Masses, and individuals, in China

The human scale of almost anything in China is predictably shocking. I go to a city I'd never heard of -- say, Zibo -- and learn that it has about as many people as Chicago. I go to a city I have heard of and learn that estimates of its population are accurate only within a couple million. And of course we now have the staggering figures coming out from Sichuan province and its surroundings -- about 900 children trapped in one school, tens of thousands missing in another town, whole villages being swallowed up by landslides. America has never known mass tragedy on this scale -- or even on a pro-rated version of this scale. China has of course known it many times.

Here is a classroom picture from last fall, at a high school outside Sichuan province but close to the earthquake zone. These are the kinds of schools and classrooms you're seeing in "after" pictures now. (Yes, there is a ringer in this picture, whom I couldn't photo-shop out.) These are the kinds of children who have been affected.

Here, from a middle school, is a dormitory room where 18 girls sleep each night and eat all their meals. They sleep side by side, nine on the bottom bunk and nine on the top, with their heads to the left of the picture and their feet to the center. All of their clothes and belongings are in the gray lockers in the right background.

Some of the students at that school. Although multi-child families are more common in rural areas than in the cities, most of the children involved in the earthquake would have been their parents' only child.:

The masses in China are overwhelming; the people in them are vividly and irrepressibly individual. Via Rebecca MacKinnon, here are some ways to contribute to relief efforts in China.