China Wails for Quake Dead

"I've never seen anything like this before," said Wang Yong, as the honking and air horns subsided. "The sound was deafening. I could feel the vibrations."

Wang had been standing on an overpass in Beijing as the sound of thousands of car horns "wailed in grief" this afternoon as the nation paused to remember the victims of the May 12 Sichuan earthquake.

"I hope they can hear us in Sichuan," Wang told ABC News.

Today marks the first of three days of national mourning for the earthquake victims. The official death count stood today at 34,073, according to the government, and may exceed 50,000. At least 29,000 people are missing.

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Xinhua, the government news agency, also confirmed today that several fatal mudslides have struck in recent days inside the quake zone, killing at least 200 rescue workers.

On Beijing's Changan Jie, the wide avenue on which Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are situated, workers flooded out of office buildings onto sidewalks and overpasses to observe a three-minute period of mourning.

Typically noisy construction sites grew quiet as traffic in major arteries came to a halt. Migrant workers lined up along the street with hard hats in hand.

But this moment of silence was hardly silent. At precisely 2:28 p.m., millions of Chinese stood still as car, ship, train and air horns howled, marking exactly one week since the earthquake shook the southwest province of Sichuan.

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According to Chinese tradition, memorials on the seventh day after a person's death are especially important to observe. It is believed that the tributes on this day will help provide a better afterlife to the deceased.

"I am so sad about Sichuan but I've be seeing China's solidarity everywhere, and I think that we will get through this tragedy together," said Li Na, an office assistant who works in downtown Beijing.

Pausing for a moment and reviewing the photos she took on her camera phone, Li asked, "I wonder if this is how Americans felt after Sept. 11."

Drivers pressed their horns as others stood silently next to their cars. Long-distance buses and trains across the country stopped to observe and pay their respects.

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In southern Yunnan province, buses carrying tourists pulled over and passengers stood along the road with their heads bowed.

At Tiananmen Square in Beijing, thousands filled the plaza and chanted "brave and strong, China!" and "brave and strong, Wenchuan!" after the 180 seconds of silence concluded.

Tourists also stopped to pay tribute.

"It was surreal," said Tim Mutler of Toronto, in reference to national mourning practices. "We knew it was going to happen in advance so we stepped out of our hotel to see." Mutler and his friends arrived in Beijing five days ago to run the Great Wall Marathon.

Three Days of Comprehensive Mourning

Three days of official mourning will be observed in every aspect of Chinese society.

Today, Chinese flags were flown at half-staff while newsstands sold papers printed in black and white only. Special events, including the Olympic torch relay, have been suspended for the duration of the mourning period.

In addition, a moratorium on all public entertainment nationwide has been instituted. Popular karaoke clubs fell silent in Beijing as online gaming sites were required to suspend their services until Thursday.

Shanda, a leading interactive entertainment and media company, announced that in accordance with the government's request, it will reconvene its online gaming after the period of mourning.

The country's most heavily trafficked Web portals such as Sohu and Sina are conveying their respect with black and white home pages, devoid of their usually colorful and animated photos and articles.

Tudou.com, China's most popular video site, posted only earthquake-related videos although other content was still available by search.

Recreational activities are on hold in memory of earthquake victims. Movie theaters in Beijing closed their doors and entertainment cable channels such as HBO were unavailable for viewing in cities across the country, including Shanghai and Chengdu.

"Because there's no entertainment, our Chinese opera performance was canceled," said Mutler, who is visiting Beijing from Canada.

According to China's state-run Xinhua news agency, a mourning period of this scale is the first of its kind for the general public since the death of Chairman Mao Zedong.

As of Sunday evening, $187 million in cash and relief goods had been raised for quake-stricken areas in Sichuan province, according to the China Daily.

To make a donation to earthquake relief funds, please visit http://donate.ifrc.org/

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