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Wave of unity and patriotism sweeps China

  • Story Highlights
  • Destructive moment in Chinese history has helped bring people together
  • Chants of "Go, China, Go!" broke out after silence tribute to dead on Monday
  • Sentiments have changed since the days of the anti-government protests
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By Jaime FlorCruz
CNN Beijing Bureau Chief
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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- One of the most destructive moments in Chinese history is bringing together -- at least temporarily -- this vast nation of more than a billion people, made up of disparate ethnic groups stretching across five time zones.

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Thousands chant "China, keep moving" during a rally in Chengdu's Tianfu Square.

When millions of Chinese paused for three minutes of silence Monday, they personified the surge in patriotism and charity that has swept this country since a massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake leveled large sections of Sichuan province in southwestern China.

Moments after the observance ended, chants of "Go, China, Go!" broke out in Tiananmen Square, where a Chinese military crackdown in 1989 left hundreds dead.

Sentiments have changed since the days of the anti-government protests.

"As Chinese we must be united," said a student. "We Chinese can do it!"

Some of Monday's demonstrators waved Chinese flags while others hoisted banners with slogans like "Rebuild Sichuan!" iReport.com: Thousands rally in Chengdu

Horrific scenes of death and devastation -- covered heavily by the local media -- have triggered a surge of patriotism and charity.

"When one is in trouble," the Chinese say, "help comes from all directions."

In Beijing, Chinese officials, entertainers, athletes and artists attended a marathon concert, giving donations and calling on the public to give more.

The benefit concert raised more than 1.51 billion yuan, or $216 million.

More donations are pouring in through other channels.Video Watch report on how quake has united Chinese »

As of Sunday, Chinese nationals had donated more than 4.9 billion yuan ($700 million) in cash and goods for earthquake relief, according to China's Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Live on Chinese TV, local businesses pledged to give money and build free housing for victims -- an unusual display of civic charity. As of last Saturday, Chinese enterprises had donated more than 3.5 billion yuan ($501 million) in cash and relief goods.

"Traditionally the Chinese people don't share as much with strangers. They share a great deal among friends and family, but not with strangers," according to China analyst Zhang Daxing.

At The Bookworm, a Beijing bookstore, residents drop off relief goods that are promptly shipped to disaster areas.

"My guess would be about 350 boxes, which include kid's clothes, adult clothes, a lot of sleeping bags, tents, dried food, shoes, that type of stuff," said store owner Alex Pearson.

Students in the Chinese capital have even taken to the street to collect donations.

"Although we cannot go to Sichuan to save them, we can still help them with donated money," one student said.

Analysts say this unprecedented display of charity is partly in response to the quick action already taken by Chinese officials to the emergency.

The Chinese media have repeatedly shown Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao comforting survivors. Many believe this has inspired Chinese residents to do what they can to help.

Meantime, a new image of China is emerging around the world.

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"The earthquake changed China's international image from an oppressor or an authoritarian government to a victim of natural disaster and human tragedy," said Wenfang Tang, professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Chinese, at least for now, are more united as a people and more charitable, as citizens pull together in the wake of a massive earthquake.

CNN's Sherisse Pham contributed to this report

All About ChinaSichuan ProvinceWen Jiabao

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