 女儿考上了绵竹最好的中学,且成绩在班里数一数二。15岁的女儿骄傲地称自己的妈妈为“英雄”。

现在,重建工作已是收尾阶段,放款业务量不可避免地减少,但她似乎更忙了。还有新角色的挑战等着她,这个充满活力和激情的小额信贷员被各个分公司争相邀请过去传授成功经验。她说,她想告诉她的同行们:“自助者,人助之;助人者,天助之”。       (作者系独立撰稿人,著有游记《呀!印度》。2008年遵道志愿者协调办公室志愿者,电邮、

The author is an independent writer and author of the travel guide, “Yeah India!”. In 2008 she volunteered at the Zundao Volunteer Coordination Office. Contact her at: ,

Translated by Jane Luksich

Reviewed by Shawn Shieh, CDB (English) Editor

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