CHENGDU -- Tourists swarmed to quake zones in southwest China's Sichuan Province during the May Day holiday weekend.
In Anchang town, about a 30-minute bus ride from Beichuan's former county seat which was razed by the 8.0-magnitude earthquake a year ago, the sudden increased inflow of tourists forced local officials to put up a sign at a bridge to Anchang, persuading tourists to stop and turn back.
Also in Anchang, most hotels were fully packed with tourists, and prices of guestrooms rose by 50 percent in the three-day holiday.
Li Jiahua, a building material businessman from Tongliang County, Chongqing Municipality, was among the tourists. Li drove to visit the largest prefabs zone at Leigu town, also in Beichuan, May 2.
He joined a voluntary drivers' team transporting relief goods to Beichuan last year, and was assisting two quake-ravaged families there.
"I just want to know how they are faring with their life, and I should have come earlier if I had time," said Li.
Tourists to Mount Qingcheng and Dujiangyan, both well-known scenic sites 68 kilometers to the west of Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, rose by 30 percent from that of last year to hit at 80,000. Most of the tourists were from other parts of the country, said an official from the administration for Mount Qingcheng and Dujiangyan scenery.
Sichuan, home to giant pandas, scenic nature reserves and ancient cultures, has long been a tourist destination. The devastating earthquake on May 12 last year not only left more than 80,000 people dead or missing, but also destroyed infrastructure as well.
The devastating earthquake caused severe damage to the Wolong base, where most of the country's captive pandas were kept. Five base staff were killed, as was one captive panda. Two pandas were injured and six were missing, five of which were eventually found.
Reconstruction in quake zones remains massive and has been listed as a key task by the State Council in the forthcoming years.
Quake Ruins Become Tourism Craze
Qingchuan, Wenchuan and Beichuan, three of the worst-hit areas in the powerful quake, are caught in a tight race in turning quake ruins into tourist attractions.
Qingchuan opened the first quake theme park, Donghekou, November 12 last year. More than 260,000 tourists have visited this quake theme park.
Beichuan county will not be willing to be left behind. It is the only Chinese autonomous county for Qiang, a minority of just 300,000 people. The Qiang people have a unique culture that can be traced to the Shang Dynasty (1600 B.C.-1046 B.C.), and was recorded in oracle bone inscriptions. The Qiang, who call themselves "Ermea", literally "native people", are also known as the "people in the white clouds" because they usually live in ornately decorated stone houses in the upper reaches of the mountains, herding sheep and growing crops such as corn and cherries.
The old county seat of Beichuan was razed by the quake. The county lost two-thirds of its population in that day, with 15,600 confirmed deaths, and 4,700 other people still missing.
A state-level quake ruins museum park is in the pipeline. In accordance with the museum park construction plan, which was published in March, the projected museum park will cover eight square kilometers and will have three parts: a museum building, old Beichuan county town quake ruins, and a center for secondary disaster display and natural conservation.
At present, however, police guard the locked gate to the old county seat. Visitors walk near the gate or climb a nearby hill to look down on it.
Wenchuan County, the epicenter of May 12 quake, also has a plan for developing tourism by exploring quake ruins, with Yingxiu Township at the forefront.
Sandwiched by two mountains, Yingxiu was connected to the outside world by a bridge. It lost 5,462 of its 18,000 population, and 3,694 other people missing. Baihua Bridge, Yingxiu's only overland link to the outside, was also destroyed in the quake.
People take pictures of the newly-built township in Beichuan Qiang Autonomous County, southwest China's Sichuan Province, Sunday April 26, 2009. [Xinhua]
Large chunks of soil also collapsed from the two mountains during the quake, according to Jiang Yongfu, Party boss of the township's Yuzixi Village, where 268 out of the 269 homes were destroyed in the quake.
A new bridge is being built parallel to the quake-damaged Baihua Bridge which is left in ruins.
According to Jiang, Yuzixi Village will build a tourist reception center, a cemetery for those who were killed in the quake, a quake ruins park, a memorial, and a museum of folkways and culture.
The village is attracting some 1,000 to 2,000 tourists each day, said Jiang.
Hope of Quake Survivors
To Wang Xianhui, a transient worker with Donghekou quake theme park, more tourists means more income to her. Wang, 52, lost three of her relatives in the quake, including her husband and her grandson.
She began to work around Donghekou last September when the park just started construction. But as tourists were few at that time, she only earned 1,000 yuan last year.
Wang Aixin (no relation to Wang Xianhui), another trader who operates a photo service stand near the quake-damaged Baihua Bridge, said she hoped more tourists could visit Yingxiu.
The photo service stand operator puts up a signboard bearing her personal calligraphy saying "you are most welcome to Yingxiu, but please take good care of the environment and hygiene."
"The quake has brought us too much misfortune. But as survivors, we should live well our lives ahead," said Wang Aixin.
"The state and people from other parts of the country have poured us with help. We should not always immerse ourselves in grief," said Wang Aixin, "I think it is the best way to honor the dead to use all available resources here to support ourselves and reconstruct our homes."
Zhu Yuhua, a resident from Mao'ershi Village, Leigu township of Beichuan, runs a stand on the side of the village selling knick-knacks of the ethnic Qiang people. He now earns 100 yuan daily at most.
"My business will absolutely turn for the better if quake ruin tourism is fully developed," said Zhu.
Drive of Other Service Trade
Shen Xingna, chief of Qingchuan County Tourism Bureau, said quake ruin tourism could not only help more people in quake zones get employment, but also boost other related service trade.
A total of 14 restaurants have been built in the vicinity since November 12, 2008 when Donghekou quake ruin theme park was opened to tourists. These restaurants are doing brisk business, causing a surge in sales of farm and sideline products.
Many locals have also found jobs as cleaners, security guards at new businesses, or workers at numerous new construction sites, according to Shen.
Many a people still frown on the idea of using quake ruins to expand tourism. Some locals even consider such activities as prospecting off of grief.
Zhang Tongrong, the Wenchuan County government deputy, said developing tourism on quake ruins was to respect history, as well as a prime way to help local people to raise income.
"The quake ruins theme tourist attractions serve as a reminder of past catastrophe and urge people to treasure lives, which in turn inspire our aspirations in life," said Zhang.
Zhang said the plan to construct a quake ruin park in Yingxiu was conformed by the overwhelming majority of the local people.
Zhang added tourism would contribute 30 percent to the county's economy in five to ten years. At present, tourism only contributes 15 percent to his county's economy.