China's 'most tragic figure': Wang Chongchong survives Sichuan, Yushu quakes
Of the many stories of personal stoicism and triumph to emerge from the Yushu earthquake, few have caught the attention of Chinese citizens and media like that of "Wang Chongchong" (王虫虫), who lost her livelihood in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, only to restart in Yushu and lose it again two years later.
China's most tragic figure Li Jing, a.k.a. Wang Chongchong
'The Most Tragic Figure' Becomes a 'Net Sensation
In the hours following the Yushu earthquake, as news trickled out across the country, the infamous human-powered Chinese netizenry got to work, frantically searching everything they could about the quake and the area in which it happened.
It didn't take long for somebody to procure a July 2009 post to Baidu question-and-answer platform Zhidao seeking financial advice. The post came up in initial searches probably because it contained keywords "earthquake" and "Yushu."
The question contained in the post read "I'm a victim of the Sichuan earthquake from the Anxian disaster area. Please advise whether or not with proof of this status, I am able to receive a tax break or exemption." The question had been posted under the online alias "Homeless Wang Chongchong" (王虫虫没家) and it went on to explain that after the poster's shop in Beichuan had been destroyed by the 2008 earthquake, the poster had subsequently set up a shop in Qinghai province's Yushu.
This post was immediately re-posted to the immensely popular Tianya forums, and the story (and potential fate) of Wang Chongchong became an Internet sensation. All netizens knew at the time was that "Wang Chongchong" had escaped from a big quake not two years prior, and chances were good that this person was in Yushu, where another huge quake had just struck.
The story began circulating around the Internet, and more and more netizens took note, dubbing the poster they knew only as Wang Chongchong as "the tragic sister." A forum counter on Tianya showed that a thread wishing her well and speculating as to her whereabouts had recorded over 280,000 views and over 1,000 replies within 24 hours. The "most tragic figure" (最杯具人物) phenomenon was born. Netizens waited with baited breath to see another post from "Homeless Wang Chongchong," and vigilant Baidu users went so far as to ensure that the username could not be registered by anyone else to ensure the authenticity of any subsequent posts under the name.
Finally, on April 22, they got their reward: User "Homeless Wang Chongchong" (王虫虫没家) posted a thread titled "I Am Wang Chongchong" to the Sichuan board on the Baidu forums stating that she was in Yushu and ensuring everybody that she and her husband were fine.
That same day, reporters in Yushu began to track down the mysterious poster "Wang Chongchong" as she headed out of Yushu toward Sichuan.
"When I saw online that so many people had posted their concern and consolation for me, I was moved to tears for a long time!" Wang Chongchong—whose real name is Li Jing—told a reporter, adding that, "Because so many people have been worrying about me, I don't think I'm 'tragic'; I'm actually very lucky."
Li Jing with friend Qiang Jiliang (center) and an unidentified man—her husband?
Wang Chongchong's Identity Revealed
It was actually a friend of Wang Chongchong's who guessed her true identity. On the morning of April 15, just 24 hours after the quake, Qian Jiliang called up his friend Li Jing, who he knew was in Yushu, and asked, "Are you Wang Chongchong?" At first, Li Jing was hesitant to reveal herself. But after many days, Qian persuaded Li to write the follow-up post online.
So who is this figure tragedy has befallen upon not once but twice? The few reporters who have managed to catch a glimpse of her in person describe her as a 35-year-old woman of short stature. Shortly before the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Li Jing and her husband, both Sichuan natives, had opened mobile-phone-repair shops in Beichuan. The shops—there are conflicting reports as to whether there were one or two—were completely destroyed in the quake.
Renting a replacement shop in her hometown would require an upfront payment of RMB30,000. With debts totaling that much, Li Jing decided she could not afford to set up a new shop there; nor could she afford to wait for post-quake governmental assistance. In August 2008, under the suggestion of a friend, Li Jing borrowed another RMB60,000 and moved to Yushu, Qinghai. There, she opened another shop providing mobile-phone-repair services and selling mobile phones and accessories. In late 2009, she turned the two-story, 45-square-meter shop into a women's clothing store.
And then, in the early morning of April 14, the Yushu quake hit, destroying this shop as well.
Li Jing spent the days following the quake living in a temporary shelter with 46 other people from Mianyang. Her own flat cracked open during the quake, but it remained standing. In Yushu, she told a Sichuan Online reporter that she hadn't left yet because she had several tens of thousands of yuan worth of merchandise in a building that had been locked up since the quake. The same Sichuan Online report said that Li and her husband have no more than RMB3,000 in cash between them but owe RMB15,000 in debts that are due in June.
A Reluctant Media Star
According to Li Jing's friend Qian Jiliang, Li Jing arrived at the Mianyang train station on Sunday afternoon after a long, circuitous journey. Since leaving Yushu for Mianyang, Li has refused all media requests for interviews.
But that hasn't stopped Qian Jiliang from talking. Qian Jiliang works for the Mianyang Ruicheng Cultural Broadcasting Corporation. In addition to persuading Li Jing to write the post on Baidu, he also persuaded her to record video footage and post it to Sina (see above video). After the video was released, the Sichuan branch of China Telecom contacted Qian and offered to help Li Jing by giving her a shop and a stock of mobile phones to sell.
But Li Jing refused the offer, as she has refused all such offers of assistance. Qian reckons her refusal is due in part to her stoic nature, having endured two great disasters in a short span of time, as well as the fact that some netizens have already ridiculed her misfortune. But, Qian said, since news that "Wang Chongchong" survived the second earthquake has been made public, he has received numerous calls from citizens offering their warm words as well as cash contributions. A firm in Chengdu offered a donation of RMB100,000 to Wang Chongchong. The Chengdu Commercial Daily (Online) also attempted to establish an online shop in conjunction with online-auction site Taobao in order to help Li Jing, but she also refused their offer, telling the reporter that she's just returned home and would like to reunite with her family without being disturbed, but that she would like to once again thank all of the media and citizens who expressed their concern for her. Nobody's clear about the couple's future plans, but they have repeatedly said they want to use their own hands to reconstruct their lives.
In the meantime on the forums, commenters are jokingly wondering where Li Jing will set up her next shop and whether the same fate will follow her wherever she goes.