"The major change was in the government's attitude to the foreign press," allowing reporters free access to the disaster zone, says Gong Wenxiang, head of the journalism school at Peking University. "When you tell stories about how people feel, you get sympathy ... because it shows you share values. This was a demonstration of universal values, treating human life as the No. 1 priority."
The earthquake "has definitely changed the entire dynamics" of China's relations with the rest of the world, says Prof. Jiang. "I've never seen such a turnaround in a government's image in such a short space of time.
"People see China less as a menacing superpower and more as a fragile emerging country with a lot of internal issues and crises to handle," he suggests.
The Chinese government clearly benefited in many people's eyes from the contrast between the manner in which it dealt with the Sichuan earthquake and the way the authorities in neighboring Burma (Myanmar) dragged their heels in the wake of the cyclone that has left an estimated 130,000 dead or missing.
Beijing's rapid response was encapsulated by the hands-on efforts of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who flew with other government officials to Sichuan Province within two hours of the quake. Television crews followed him for the next several days directing rescue efforts, shouting encouragement to buried survivors, and comforting bereaved parents.
Mr. Wen made his second trip to the quake zone last week, where pressing problems remain: A strong aftershock on Sunday killed at least eight people, and looming storms heightened fears that rivers and reservoirs clogged by landslides and quake debris could flood.
Faced with these immediate dangers, as well as the long-term issue of resettlement and reconstruction for five million homeless, Beijing is currently under less pressure for its human rights record and its friendship with Sudan from international critics, who appear to have declared a cease-fire since the quake.