June 5, 2008

“Are You Idiots?” Caring for China

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To see Zhang Ziyi onscreen is to recognize her as a cinematic presence. The star of films such as House of Flying Daggers and (most famously) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is not so much an actress as an iconic figure of the martial arts genre—a feminine beauty that is capable of terrifying strength when the occasion calls. She can dance, yes, but she can also kick.

Zhang showed some of that strength recently at the glamorous Cannes Film Festival in France. For the past week, she has been raising money to help victims of the massive earthquake that hit the Sichuan province in China, so far having donated $100,000 (the equivalent of 1 million yuan) in aid. So when Zhang discovered that a group of presumably wealthy and cultured attendees at the Festival that were not even aware of the disaster, she reportedly became outraged and incensed.

“I was as angry as a madwoman,” she said. “I said, ‘Are you idiots? You are well-dressed people who look like you identify with society, but you don’t know what’s going on on planet Earth.’ It’s incredible!”

Incredible indeed. The latest estimates show that over 68,000 people have been killed as a result of the earthquake and its aftershocks. Over 365,000 people have been injured and over 5 million people are thought to be homeless. Several villages and towns are still without electricity, dozens of schools have been destroyed, and several transportation routes are buried under landslides. It is said to be the deadliest earthquake to hit China since 1976.

I cannot speak for France or for Europe, but the level of interest in America seems minimal at best. And while it shocks the humanitarian part of me, another part understands the lack of concern. For one, we are used to hearing about disasters, catastrophes and other calamities. Whether the story of the day is the Myanmar cyclone, further fatalities in the Iraq war or rising oil and gas prices, we are fully aware that the world is full of problems.

News reporting often adds to this apathy, passively presenting these problems to us without also explaining how we can help fix them. We know that this earthquake is a major disaster, but what does it matter? It’s hard to care about a catastrophe when it’s not clear you can do anything to help.

Now suppose that every bit of disastrous news about the Chinese earthquake, whether it be in article, TV report or radio piece format, included a reminder at the end of where you could go on the Web to donate aid money. How much more humanitarian would that reporting be? How much more empowering would that be to us, the readers, viewers and listeners? How much more effective would that be in raising aid relief funds?

So in the interest of filling that void and combating apathy, here are three organizations that are accepting online donations for relief aid:
American Red Cross: Funds will be used to send relief supplies, relief workers and financial resources

Mercy Corps: A nonprofit humanitarian aid and development organization that is providing both short-term care (food, water, medical aid, shelter items) and long-term planning for reconstruction.

Tsinghua Foundation : A nonprofit foundation formed by the Silicon Valley Tsinghua Network and several Chinese organizations to provide relief aid after the earthquake. All funds are transferred to the Red Cross Society of China, which will offer immediate disaster relief to victims.