The Chinese earthquake


There could hardly be a stronger contrast between the response of the Burmese government to the typhoon there, and that of the Chinese government to last week's earthquake.  Terrible pictures have been shown of both disasters; the difference is that the pictures from Burma were taken without the consent of the ruling junta, who have down-played the tragedy to their own people and to the world beyond.

The Chinese, on the other hand, have invited the world to share their grief, and have not minimized the scale of the disaster to their own people or to the world.  They have acted with commendable efficiency themselves, and have readily accepted offers of help.  The pictures from China have been heart-rending, reminding us all of Adam Smith's observations that our very humanity leads us to empathize with the emotions of others, sharing their sorrows and their joys.  The pictures remind us that the common humanity we all share is more important than the political differences which separate us.

Perhaps it is a sign of Chinese self-confidence that they can show us the catastrophe which befell them with an openness unthinkable even a decade ago.  China has grown more self-assured as it has grown richer, and when it rebuilds it will probably do so with earthquake resistant buildings, as has been done in California and Japan.  It is rich countries which can afford to do this, as Alex Singleton points out in the Telegraph.  Those who decry economic growth might reflect on the fact that natural disasters fall hardest on poorer countries which lack the resources to plan against them or to cope with them when they strike.