By David Bandurski — The China Media Project has been inundated with phone calls from journalists trying to reach our director, Qian Gang, author of The Great Tangshan Earthquake (唐山大地震) [more on Tangshan here]. Unable to answer all interview requests, Qian Gang has issued the following response to the Wenchuan earthquake, published in today’s edition of Southern Metropolis Daily:
These Three Days are Crucial for the Rescue Effort
By Qian Gang
Over the last day, I’ve received phone calls from many media. As I’ve been on the road, I know many others who are keen to reach me have been unable to make contact. I cannot answer everyone’s questions concerning this major quake, so I’ll express my feelings here in Southern Metropolis Daily – the saving of lives hangs on these three days, and at this moment nothing is more urgent than saving lives!
Up to the night of the 13th, reports about the earthquake continued to lack sufficient detail. The rescue teams were already on the scene beginning a wide-scale rescue effort. By this time countless people trapped desperately beneath the rubble had already spent their first night and day of terror cut off from all help. The experience of Tangshan teaches us that this is the most dangerous period of time. There are aftershocks, collapsed buildings continue to shift, and there are thousands, possibly tens of thousands, trapped under ceilings and bricks and steel reinforcements. Many are already injured. They are without water, without food, their spirits on the brink of collapse. Most people will be unable to last more than three days.
The arrival of rescue teams at the scene of the earthquake is already later than was the case for the Tangshan earthquake 32 years ago. The first urgent task of these hours is to fight for and save lives. I urge journalists dispatched to the scene of the quake to draw lessons from Tangshan and from the September 21  quake in Taiwan. We hope the rescue workers reach the scene as quickly as possible. Time will not wait . . .
Some of my friends in the media have already turned their attention to the question of responsibility (问责) and looking back (反思). I want to say to you — all of this you want to do should be done, but now is not the time. The behavior of some media, which have reported already within prescribed themes before information about the quake is even clear, or which have played the story from certain angles, is even more inappropriate. There is nothing more important than human beings. In these few days, as millions of lives hang in the balance, let us observe together this great war to save lives. Let us offer what advice we can to those leading the effort, help and encourage those rescuers venturing into the earthquake zone, and say a prayer for our brothers and sisters in darkness — hang in there!
I also appeal to the leaders [of the rescue effort] as they move with urgency to remain clearheaded and have a scientific attitude (科学态度). Please treasure the lives and efforts of those comrades and rescue workers. They must not, as with the Tangshan earthquake, go in bare-fisted and rush headlong into things. Move quickly to get major machinery to the scene, and at the very least ensure the rescuers have all the basic tools necessary. In real-time media broadcasts, we must not dramatize with the lives of our comrades and try to put on a show (作秀).
These are moments in which we are beset with concern. The night of the 12th was a restless night for many, in which we huddled by our television sets. As I returned to Hong Kong from Beijing, all along the road people were concerned and talking about Wenchuan (汶川). This is the fiercest earthquake to hit China since the 1976 quake in Tangshan, and yet the response and [rescue] planning met with dangers and frustrations from the outset. The seriousness of this test very possibly surpasses our imagination.
All spouting out is at this moment to no purpose. We must act! What we need most right now is action, and that begins with saving lives.
[Posted by David Bandurski, May 14, 2008, 12:45pm HK]