China Clamps Down On Activism After Quake 2009: Chengdu China

China Clamps Down on Activism After Quake

(CHENGDU, China) &mdash When a powerful earthquake flattened Sichuan province a year ago, community organizer Zhang Guoyuan seized the moment.
Within days, he was running an aid center and warehouse, coordinating 700 volunteers and taking in $1.6 million in donated food, medicines, supplies and cash. () Then the police told him to stop. The catastrophic earthquake last May 12 set off an unprecedented surge of volunteerism in China. But the government, always wary of groups beyond its control, has since sought to restrain it &mdash with considerable success. “From the government’s point of view, they’re worried. They’re afraid we’ll do something,” said Zhang, a fast-talking 29-year-old who dresses more like the ex-minor official he is than a grass-roots campaigner. “Really all we’re trying to do is make society better.” Activists had hoped the quake would change that, opening up more space for private efforts to flourish. Instead, the magnitude-7.9 quake unnerved the government. It killed large numbers of students among the 90,000 dead and missing, sparking national outrage about badly built schools and raising the prospect of protests.
Now, a year after the disaster, hard-to-navigate rules and official suspicion have left groups underfunded and reliant on the government for survival. The wave of volunteerism has largely dissipated.

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