Prayer flags, 5-D earthquake simulation, ruins: Yingxiu in 2018

Society & Culture

All photos by Cassidy McDonald

YINGXIU — Today marks the 10th anniversary of the magnitude 7.9 earthquake that struck Sichuan at 2:28 pm on May 12, 2018, killing (by official Chinese estimates) 69,000 people and leaving another 18,500 unaccounted for. One of the most devastated areas was Yingxiu 映秀, a small town tucked in a valley in Wenchuan 汶川 County, where the surrounding green mountains are still marked by brown, gravelly landslide scars.

To enter town, visitors must pass through a memorial site, built from the ruins of the destroyed town. The site is an homage to the lives lost, with two main offerings: a museum, where visitors can experience a simulation of the earthquake in “5-D,” and the skeletons of old buildings, preserved in their destroyed state. Among the ruins is the town elementary school, where a generation of Yingxiu’s children were killed.

The destroyed school sits in the center of town. From the cemetery on the surrounding hillside, mourners light incense.

Most residents now live in three-story buildings in a newly built town, located across the river from the memorial.

China has invested heavily in restoration projects, and the rebuilt spaces are prominent; the town is filled with public grounds where residents relax together. On Friday night, the town teahouse was crowded with residents playing Chinese checkers, drinking bitter black tea, and chatting with their neighbors. Prayer flags fluttered above the public square where ladies danced after dinner, and a new generation of younger children born after the quake chased each other through the streets.

The politics of (not) remembering Wenchuan’s earthquake victims

In addition to memorial ceremonies on Friday and Saturday, residents will mark the weekend on Sunday with a marathon through the surrounding countryside. Among the runners will be survivors and teachers from Yingxiu schools, who run to commemorate the students they lost.

Residents cross a river separating a newly rebuilt neighborhood from the preserved ruins.
Tourists photograph the central section of the school, which was relatively less damaged.
Local tour guides in traditional dress explain how the buildings fell. Many of the tour guides are themselves earthquake survivors. 
Chinese tourists crowded Yingxiu during the Saturday anniversary to view the memorial site and to watch official memorial services. 
Visitors light incense outside a newly built cemetery. Many residents are practicing Buddhists.
Mourners rest in front of the earthquake museum, which many residents say they prefer not to enter.
A tourist interacts with an exhibit demonstrating structural design. As she turns the lever, a platform rocks and the buildings sway. 
A child looks at flowers laid to honor the earthquake victims, many of whom were children. 
During a memorial service, local figures lay flowers and bow before an earthquake memorial.
Many locals now earn their livings through tourism. These two work at the earthquake museum.