By Wang Xiaofeng, Zhang Jing, Zhang Xiaohui
Published: 2008-05-28

From Special, page 12, issue no. 369, May 26, 2008
Translated by Ren Yujie
Original article:

Around noon on May 18, Han Yong and Li Hongbin, pupils of Beichuan Xuanping Primary School, were gobbling up a bowl of instant noodle in a corner of Jiuzhou Stadium in Mianyang city.

The two ten-year-old boys and their parents were taken to the stadium three days ago. They were placed near the entrance of the stadium's boxing ring where mattresses covered most of the floorspace.

The stadium became a temporary shelter for the boys' families and some 25,000 others displaced following the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan.

Mianyang Jiuzhou Stadium – known as the number one stadium in southwest China – was completed three yeas ago at a cost of 150 million yuan. Two years ago, it was criticized as a waste of resources due to its high investment but low utilization.

However, the turn of event in the aftermath of the earthquake have cleared the stadium of its negative publicity. Within 12 hours after the quake struck, the stadium opened its door to quake victims from Beichuan and Pingwu areas, earning praise from the Chinese Premiere Wen Jiabao, who said "the design of the stadium had allowed it to contribute to the country's quake relief efforts".

Easing Pressures
Compared to the past days' experiences of constant alertness while fleeing badly hit areas, the stadium was a comfort zone for Han and Li.

Here, they at least had a spot to sleep, had instant noodles, and when bored, could run to the boxing arena to punch the sandbags.   

Their parents were too busy looking up missing family members to care for them. The walls at the stadium's entrance were covered with notices and posters looking for missing persons and lists of the injured. Nearby, the speakers repeatedly broadcasted the same song, "no matter where you are, I must find you", the singer went on and on.

Professional psychologists had been sent to the stadium to help quake victims, especially the children.

Volunteers found that some children, when first sent to the shelter, did not talk nor show signs of happiness or pain. It was indication of post-trauma autism. Volunteers brought the children toys and colored pencils to help them expressed themselves.

A volunteer psychologist from Chongqing guided a child painting class, drawing from their memories scenes of their homes – the hills dotted with willows, the river with fishes swimming freely. He guided the children to write on the completed paintings: "We shall protect the environment, and care for the flowers and trees".

With the adults, counseling was no less challenging. A psychology researcher from Chongqing found that many adults, after painful experiences, lost control of their emotions and senses; they could not stop crying and recounting the same stories for volunteers.
At times, the behavior of volunteers was not helpful. A worker at the stadium said some volunteers carelessly asked quake victims' painful experiences or insensitively took photographs of the shelter and victims, further fraying their nerves.

Victim Certificates and Material Distributions
Mental health aside, the most urgent problem was to guarantee material sufficiency for the victims. At one point, the number of refugees taking shelter at the stadium ran up to 40,000, causing basic supplies to run short. The lunch queue stretched endlessly as victims waited for a standard meal worth 10 yuan each.

To ease the pressure, some of the victims were transferred to Santai county, and the stadium broadcast system also aired announcements appealing for young and able-bodied victims to leave for elsewhere or to join the relief efforts at the forefront.

The Chen brothers from Daogu Town, Beichuan County, responded to the appeal. They prepared their families to leave for home to start the rebuilding process. Chen's wife was supportive, she said daily necessities were not lacking at home. 

The size of the stadium posed a significant challenge to maintaining order. Quake victim certificates were introduced, which contained home address, family members, and the disaster situation information. The certificate enabled victims to get food, water and other aid materials.

One staffer at the stadium reasoned that the certificate was necessary to monitor the distribution of materials, because if someone over claimed their share, they would deprived others of their rations. 

The certificate was also an identification card, to control movement in and out of the stadium for security concerns and to prevent the potential spread of diseases.