Everyone in my office just stood silently with perhaps a billion others here, while outside drivers sounded their horns and sirens in unison. I was by my office window and could see people stopped in their tracks on the sidewalk, all standing still. The traffic stopped dead while the horns blared. The migrant workers in the concrete and steel pit alongside my building all stopped their work and stood up as well. Everyone faced the same direction, their heads lowered. The three minutes seemed to last a long time. For the first few seconds, it seemed a bit meaningless, and then with each passing second it took on greater gravity. There is still a hushed silence throughout the office, everyone keeping their thoughts to themselves, everyone on the verge of tears.
For all its warts, China is a spectacularly beautiful country, and I will never make the mistake again of falling for the generalization that the people here “only think about themselves.” I wish I could put into words all the grief I’ve seen here in the past several days, and the efforts of everyone I know and work with, regardless of their financial status, to give and to help. It is literally impossible not to be deeply, deeply moved.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.