Wednesday, January 30, 2008
China crisis: The human cost
You could only admire her bravery. A stream of pumped-up Chinese police reinforcements was slicing at speed through a tactical opening in the security barricades at Guangzhou train station.
The woman, 40ish, slightly built and alone, flung herself into the breach. For a moment it seemed she'd be minced meat. A police officer wrenched her aside and pulled the barricades back together.
"I want to go," she wailed. "I want to go."
But she was back with so many others, on the wrong side of security, with tens of thousands of people between her and the great prize of a seat on a train heading anywhere.
China's current emergency can be seen on one level as an epic collision.
On one side: nature, wild and indifferent. On the other: a very human drive to visit family during one slender window each year.
It is a deeply intimate story.
China's economic rise - and my cheap T-shirts and kids' toys - depend on ordinary Chinese who leave their homes to work often seven days a week in factories in the south. The trip home for Lunar New Year fulfils ancient obligations to family. It is also the only chance most of them have to see family members - including spouses and children - all year.
The vast tides of people waiting at Guangzhou might be sources of fascination, curiosity - even incomprehension. They can never be figures of fun.
Thirty years ago, the travel writer Jan Morris made a trip from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. She spoke of not seeing people so much as "statistics on the move." A neat line.
But the tens of millions currently disrupted by China's weather are no mere statistics. Theirs are all too human faces, desperate to keep faith with their families after for the long months of separation.
Their powers of endurance will be remembered long after their occasional flashes of exasperation or anger.
-- From CNN Correspondent Hugh Riminton in Guangzhou
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