China Beat Archive


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May 18, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright May 18, 2008 Caroline Reeves. Used by permission.


Among the scenes of devastation—small bodies in shrouds; crumpled buildings and bridges; dazed survivors—another image flashes across the screen: something familiar, something reassuring to international viewers. Out of the chaos appears the symbol of the Red Cross, on the arm of a medic, on the side of an ambulance: a sign that there might be some hope—or at least some comfort—for these victims of China’s horrific earthquake.

As we watch the unreal footage of a natural disaster that has, so far, claimed almost 30,000 lives, we are brought back to our own comfort zone by the presence of that familiar symbol, the Red Cross. This is something we “know,” something that needs no translation from cryptic Chinese into English, or German, or whatever our language. But what we are looking at is not “our” Red Cross, but the Red Cross Society of China, Zhongguo Hongshizihui (RCSC). This is an organization with its own history and its own imperatives, a Society whose background gives us important insights into the China we cannot pull our eyes away from today.