Hu Jintao leads China in televised quake mourning

Angry parents of children killed omitted from official broadcast

Related:China nails foreign TV news year after quake

UPDATED May 13, 2009, 10:30 a.m.

BEIJING--China Central Television on Tuesday led dozens of provincial TV channels in a live broadcast of an hour-long mourning ceremony for the 90,000 people killed in an earthquake that hit the southwest part of the country on May 12, one year ago.

The 2 p.m. program--which began rebroadcast at 3 p.m. and was set to repeat through much of the evening--was the widest collective use of China's state-run media since the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the largest public mourning of ordinary Chinese in the nation's 60-year modern history.

President Hu Jintao, clad in a dark suit, led the solemn choreographed commemoration by government officials, military brass, rescue crews and track-suited schoolchildren gathered near the epicenter of the 7.9 quake in Yingxiu, Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province.

"During the quake rescue and reconstruction, the whole country has strived with one heart," Hu said, standing behind a podium atop a red carpeted stage flanked by banks of yellow flowers. A staircase behind him led up to a stone carving of a giant shattered clock, its hands frozen at 2:28 p.m.-- the time the quake struck.

As China's brass-heavy national anthem played, CCTV used aerial and crane-mounted cameras to capture the national flag ascending a pole placed atop the façade of a building felled by the massive temblor. Above and beyond it, the TV screen took in a steep green mountainscape.

"The constant improvement of our national strength since reform and opening up began is the firm material foundation for our victory over the massive Wenchuan earthquake disaster," Hu said to a potential audience of hundreds of millions of viewers.

In closing the 15-minute speech he read from notes in a low, measured voice. Hu then placed a long-stemmed white chrysanthemum at the black base of a towering memorial relief in tan stone, depicting seven rescuers carrying a body aloft.

Following suit to a mournful trumpet, a 15-minute procession of hundreds of mourners--including the U.S. Embassy Charge d'Affairs Daniel Piccuta--flowed past a huddle of children with a basket of flowers. Each took a bloom, laid it at the memorial's base, bowed and walked on.

In the weeks preceding the anniversary, China's official media has cast the natural disaster as a patriotic milestone demonstrating Beijing's strength and commitment to people's welfare,  highlighting the mere hours it took Premier Wen Jiabao to arrive at the scene in contrast with the days it took U.S. President George W. Bush to get to New Orleans after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Yet hundreds of Chinese parents of the more than 5,300 children killed continue to try to voice complaints about the government's reluctance to openly investigate buildings that collapsed, especially schools that fell while nearby government offices and apartments stayed intact.

The grieving parents' voices and tearful faces were entirely absent from the televised ceremony and the special programming that followed on the network's two channels targeting international viewers. Instead, they showed a montage of smiling Chinese telling CCTV reporters how happy they were for the new housing the government built with help from billions of dollars in foreign aid.

The show "Beyond Survival: 1 Year After the Devastation" on English-language CCTV-9 featured current affairs pundit Gao Zhikai noting that no aid was accepted by Beijing when 200,000 Chinese were killed in the 1976 Tangshan earthquake.

"That the government has opened the door and allowed aid in this time is a not a sign of weakness, but a sign of courage and transparency, a sign of commitment to the people's welfare," Gao said.

On Chinese-language CCTV-4, one reporter highlighted a window maker named Wang Bo who had restarted his business in the year since the quake. "He is just one of many who haven't given up and are refusing to complain," the reporter said.