Campus mourns Chinese quake victims during candlelight vigil

While hundreds fell silent in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and all of China came to a halt for three minutes of silence Monday, Yale’s own Chinese community held a similar moment of silence halfway across the world.

A candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the massive earthquake that struck the Chinese province of Sichuan last Monday drew approximately 80 to Cross Campus last night. The event, which was organized by the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale, was designed to express solidarity in the wake of the disaster, which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale.

In front of Sterling Memorial Library, the mourners formed a circle to protect the flames from the blustery winds as poetry was read in both English and Chinese. The candles were arranged in the shape of a heart, with the date of the earthquake in the middle.

“For Chinese students who are overseas, we can’t go back home and offer our help, but through our collected donations, we hope that we can help our country-people,” ACSSY President Hong Ying Shen GRD ’12 said. “We want them to know that no matter how far apart we are, we are still one people.”

Mo Li, a post-doctoral fellow in electrical engineering whose wife developed the idea for the vigil, added that the event was also for the members of the overseas Chinese community themselves.

“We wanted to gather people together because the entire nation has the same sorrow,” he said. “It’s not only for those who passed away and those who are suffering, but also for ourselves, so that we can express our feelings.”

In a campuswide e-mail sent Monday afternoon, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler encouraged members of the Yale community to attend the vigil and commemorate the victims of the earthquake. The e-mail also confirmed the safety of all Yale students and staff currently in China while expressing concern for affected friends and relatives.

Victor Mutai ’11, who learned of the event through the email, was one of the few people at the vigil not of Chinese decent.

“I came here to ask myself, ‘Why did this happen?’” Mutai said. “This is my first vigil — we don’t have them often at home in Kenya — and I think it’s important for people of all countries to come together and share the pain.”

Chinese government officials estimate that the earthquake may have killed as many as 50,000 in what would be China’s worst natural disaster in decades. The total number injured is about 250,000 and infrastructure in the affected cities is severely compromised. The People’s Republic of China declared three days of mourning beginning Monday.

University President Richard Levin, who was in China on an unrelated trip last week, met with government officials in Beijing to discuss the continuation of the University’s collaboration with the country. Although his visit was limited to the capital, Levin was briefed on the situation by Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping, and, in an e-mail message to the News, expressed concern for the victims of the earthquake.

Butler — who, along with Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge, was among the administrators to attend Monday night’s event — gave a brief message during the vigil.

“We want to express great sorrow for the events that have happened in Sichuan and for those that have suffered,” he said. “Yale has a long history with China and strong ties, and we wish you, your family and everyone you may know who have been affected by the terrible events.”

As of last night, ACSSY had collected more than $10,000 in relief funds for the disaster, Shen said. She added that the group hopes for a final total of $20,000 to $30,000 after the second half of their donation drive, which will continue until the end of the week. Through an agreement with the Chinese consulate in New York, the group has designated their donations for rebuilding schools in the Sichuan Province.

Shen and Li both said they were appreciative of the support they received from Yale’s administration, citing quick approval for events such as last night’s vigil and Butler’s e-presence. But Li said there are still steps the University could take.

“If the school could match individual donations, like many companies and even the Canadian government are doing, that would be a big step,” Li said. “Of course, we are very appreciative of the support we have gotten, but that is something we would really like to see.”

As a continuation of the relief efforts, musicians from Yale and the New Haven community will perform at “Help Can’t Wait,” a special benefit concert that will take place tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. in Sprague Hall.

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