NEWBORN TOWN: The residential units in newly constructed Yongchang Town rest before a mountainous backdrop. Yongchang is the new county seat of Beichuan County, while the old quake-wrecked county seat is now a memorial site (JIANG XIAOYING)
The cheerful high school student Yang Shuang couldn't hold back the slightest perceptible sorrow hidden deep in her eyes when she was made to recall the dark moment on May 12, 2008, when an 8.0-magnitude earthquake devastated her hometown in southwest China's Sichuan Province.
"Now I still dream of my classmates who died in the earthquake, but not that frequently. After all, we all have to move on, " said Yang, 17.
The earthquake devastated the Beichuan Middle School in the hardest-hit Beichuan County, where Yang was studying. She was lucky to be pulled from the ruins safely, but lost 23 of her classmates and her school. No part of Beichuan County was left untouched, leaving survivors in search of a new place to call home.
The new site of the county seat was chosen 23 km away, neighboring towns of Yong'an and Anchang, leaving the old one to become a memorial site. It took just 15 months to build a brand-new 4-square-km town from scratch, thanks to support from Shandong Province. To facilitate post-quake reconstruction, 18 provinces and municipalities directly under the Central Government in central and east China paired up with 18 quake-hit counties and cities in Sichuan to provide assistance.
The new town, called Yongchang, literally meaning "forever prosperous," cost 15 billion ($2.2 billion) to build. It is home to nearly 8,000 households now.
Yang had looked forward to moving into the new Beichuan Middle School even before it was finished. The campus is much bigger, more beautiful and modern than she had imagined. Yang said she had nothing to fear from future earthquakes as the new quake-proof school is built to standards capable of resisting seismic disturbances up to 8.0 in magnitude.
Yang's beloved school is one of the 8,323 schools requiring repair or total reconstruction in Sichuan's quake-affected areas. By the end of March, 98 percent of these rebuilding projects had been finished, said Vice Governor of Sichuan Province Wei Hong.
"We have more classrooms than before, which helps reduce class sizes so that a better teaching result for each student can be achieved," said Hu Jijiang, a veteran Chinese teacher at Nanshan Middle School in Mianyang City. The school was severely damaged during the 2008 earthquake and was rebuilt with 50 million yuan ($7.70 million) in financial assistance from Macao.
The school had been upgraded in terms of size, facilities and faculties, said Principal Wu Mingyu. He said the school had established various educational exchange programs with schools in Macao, partnerships that had developed during the rebuilding process.
One of the school's Grade 3 senior students, Wang Enyang, likes the new basketball courts most. He would play one or two hours there every Saturday afternoon. "Apart from sports, we now have enough exhibiting space in our school so that we can better develop our own interests and hobbies, such as painting and cosplay," he said.
A document from the Sichuan Provincial Government shows more than 20,000 school managing staff in the earthquake-affected areas has received training with the aim of improving school management.
"I spent a week in the Beijing Normal University to better learn how to manage a school and raise its educational capacity," said Wu. The program he participated in involved 600 primary and middle school principals from Sichuan's earthquake-affected areas.