A Nation Mourns

The Chinese government today declared 3 days of national mourning for the victims of last week’s earthquake.  The official death toll has now passed 30,000 and is expected to reach at least 50,000.  Hundreds of thousands are injured.  Five million are homeless.  The observance began today with nearly a billion people stopping at 2:28pm to observe 3 minutes of silence.  Sirens blared.  Drivers stopped their cars and blared their horns.  Everywhere people bowed their heads in honor and remembrance. I decided that the place I wanted to be at 2:28 was Tiananmen Square, the closest thing that an atheist state has to a sacred space.  There were thousands who had the same idea.  At about 2:20, the loudspeakers started directing people to face the flag, which is now flying at half-mast (something I’ve never seen in my 20+ years in China) and prepare for the moment of silence.  At exactly 2:28pm the sirens went off, and the thousands of cars and buses on ChangAn Avenue came to a halt and started blaring their horns.  It was both moving and eerie.  I bowed my head and said a prayer for mercy and comfort for the afflicted.  When the 3 minute observance was finished, people just stood around wondering what to do next.  Wanting to demonstrate their solidarity with the victims, some students in the crowd started chanting ZHONGGUO JIAYOU (China! Go!).  The crowds joined them and soon there were thousands marching around the square, waving flags and chanting.  The folks in uniforms were definitely nervous, but did nothing to stop this spontaneous outpouring of patriotism.  Below are some photos that I took at the square today.