Today the Lis buried their daughter, a victim of the Chinese earthquake, and their grief is emblematic of an entire nation’s sorrow. China has played many roles lately, among them the oppressors of Tibet, deliverer of poisoned food and medicine, hosts of the pollution Olympics, and the most evocative, Beast from the East, but the face of the Lis and their words as they dressed their little girl for her funeral is the image that haunts me right now.
The government’s reaction to the earthquake has been slow and ineffectual, as aid and excavators and soldiers are slow to arrive, and bureacracy is preventing survivors from treating their loved ones with dignity. The response is evocative of two other nations — Myanmar of course, and the US state and government response to Hurricane Katrina.
Well, the Myanmar situation is just bizarre, so it doesn’t count. But the parallels to the 2005 devastation of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are pretty stark. Both the US and China are world powers, and both nations grappled ineffectually with a human disaster on a vast scale.
Part of the destruction in China came because poorly constructed buildings collapsed — part of the destruction in New Orleans was a result of levees that were a joke. We had “Heckuva Job, Brownie” and China has a Communist Party system that rewards greed and corruption on a localized level, with no incentive for good leadership that takes initiative.
Governments and governed, whether that political system is democratic or Socialist, have a compact. That compact gives citizens of any country the expectation that in the event of an enormous disaster in which thousands of lives are lost and people have lost their homes and livelihoods and their lives are disrupted that they can expect soldiers, excavators, relief workers, and food aid. This isn’t a handout. This is part of the compact.
The US failed at this compact in 2005, and China is failing now.