Chinese open hearts, wallets for quake victims

  • World
  • Thursday, 15 May 2008

MYT 8:16:47 PM

BEIJING (Reuters) - Xiao Bi queued for over an hour on Thursday hoping to donate blood for victims of China's earthquake, but with throngs of others doing the same, he eventually gave up and decided to return the next day.

A butterfly flies around the feet of dead students buried in the ruins of destroyed classrooms at a school in earthquake-hit Beichuan county, Sichuan province, May 15, 2008. (REUTERS/Jason Lee)

China's capital Beijing is thousands of kilometres from the epicentre of Monday's 7.9 magnitude quake in the southwestern province of Sichuan, but the outpouring of generosity for its victims has been huge.

"We're all Chinese," said Xiao Bi, 27, who works in a clothing store. "If something like that happened in Beijing, I'd hope other people would do the same for me."

The same story was unfolding across the city, where two women stood outside a blood clinic that had already closed for the day.

"Usually we're open till much later, but today we reached capacity by 5:00 so we closed up. We can't take any more," explained a volunteer.

The women quizzed him on what time they should return on Friday to be able to donate.

"I've never done this before, but we'd like to be able to do something, to make a contribution," said one of the friends, Yang Xia, 21. "So many people died, and for the survivors it's horrible."

With some 20,000 dead, a toll that state media said could rise to more than 50,000 as more are found under the rubble, and with tens of thousands left homeless and without food and water, the needs are immense.

Vice Minister of Health Gao Qiang, part of the team coordinating relief, said medical needs alone ranged from bandages and antibiotics to medical equipment like ventilators and dialysis machines for those who suffered organ damage.

One man, who gave only his surname Sun, said he gave 1,000 yuan ($140).

"It's just the humanitarian thing to do," said Sun, 36. "Just look at that," he said, gesturing at the huge open-air screen on the city's main shopping strip, which was broadcasting pictures of the rescue operations.

China's domestic donations in both cash and goods to quake-hit areas had reached 1.3 billion yuan ($192 million) by Thursday, the Ministry of Civil Affairs reported.

The amount is all the more notable for a country without a long tradition of philanthropy and whose citizens are themselves often only a generation removed from poverty.

Chinese companies were also pitching in, with Internet firm Alibaba Group pledging $300,000 in funds and Volkswagen Group China, together with its joint ventures, giving $850,000 to support rescue and reconstruction efforts.

Zhang Lei, a 29-year-old office worker, was among those who managed to get to the front of the queue to give blood.

"This is just my duty as a citizen," he said. "It doesn't take much for me to donate my blood, but it can be a big help to them. There are some things that money can't buy."

(Additional reporting by Jason Subler and Kirby Chien)

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