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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reluctant earthquake star takes centre stage

Reluctant earthquake star takes centre stage - looks like the Chinese propaganda machine has some kinks it needs to work on.
Source - The Age 120509
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Source - The Age

THIS is Xiao Yawen on the plane to Beijing, where she is to star tonight on China Central Television's extravaganza to mark the anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake.

A year ago Xiao was photographed in the arms of a particularly handsome soldier, Sheng Yufeng, on the morning after the quake that destroyed her home in the mountains above Beichuan town.

The legend is that Mr Sheng reunited Xiao with her mother after they had lost each other in the exodus of earthquake refugees.

Reports said he carried the girl through Beichuan for an hour because the girl's grandmother was exhausted after holding her all night.

Xiao remained happily oblivious to the fuss she was causing in the media until a journalist from the Western China Metropolis Daily finally tracked her down last month.

Last Wednesday, CCTV flew her to Beijing and The Age happened to be seated next to her on the plane. Xiao, as feisty as she is cute, was not at all happy about having to sit for two hours on a plane in sweaty Qiang minority costume to perform for the cameras.

"It's a hassle," Xiao's mother, Yang Shengchun, said. "I refused to go many times, but they kept on asking."

Ms Yang said her daughter had no special story, nor did the soldier with the nicest smile. "We weren't injured," she said. "On May 13 soldiers were taking the healthy survivors through old Beichuan town. One of the soldiers picked her up — the photograph looked like a rescue, but it wasn't — I don't really have much to thank them for."

The People's Liberation Army has a history of legendary soldiers who fought floods, plugged oil wells with their own bodies and performed other selfless acts to protect the nation and capture the hearts of the masses. Typically these heroes, like Lei Feng in the 1960s, were created by the Communist Party's Propaganda Department.

Sheng Yufeng is different to his soldier-hero predecessors because his popularity among users of the internet appears to be genuine and spontaneous.

Nevertheless, the party and PLA propaganda machines have been working overtime in the year since the earthquake to ensure the masses know to whom they should be thankful.

On the ground in Beichuan the reality was not so glorious. Soldiers were conspicuously absent from rescue work in the early days that mattered.

On Saturday, The Age quoted a soldier who said he left a trapped survivor for dead and said his orders did not permit him to rescue her. She was subsequently rescued by local volunteers and firefighters.

That story was censored yesterday in China and The Age's computers in Beijing repeatedly crashed when trying to open it.

Beichuan town remains unoccupied, a graveyard town. Ms Yang and Xiao have been relocated to Anxian town just outside the mountains.

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