Earthquake’s youngest victims remembered at AGO

In a litany of loss, the names of 5,200 dead Chinese schoolchildren reverberated throughout the room from a loudspeaker.Hundreds of volunteers gathered at the Art Gallery of Ontario on Sunday to honour the youngest victims of the 2008 earthquake that battered the countrys Sichuan province on May 12, 2008 and killed over 87,000 peopleThe live tribute marked the opening weekend of the gallerys summer exhibition, Ai Weiwei: According to What?, which chronicles the work of the controversial Chinese artist and activist.

In a ceremony reminiscent of the childrens holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem in Israel, nearly 300 volunteers took turns to read the names of 20 children who died in the natural disaster a process that was estimated to take five hours.Some paused for a moment before reading; others bowed three times toward the 45-by-15-foot wall behind them that records the names, ages, gender and grade of each of the 5,200 children.The sheer number of names on the wall means little until you get closer, and see children as young as three were killed.So many innocent kids died that day, and many of them died needlessly, said China-born Robin Luo.Luo held his own 7-year old son Royce close to him as he spoke.

Those children shouldnt have died it was only because of the quality of the school buildings, said Luo, referring to the scandal in the aftermath of the earthquake.Nearly 14,000 schools were damaged while buildings nearby remained intact. Various reports alleged that local government officials and construction companies were negligent in the construction of schools, ignored civil engineering standards, and took shortcuts while pocketing the difference.Luo, who came to Canada more than 20 years ago, said he wanted to participate in the event with Royce so his son could understand how lucky he is to have been born in Canada.As a parent myself, I just hope that those kids are happy now and peaceful in heaven, said Luo.And Gein Wong, the director behind the participatory reading, said thats exactly what the event is meant to do: elicit empathy.So many disasters happen in the world and we get desensitized to that, and we become preoccupied with our own lives, trying to pay our own bills, she said.

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