Rethinking happiness after the 5.12 earthquake


By Li Maohui (DORS Programme and Administrative Manager)

Editor's Note: Li Maohui, a worker of DORS (1), was a victim of the mega-earthquake that struck Wenchuan on 12 May 2008. After the earthquake, Li Maohui took part in the programme, "Healthy Village" which is being implemented in two villages of Hanyuan County—Chalin Village and Moduo Village. The total population of the two villages is 1,600. As a victim of the earthquake and having lived in Wenchuan for many years, Li has firsthand experience of the earthquake and its impact on herself, her families and the villagers. In the process of rebuilding her life and her physical, psychological and spiritual health, she has been observing and reflecting on questions that pop up everyday. She has been writing down her thoughts in her diary, which has helped her gain a better understanding of the meaning of "happiness". Here below are three excerpts from her diary. They were written in three different periods of time. The first was written about a month after the earthquake. In it, Li recollected what she had seen and heard on the day of the earthquake. The second was written after she took part in the programme, "Healthy Village". In it she reflected on and described vividly what happiness meant for her. The last excerpt was written after she was in Nimei, a village in Hengshan Township, where she found out what relationship happiness had with material wealth.


12 June 2008

I am still frightened when I recollect what happened that day. There were two elderly people over 70 years old in my family, and two babies who were not yet one year old.

It was very stuffy that day. My baby girl was fretful and restless. She wanted to sleep but for some reason could not sleep tight. A few minutes before the earthquake, after much hassle I finally got her to sleep. However, as soon as I lay down on my bed, I heard the windows shaking loudly and the bed was trembling too. At first I turned over and tried to sleep. As the windows shook more and more loudly, my intuition told me that I should leave the house immediately. I got off the bed, picked up my daughter and ran out immediately. My parents-in-law and my sister-in-law were still sitting on the sofa in the living room. "Run", I shouted. Only then did they get up and run out of the house. It had always been thought there would never be a major earthquake in Hanyuan, so we thought it would stop after a while.

Dust everywhere and anxiety

When we were outside we heard only tiles, falling and breaking on the ground of the courtyard nearby. By the time we got to a more open space next to our house, we noticed that people upstairs and from around had all come out. Everyone looked bewildered as the earthquake rumbled on. Holding my daughter tightly in my arms, I could not even stand steadily. "It's over," I thought: "what if the houses and the electric poles all fall down?" Students of the village primary school opposite our house had got out of the school building with their teachers. Some students stood in the playground, others ran towards the school entrance. A woman, who was holding a child, was crying. Her husband ran towards her, took the child and held the child tightly in his arms. There was dust on their clothes. We found out later that the top floor of their building had collapsed and there were many cracks on the staircase. Everyone started to move towards the slope of the hill at the back of the village. We took our elderly folks and children. Some buildings around us had not yet collapsed, so at first I was not very nervous. Then I heard from people coming from the highway that many buildings had fallen down. A nurse died when the hospital collapsed and many students were killed when the school caved in. So many stories were going around that people became more and more anxious. The dust far off began to spread and the sirens of ambulances kept wailing. Towards the direction of the hospital. Panic-stricken parents ran in and out of the hospital to pick up their children. A mother, whose head was wrapped in gauze and her clothes stained with blood, was nervous and restless when she did not find her child.

By 6 o'clock in the evening, everyone was hungry but no one dared to go home to cook, even when the houses looked completely fine. Someone who just arrived said that a shop near the alley crossing had partly collapsed. Since they could not close the door, they were selling their goods near the highway. Candles had sold out and most bottled water had gone too, but there were still a lot of biscuits and other stuff. To stay the pangs of hunger, Mom went to buy some biscuits and drinks. When the fathers of the kids arrived, we took the risk to go home to the bathroom, changed our clothes and picked up the quilts of the children.

Unending aftershocks, extreme exhaustion

It got dark and looked as though it was going to rain. The owner of the lot of land where we were staying bought some tarpaulins and cut some bamboos to make tents and shelter for rain. Everyone apologized for trampling on his crops. He said never mind. "Don't go home to sleep tonight. The government has put up tents in the new quarter. You can go there," village cadres announced at spots where people gathered. The few dozen people around us had gathered under the tent to take shelter from the rain. People dared not go to the low-lying part of the village. They were worried the ground would cave in because of the earthquake. They said that the lake of Qionghai in Xichang had been created by an earthquake.

The rain got heavier at night and the temperature dropped. The kind landowner again organized the people. Cardboards were placed at the centre for children to sleep on. Women with babies and the elderly people sat around the children. The men formed the outermost circle to protect us from wind and rain. The benches were too hard and my buttocks started to hurt. As the night deepened, I became very sleepy, but the aftershocks seemed endless and no one dared go home. Even though our children were wrapped in small quilts, they caught a cold when we changed their diapers. My daughter, who was only a month old, had a high temperature. The son of my brother-in-law kept coughing.

We started to flee from our village when it was dawn. The highway was scattered with broken bricks. Some buildings along the highway had cracks all over them or looked like they were going to collapse. Some had already collapsed. I was extremely nervous. I wondered how panic-stricken people on the street and on the highway must have been the moment the earthquake struck.


15 August 2010

About "Healthy Village"

Since I took over the Healthy Village Programme, I have been thinking: What is a healthy village?

Preliminary conclusion: A healthy village is a place where people live happily. For me, happiness means having a healthy, happy family and being able to see my parents, children, husband, siblings, relatives and friends all the time. Happiness is being safe and healthy, and living in peace. Happiness is when everyone works hard for their life with passion. It is favourable weather, a bumper harvest and fresh air everyday. It is when there is no more landslide, earthquake, fire disaster, typhoon or flood. It is when flowers blossom and fruits ripen around our house in all four seasons… So long as we have dreams and are willing to work hard for our dreams, there can be happiness for all of us.


11 January 2012

With its hills and plains covered in snow, Hengsan Village of Nimei Township looked vast and boundless. A limpid stream gurgled along the highway. I adjusted my hat and my shawl and quickly put my gloved hands in my pockets. However, I still felt very cold. I saw two small girls far away. Only when I got closer did I see that they were crawling on the frozen ground of the bridge, playing flip cards. A breeze was ruffling their disheveled hair and their bare hands were filled with scars from frostbite. Clad in meagre clothes, they looked happy despite of the bitter cold. It seemed that in their minds, there were only the cards which brought them happiness.

The heaps of toys of my daughter instantly flashed through my mind. My relatives and friends all love her and have bought her so many toys that she often does not know which one she wants to play with. However I have never seen her paying as much attention to any gift as the two girls did to the cards they were playing. Promises from people around her make her chatter incessantly about the gift she is going to get soon.

I chatted casually with the two girls and found that the way they found happiness was very simple. I have always heard that happiness does not depend on how much one owns. With my own eyes I witnessed this truth. "Happiness is not that you have a lot, but that you do not care that you have little," a sage said.

Photo sharing:
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During the post-earthquake reconstruction, I joined the villagers in measuring the highway after which we took a rest in the forest.
When the reconstruction programme was about to close, I visited the villagers to find out if they were satisfied with the building materials they got.
At the launch ceremony of Chalin's Healthy Village Programme, children stood at the doorway to welcome the guests. They looked so lovely that I could not resist taking a picture with them.
A group photo of the staff of DORS and participants of the first gathering of Chalin's Healthy Village Programme to watch and share photographs taken by villagers.
Performance of the art and culture team of Chalin's Healthy Village Programme in a gathering. The theme of the gathering was "Sound of the Earth–Art and Culture Festival of Shuijingfang Community".



  1. Development Organization of Rural Sichuan.
  2. The programme was a community-led initiative to explore concepts and methodology in the building of "healthy villages" to foster reflections and practice in the community on ecological environment and "health". Concrete goals are:

    1. To reduce the sources and the quantity of pollution in the community and to alleviate pressures on the natural environment;
    2. To enhance community knowledge and concern for sanitation and "health" and to improve household living conditions;
    3. To raise the level of self-management and management of public resources;
    4. To build a cultural atmosphere of mutual help, solidarity and friendship in the community.