Tombstone carver sends "letters to heaven" for quake victims

Special Report: One Year after 5.12 Quake |

CHENGDU, March 14 (Xinhua) -- Wu Wenchang calls himself "a letter writer," but all his letters are addressed to those in heaven.

The tombstone engraver, with 20 years of experience, finds his work "very hard and painful" these days.

Normally, his hand-crafted tombstones are the last tributes to lives well-lived. "But nowadays, almost all are for the people who lost their lives in the sudden calamity -- the May 12 earthquake last year," Wu said, sitting in his shop in Xuankou, a town in the quake epicenter Wenchuan County.

The craftsman, 46, can hardly remember how many "stone letters" he has chiseled in his life. With time, he learned that "death is no different from breath. Therefore, it's better to accept it than to suffer from it."

Yet, he asked: "How could I feel the same as before? So many people died in a minute."

The 8.0-magnitute quake that hit southwestern China's Sichuan Province claimed nearly 70,000 lives. More than 12,000 were from Yingxiu, a town that was home to 18,000.

Wu's home in Xuankou is less than 20 kilometers from Yingxiu. The quake took almost everything from him, including his tombstone shop, but luckily not his family of three.

With 16,000 yuan (about 2,350 U.S. dollars) in aid from the local government, and 20,000 yuan in bank loans, Wu rebuilt his shop last January, some 20 km from its original location.

The new shop, a 40-square-meter bungalow room, perches on a slope by the road linking the provincial capital Chengdu and Wenchuan. A black signboard in white characters reading "Wu's Tombstone Carving Shop" stands on a pile of stones outside.

Inside the shop, semi-finished black tombstones lean against the wall, with the golden image of a dragon carved for males and aphoenix for females.