I am writing this from Hangzhou, and I will be visiting Puer City in about a week and a half, so I will get a better picture of the real impact of the earthquake.
I called around Yunnan and the story that I received was less dramatic than the tone of what was reported in the press, though certainly serious. Here is what I found out from my sources.
The earthquake was a minor one though three people died. A couple of hundred had minor injuries, some roofs caved in, and some roads were damaged. The Chinese premier flew there immediately as well as the governor of Yunnan. Temporary shelter was set up and the roads were fixed within twelve hours. The Chinese are very proud of being able to mobilize help in any natural disaster. It is almost a national obsession, especially with floods and locus.They can’t understand what happened with Katrina and view it as a national disgrace, and they are always surprised to hear about forest fires that burn for weeks in the US.
The government is very responsive to the needs of minority people, although the economy in Yunnan is poor but improving. There is a general type of affirmative action in relationship to the minorities within China perhaps because of the world’s sensitivity to Tibet and the concern for Islamic independence in the far west. The Chinese government makes a big show about taking care of minority people. Yunnan has the largest number of minority groups and receives a lot of attention.
Yunnan is very prone to earthquakes because it has a geological relationship to the same forces that created the Himalayas though further out from the main force that pushed the mountains so high further west where India slammed into Asia. 15,000 people were killed in an earthquake in 1970, but the details are sketchy because it happened during the time of the cultural revolution.
I will visit that area later this month update this piece.