The number of volunteers involved in the relief effort in the
This almost rivals the number of PLA soldiers in the region, which peaked at 140,000 and is now declining.
Middle-class members of the Beijing SUV Club collected funds to pack their vehicles with supplies of medicines, clothes and food. They obtained leave from their offices and drove 1600km to the quake area. The journey took them 23 hours.
With the emergence of a new wealthy class, philanthropy has been developing apace in
The country now has about 400 private foundations, 70 of them with a national scope, the rest provincially based.
Non-government organisations don't have an easy time in
Like religions, they are barely tolerated by a ruling party that remains intensely jealous and suspicious of any organisation that does not owe it direct loyalty.
People have greater freedom than before to create their own lifestyles, to consume as they wish. But there is no right of free association. It is possible to gain government approval to register a group activity, but only if the Government agrees with what the group does.
So this independent flood of volunteers into
No one co-ordinated it. It has been a spontaneous response, mainly by people in their 20s, who are widely criticised for their lack of values and their commitment to making money and having fun.
Each day the roads from the
As soon as one of the country's major banks detects ATM use in
Once China Mobile discerns that its phone user is making calls from
In the gardens at the front of the modern city government offices at Mianyang, the administrative centre of the county where the quake damage has been most severe - and now the HQ for the local relief effort - tables are spread under tent roofs.
China Unicom is providing 20 free phone lines for victims, their relatives and volunteers, to call anywhere.
One woman called a friend in another city to say she was now all alone, everyone she knew had been killed, and her house had collapsed. The woman behind her in the queue for the phone invited her to stay at her home as long as she liked.
The Jiuzhou sports stadium on the edge of Mianyang is the biggest refugee camp in the region, with about 30,000 people. It is a heart-breaking scene. People of all ages are sleeping on concrete under the stands. Those who have lost everything have palpable material needs. It's more difficult to fill the void in their lives created by the loss of family members, friends, lovers and workmates.