By Antoaneta Bezlova - Inter Press Service Beijing May 28, 2009 IPS
Cashing in on huge public interest in one of the deadliest earthquakes of recent history, China has officially endorsed 'disaster tourism' as a form of economic subsidy to devastated areas. Home debris and whole sections of partially wiped out cities and villages during last year's massive earthquake in southwestern China will now be open to tourists, the state media announced this week.
"There is a huge tourism market in the ruins," Wu Min, deputy director of the Sichuan provincial tourism department said to the Xinhua News Agency. "We can not block the tourists out and we also hope the tourists watch their behaviour and not hurt the quake survivors' feelings."
The severity of the quake, which ripped through the mountainous areas of Sichuan province on May 12 last year, killing 90,000 people and the government's initial tolerance of reports from the disaster area have generated huge interest among a Chinese public unaccustomed to official news of public suffering and devastation.
Ruins from the quake have become a draw for visitors - attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists - the state agency reported. Donghekou village where only 300 of more than 1,400 villagers survived a landslide triggered by the earthquake is now amongst the hottest tourist destinations in the Sichuan province. More than 260,000 tourists have visited the Donghekou Relics Park since it opened last November.
As a site of some of the most devastating earthquakes in modern history, China should be equipped to deal with remembrance, with consigning the pain to the past and drawing lessons. But, a year after the Sichuan earthquake the country is grappling with to how to commemorate the dead without raising uncomfortable questions.
Chinese leaders have delivered on their promises and days before the first anniversary released the first official toll of student deaths - saying that 5,335 children were dead or missing in the earthquake. But, they have not provided a list of names and have refused to face up to charges by parents that corruption and mismanagement were to blame for the collapse of thousands of school buildings.
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