One of the lead editorials in today’s edition of Guangdong’s Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper, a bold but indirect call on all Chinese to remember those who perished in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, has been removed from the paper’s website. It seems plausible that the editorial fell afoul of censors due to its oblique reference to the efforts of activists such as Tan Zuoren (谭作人) and Ai Weiwei (艾未未) to independently investigate the collapse of shoddy school buildings in the quake.
The section in question, which also contains three apparent references to works of art by Ai Weiwei, reads: “In our hearts, we lowered our flags to half-mast for them. On the day of mourning we called them home and wished them peace. We gathered together all the human evidence of them we could. We read their names together. We promised that we would bear them constantly in mind, never forgetting, over and over again. We did so much, and yet we did too little. Those of you who were lost and did not return, where are you? Can the light we kindle shine across your path? We cannot do more.”
The image layout of the lead editorial page is still available at the Southern Metropolis Daily website.
However, try clicking on the space for the Sichuan quake commemoration editorial at lower left and you get a notice that reads: “No such content today.”
Follow search links on Baidu for the editorial and you’ll find that most if not all of them are now unavailable. Interestingly, a video version of the editorial has now surfaced (so quickly!) on 56.com, in which the piece is read out loud by CMP fellow and Chinese scholar Ai Xiaoming (艾晓明) as the text appears in subtitles below and facts about students who died in the quake scroll up on a black background. The video has also been posted to YouTube.
Chinese Twitter users have already shared a link to a Google Docs version of the editorial, which is available by clicking the headline on our full translation below. Please forgive any errors and mistranslations, and offer up your friendly suggestions. This is a tough piece, in prose-poem style, and much is up to the eye and mind of the reader.
“Remembering Them As We Are Borne By the River of Time” (躺在时间的河流上怀念他们)
Lead Editorial (社论)
Southern Metropolis Daily
May 12, 2011
Today is the third anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake, and you readers are certainly aware of our grief and its causes. That earthquake laid waste to mountains and rivers. It resulted in the loss of some 80,000 lives. So the tapestry of our grief stretches on to the present day. Our grief is for those brethren who are lost and will never return. And May has become, therefore, a month of sorrow. We feel sorrow too because we found ourselves so powerless as they were snatched from us. Again, another year of sacrifices and offerings [to the dead]. Time passes like a river unyielding, and there are so many questions we must face. Who were they? What happened to them? Where are they? What actions do they demand of us?
A few burning joss sticks, and the scent of the smoke curls upwards, rising into the void. They are not cold numbers. They existed, buoyant with life, with real names. They walked into the ruins with the entirety of their lives. They lived happily on this earth for seven years, or for longer or shorter periods of time. They were parents, they were children, they were sisters, they were brothers. They were people of yellow skin. They were residents or passing travelers in these homes. They stalked these mountains and rivers, watching the clouds rise and fall. They all had human emotions. They are human beings you have met or not seen, spirits abiding across the expanse of earth.
Life happens by chance, but death comes of necessity. Three years ago today, at this same time, afternoon, dusk and night fell like stands of rotten trees, choking the river of time [NOTE: This means people were dying steadily after the 3pm quake]. Red the blood, grey the dust, white the vertigo, black the raiments of death. They fell in a current of color, like the standing grain of misfortune cut down by the sharpest of scythes. They lost everything. Their old age, or middle age, youth or childhood, all were ended too early and too quickly. They became a jumble of fragments. As though by a sharp edge, their families were cloven, tears left in the wake. They said farewell to their hometowns.
They came from four directions, and departed in eight directions. We feel regret mingled with self-reproach. They should have had better deaths, with calm and unhurried remembrances, tears permitted to fly like the rain. In such haste, such haste, they departed forever from villages and cities left in sick-heartedness. Now, across mountain slopes where new green rises over the stones, they remain in the schools, on the roads, underground, in the nameless places. They are together with each other, the way wheat grows together. In the summer, in the midst of their final twilight, they went to a place we cannot see. They are the only anguish and the only comfort left to the survivors [NOTE: comfort by virtue of their continued presence in spirit].
In our hearts, we lowered our flags to half-mast for them. On the day of mourning we called them home and wished them peace. We gathered together all the human evidence of them we could. We read their names together [NOTE: This seems to be a reference to Ai Weiwei's piece "Missing," in which volunteers read the names of students who died in the Sichuan earthquake]. We promised that we would bear them constantly in mind, never forgetting, over and over again. We did so much, and yet we did too little. Those of you who were lost and did not return, where are you? Can the light we kindle shine across your path? We cannot do more. We can but present steel zodiacs, and offer up porcelain sunflower seeds [NOTE: This is a presumable reference to Ai Weiwei's exhibit at the Tate Modern, which incorporates sunflowers seeds and the Chinese zodiac heads now on display at London's Somerset House], symbolic memorials to your lives once so tangible. What else would you wish us to do? [NOTE: Many would read the above passage as a reference to the collapse of school buildings and the work done by Ai Weiwei (艾未未), Tan Zuoren (谭作人) and others to remember the children who died in the quake and understand the underlying causes.]
We know these deaths have already happened, but to forget is to heartlessly hope they endure a second death. If we do not cherish their memory, oblivion [or forgetting] will only grow in strength. The sacrifices of this day are done to spurn forgetting, to avoid losing them all over again. Our future memorials are proof again and again before them: we will never be far from you, we will always be together, even though we meet with death and fear. This is a promise that we must bear firmly in mind. People are eternal, and they are always with us. As citizens of conscience, this is our duty to these [destroyed] villages and cities.
Rising from dust and to dust returning, there is one responsibility we cannot forsake. This is to commemorate them. It is about the schools commemorating their students, about the hills commemorating the farmers, about clay sculptures [commemorating] the witnesses [NOTE: This is a reference, apparently, to a set of sculptures erected at Buwa Village in Weizhou, the seat of Wenchuan County at the epicenter], about families commemorating those who were lost, about fresh flowers commemorating the graves, about life commemorating life. We will never forget. We will ever gaze off to the distance in their direction. They are a part of our lives. We do not live for ourselves alone. The river of time brings us together here, so let us reunite, just as though we never suffered this loss.
Let our amusements cease, and today at that time, let us be borne by the river of time, putting ourselves in their place and searching for understanding, feeling their presence and their requests, being conscious of our exchanges and our promises. Since they departed, no night has permitted us peaceful rest. But these three years, we have remembered and been watchful of our principles. May is a time of sorrow, and a time of clarity. Our attitude towards them is a measure of our distance from the rest of humanity. In bearing our wishes to the spirits, we bless and protect them, just as they watch over us. We offer our prayers to the land on the other side. May you partake of this sacrifice.
The following are the comments on the above editorial left at QQ.com as of 10:46pm, May 12.
QQ Web User in Changde — 8 hours ago
Porcelain sunflower seeds!
We all get it.
QQ Web User WXZ — 2 hours ago
QQ Web User in Beijing SH/WAN — 2 hours ago
Was that steel zodiac, and those porcelain sunflower sees for the sake of remembrance or for making himself rich?
QQ Web User in Shanghai 洛迦王子 — 2 hours ago
It seems the Nanfang [media] group wants a bit of face.
QQ Web User jkrv — 2 hours ago
Thanks to the Nanfang [media] group, China’s media of conscience.
QQ Web User 宝马 — 3 hours ago
This essay really makes one’s balls ache. The writer suffers from more than just the usual brain damage.
QQ Web User 水上飘 — 3 hours ago
[comment on] “Porcelain sunflower seeds!
We all get it.”
Aye, we don’t know where the future is. [NOTE: This is a play on Ai Weiwei's name (哎，未来不知道在哪里啊)].
QQ Web User in Dongguan 小草 — 3 hours ago
Southern Metropolis Daily has played the hero this time. This article is being deleted all over the internet. If everyone wants to read it they’d better be fast about it. I guarantee that tomorrow you won’t be able to see it!!!
QQ Web User in Inner Mongolia kL#3]jx`<.Vu -- 3 hours ago
We cannot do more. We can but present steel zodiacs, and offer up porcelain sunflower seeds, symbolic memorials to your lives once so tangible. What else would you wish us to do?
QQ Web User 地铁中的我 — 6 hours ago
Southern Metropolis Daily is selling its own goods.
QQ Web User in Chengdu 娃娃脸づ — 6 hours ago
Our conscience calls to us!
QQ Web User in Shijiazhuang 至柔 — 7 hours ago
We give our thanks for the living, and remember the dead.
QQ Web User in Shenzhen Crepusculo — 7 hours ago
The sacrifices of this day are done to spurn forgetting, to avoid losing them all over again.
QQ Web User 老虎 — 8 hours ago
Way to go, Southern Metropolis Daily.
QQ Web User Lefty — 8 hours ago
Natural disaster is difficult to predict, but human disaster we should be able to avoid!
QQ Web User in Xuzhou 高山流水 — 8 hours ago
Thank you, Southern Metropolis Daily.
[Frontpage photo by treasurethouhast available at Flickr.com under Creative Commons license.]