The earthquake that hit China occurred last Monday during the first hour of my Environmental Law class. We did not feel it at the China University of Political Science and Law, though it was so strong that others in Beijing did. At the end of the first hour of class, we took our regular break and several students returned very upset because they had learned about the earthquake through text messages on their cell phones. Two of the students in the class are from Chengdu, a city close to the epicenter of the quake. They kept trying to call home, but the calls did not go through. Fortunately, it was only because so many people were trying to call at once. Eventually the students managed to get through and ascertain that their families were fine.
One student repeated a rumor that Chinese scientists were predicting another earthquake would hit Beijing at 11pm, a rumor that was so prevalent that it was denounced on Chinese network news. My apartment building quickly circulated information for how to react in an earthquake. They are now collecting supplies for a relief shipment to the affected areas of Sichuan province. The quake death toll has now risen to 29,000 and it is expected to continue climbing to perhaps 50,000. More than 2 million Chinese have been rendered homeless by the quake.
On Tuesday I returned to the U.S. to attend the graduation for the University of Maryland School of Law. On Thursday evening we hosted a party for the 28 graduating students receiving their certificates of concentration in Environmental Law. This was a particularly accomplished class and it was fun to show many of the photos and videos of them I had acquired over the years. On Friday the graduation ceremony was held at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Prior to the ceremony the law faculty had to wait an hour on buses outside the hall because the University of Maryland School of Medicine ceremony ran very late. I was honored to be one of the “hooders” placing the graduation regalia on the law students as they walked across the stage. I was delighted to learn that most of our graduating environmental law students have secured good jobs in the environmental law field, one of the great strengths of our program. The only things marring a great graduation day were the medical school’s thoughtlessness in delaying our ceremony and the Washington Nationals’ embarrassing loss to the Baltimore Orioles in a game I attended at Camden Yards on Friday night.
I flew back to Beijing on Saturday, arriving on Sunday. I continue to be impressed with the quality of my Chinese students. Two week ago we discussed the Plaza Health Laboratories case where a human was declared not to be a point source under the Clean Water Act. The Chinese students were outraged by the decision. Last week we discussed the Kelo decision, which elicited tremendous debate among the students because so many people in China have been displaced by economic development projects. My students clearly are not afraid to think critically and independently, despite the traditional reputation of Chinese legal education.
On Tuesday I am flying into Sichuan province near the earthquake zone. I will be visiting the Three Gorges Dam and traveling through the Three Gorges by hydrofoil from Yichang to Chongqing where I will give two guest lectures at Southwest University School of Law.