Posts Tagged ‘photographs’

The Court of Public Opinion

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2008 at 5:58 pm


When I think through all that happened in the world this year, my mind drifts back to this photograph. This is Jiang Guohua, the Communist Party boss in Mianzhu, China. And those protesters are the families of children who died when a poorly-constructed middle school collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake.

The next day, the Communist Party’s top official in Mianzhu came out to talk with the parents and to try to stop them from marching to Chengdu, the provincial capital, where they sought to prevail on higher-level authorities to investigate. The local party boss, Jiang Guohua, dropped to his knees and pleaded with them to abandon the protest, but the parents shouted in his face and continued their march.

This picture ran on the front page of the New York Times on May 28 with this story, and I can remember talking with my friend Byron about it. What does it take to get a man down on his knees, publicly begging for the mercy of his screaming accusers?

Then a dirge began playing over the loudspeaker, and all at once the women doubled over in agony, a chorus of 100 mothers wailing over the loss of sons and daughters who, because of China’s population control policy, were their only children. The husbands wept in silence, paralyzed by the storm of emotion.

“We worked so hard to raise you and then you left us so suddenly,” a woman screamed, pounding the ruins of the Juyuan Middle School with her fists. “How could you leave us to grow old alone?”

I remember this image for how quickly it thrust me into excruciating complexity, for how it displays the unbearable pain of responsibility and the unbearable pain of loss, agonies as irreconcilable as they are intertwined.