Book by Wenchuan earthquake survivor shows her passion for life after tragic loss
Finding the light through bitter tears
Published: May 30, 2023 09:49 PM
Wenchuan earthquake survivor Liao Zhi dances with her husband in Chongqing on May 4, 2023. Photo: VCG

Wenchuan earthquake survivor Liao Zhi dances with her husband in Chongqing on May 4, 2023. Photo: VCG

Spending roughly a decade to prepare for her 2023 book Alive: Like Light and Salt, writer Liao Zhi has taken a creative journey intertwined with her memories of surviving the devastating Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, which left more than 80,000 people dead or missing. 

The then 23-year-old dance teacher was rescued from a collapsed building, but suffered the loss of her legs and her child. 

Noting that she touches upon the experience in the preface of her new book, Liao told the Global Times that these memories no longer hold her back. She now hopes to "warm and light up others" despite of the fact that deep inside the "pain will never go away." 

The six-chapter Alive: Like Light and Salt touches upon topics such as "finding one's true self" and "relationships." The book is like a miscellanea of stories selected from Liao's diary entries, revealing how the writer reconciled with pain to establish career goals as well as find the courage to become a parent once again. 

With the 2008 trauma never too far from her mind, Liao has experienced numerous ups and downs on the path to regain her faith in life. In the book, she recalls that while she was trapped under the ruins of the building, she was able to clearly hear her father's voice slowly became hoarse and desperate when he called her name.    

"I held tight onto my daughter's jumper even though she had passed away. I felt that my heart had been torn to shreds by feelings of sorrow," Liao writes in her book. 

The writer seems to have the talent to see both sides of a situation even during the worst of times. She told the Global Times that her desire for life seemed to have been strengthened by the near-death experience and that may be why she took only less than a year to get back on track again. 

Swimming, running marathon and taking part in charity dance performances, these were only a part of Liao's daily agenda that helped her see the light again. 

The "light" and "salt" in the book's title are metaphorical, she said, indicating her motivation to "bring positivity to people" as well as learn to balance her relationship with others. 

"I find that if I always try to be a shining light, the people around me might get burnt by the heat, so 'salt,' a seasoning, describes how I adjusted my relationships with others," Liao said. 

Accepting imperfection

In the chapter of the book titled "Rebuilding Healthy Dignity," Liao shared the "triple column" technique developed by psychiatrist David D. Burns. Through this evaluation of self-deprecating thoughts, she was able to regain her lost confidence. 

While Liao told the Global Times that she had lost her emotional grip many times while writing the book, those tears had nothing to do with sadness, but the gratitude for her friends, herself and also her husband, someone she thought she would ­never deserve to have in her life again. 

"There were many times that I cried and had to rush down to the washroom to pick myself up," Liao noted, adding that she finally ­discovered that the way to freedom is to accept imperfection. 

Alive: Like Light and Salt is not all about dealing with setbacks. As a woman, Liao has dedicated a few chapters to topics such as "becoming a communication veteran in intimate relationships" and sharing her thoughts on love and parenting. 

A photo enclosed in the book shows she dressed in a white wedding dress while her husband Charles Wang crouches down to help put on her artificial limbs. 

'A different side'

Liao told the Global Times that she met Wang, a prosthesis engineer, when she was getting her new artificial legs. Although she was hesitant about getting remarried due to the insecurities she was dealing with, Wang assured her that she was the one, even telling his parents that "I will never again meet such a good girl." 

"Her life-loving nature, her healthy mind-set toward her disability and also her willingness to speak up for people with the same experiences as ­herself, such things let me see a different side to life. I have been deeply touched by her," Liao's mother-in-law wrote in a letter. 

Being surrounded by love, Liao established the Home of Chenxing, a rehabilitation studio in ­Chongqing Municipality for people with disabilities, in 2019. Operating the studio with her husband, the couple has now helped more than 100 people walk again with artificial limbs. 

The 38-year-old woman has become a mother again having two kids with her husband. Yet being a parent is only one role that Liao manages to juggle in her busy life. 

As an internet influencer, Liao ­often shares her dance videos on Douyin, the Chinese version of ­TikTok. She is also a leader of a charity group called "Seeing and Change," which calls for more public care and welfare for people with physical disabilities. 

She told the Global Times that charity is not a "nice gesture" but a lifestyle.

"Society needs to be educated to see this particular group of people; we represent a part of society's value," Liao noted, adding that she is planning a new illustrated book while continuing her "Chenxing Baby" project to help physically disabled children who suffer from family difficulties.