Tangshan Earthquake in 1976
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the deadliest earthquake ever killed 830,000 people in Shaanxi, Shanxi and Henan Provinces on February 2, 1556. Six of the 13 deadliest earthquakes ever occurred in China. Worst Recorded Earthquakes (number of dead): 1) Hua County in Shaanxi, central China, Jan. 24, 1556 (830,000); 2) Calcutta, India, Oct. 11, 1737 (300,000); 3) Tangshan, China, July 28, 1976 (242,000); 4) Sumatra, Thailand and Sri Lanka, December 26, 2004 (225,000); 5) Antioch, Syria, May 20, 526 (250,000); 6) Yokohama, Japan, Sept. 1, 1923 (200,000); 7) Nan-Shan, China, May 22, 1927 (200,000); 8) Hokkaido, Japan, Dec. 30, 1730; 9) Chihli, China, Sept. 27, 1290 (100,000); 10) Haiyuan in Gansu, China, Dec. 16, 1920 (200,000); 11) Messina, Italy, Dec. 28, 1908 (83,000); 12) Shemaka, Caucasia, Nov. 1667 (80,000); 13) Gansu, China, Dec. 26, 1932 (70,000). [Source: World Almanac **]

Most deadly earthquakes since 1900 (magnitude on the Richter scale): 1) Tangshan China in 1976, 255,000 dead (7.5); 2) Sumatra in 2004, 225,000 dead (9.3); 3) Nan-shan in Qinghai China in 1927, 200,000 dead (8.3); 4) Haiyuan in Gansu, China in 1920, 200,000 dead (8.6); 5) Japan in 1923, 143,000dead (7.9). **

Most powerful earthquakes since 1900 (magnitude on the Richter scale): 1) Chile on May 22, 1960 (9.5); 2) off Sumatra, Indonesia on December 26, 2004 (9.3); 3) Prince William Sound in Alaska on March 28, 1964 (9.2); 4) Andreanof Islands, Alaska on March 9, 1957 (9.1); 5) Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia on November 4, 1952 (9.0); 6) off the coast of Ecuador on January 31, 1906 (8.8); 7) Rat Islands, Alaska on February 4 1965 (8.7); 7) off Nias Island, Indonesia on March 28, 2005 (8.7); 9) Tibet on August 15, 1950 (8.6); 10) Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia on February 3, 1923 (8.5); 10) Banda Sea, Indonesia on February 1, 1918 (8.5); 10) off Etorofu Island, northern territories, Japan (8.5.) [Source: U.S. Geological Survey]

The 1920 earthquake in Gansu measured 8.6 on the Richter scale and killed 200,000. According to the Guinness Book of Records it produced the deadliest landslide ever, killing 180,000 people in Gansu Province on December 16, 1920. An earthquake in China in 1970 that measured 7.5 on the Richter scale killed 10,000.

Chihli Earthquake (1290) and Hongdong Earthquake (1303)

The Chihli earthquake occurred on September 27, 1290. Its epicenter was near Ningcheng, Zhongshu Sheng (Zhili or Chihli), Yuan Empire. This region is part of Inner Mongolia. The quake is believed to have been magnitude 6.8. One source estimates the death toll was 7,270, while another placed it around at 100,000. The earthquake destroyed 480 storehouses and countless houses in Ningcheng. Changping, Hejian, Renqiu, Xiongxian, Baoding, Yixian and Baixiang County were also affected. It severely damaged the Fengguo Temple in Yixian. [Source: Wikipedia]

On September 25, 1303, a magnitude 8 earthquake struck Shanxi Province, with the epicenter near Zhaocheng and Hongdong. Taiyuan and Pingyang suffered the most damage. More than 100,000 houses were destroyed or damaged. It is said “mountains were destroyed and cities were removed”. Cracks on the ground were changed into channels. The Lize canals in Zhaocheng, Hongdong and Linfen were destroyed. More than 200,000 people were buried under collapsed buildings and several hundred thousand were injured. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn]

The damage was particularly bad in Zhaozheng county. The walls of the temple school and the Nvwa Temple were destroyed. The Dongwu pavilion of Cahngchun temple was completely destroyed. The temple turned into hollow space. In Hongdong, the lower part of the Guangshang Temple was almost completely leveled. The temple of the city god was also destroyed. Both temples were reconstructed after the earthquake.

In Huo County almost all official and civilian buildings were ruined and nothing was left. The official building, the school, the Guangshun temple and the Fuchang temple all collapsed. The temple of Emperor Yao was damaged. According to one reported from the time: "It was quite unfortunate that an earthquake occurred... Pingyang and Taiyuan were both leveled to the ground. More than 100,000 people were pressed flat. The temples and figures of gods were all destroyed. The gate of the village was damaged. Someone suggested reconstructing it. The work was completed in March 21 of the next year. The wood engraving would be carried out by Deng Junzhang and Guo Bei of our village."

Deadliest Earthquake in History Killed 830,000 People in Shaanxi in 1556

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film about the Tangshan earthquake
In January 23, 1556, an earthquake of 8 magnitudes occurred in Hua County of Shanxi, killing an estimated 830,000 people. Based on loss of life it is regarded as the worst earthquake of all time. Historical records described cracks appearing in the plateaus and the plains, water and sands gushing out from underground. City walls, temples, official dwelling places and houses of common inhabitants were all destroyed. Qin Keda, a scholar who survived this earthquake, recorded the complete process of the earthquake and concluded that “at the very beginning of the earthquake, people indoors should not go out immediately. Just crouch down and wait for chances. Even if the nest is collapsed, some eggs in it may still be kept intact”. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn]

According to History.com: “Counting casualties is often imprecise after large-scale disasters, especially prior to the 20th century, but this disaster is still considered the deadliest of all time. The quake struck in late evening, with aftershocks continuing through the following morning. Later scientific investigation revealed that the magnitude of the quake was approximately 8.0 to 8.3, which isn’t close to the strongest tremor on record. However, the quake struck in the middle of a densely populated area with poorly constructed buildings and homes, resulting in a horrific death toll. [Source: History.com]

“The epicenter of the earthquake was in the Wei River Valley in the Shaanxi Province, near the cities of Huaxian, Weinan and Huayin. In Huaxian, every single building and home collapsed, killing more than half the residents of the city, a number estimated in the tens of thousands. It was a similar story in Weinan and Huayin. In some places, 60-foot-deep crevices opened in the earth. Serious destruction and death occurred as much as 300 miles away from the epicenter. The earthquake also triggered landslides, which contributed to the massive death toll. Even if the number of deaths caused by the Shaanxi earthquake has been overestimated slightly, it would still rank as the worst disaster in history by a considerable margin See Above).

Great Shandong Earthquake of 1668

The Great Tancheng earthquake,, also known as the Shandong earthquake was a major seismic event that occurred on July 25, 1668. It had an estimated magnitude of 8.5 and is regarded as the largest historical earthquake in Eastern China, and one of the largest in the world ever. An estimated 43,000 to 50,000 people died and tremors were felt over a large area. The epicenter is believed to have been between Juxian and Tancheng County, northeast of the city Linyi in southern Shandong. The earthquake triggered a tsunami and aftershock lasted for six years/ The shaking intensity was estimated to have reached XII (Extreme) on the Mercalli intensity scale, the most destructive shaking an earthquake could achieve. [Source: Wikipedia

The earthquake wiped out every home, temple, battlement and storehouse in an area with a diameter of more than 50 kilometers in Ju county. In Linyi, no house was left standing and black water was said to have emerge from fissures. Walls collapsed in nearby cities, rivers overflowed and flooded, fountains of water erupted from wells and ground fissures. In Tancheng County water shot up into the air more that 10 meters. Fissures were said to be so deep that people couldn’ see the bottom.

Pu Songling. was famous 17th century literary figure in China who lived in Zichuan, Shandong, where the main earthquake struck at that time it occurred. In an article entitled Earthquake, that appeared in his famous “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio”, he wrote: On July 25, 1668, a serious earthquake occurred. I was drinking with one of my cousins, suddenly; we heard sounds like the rumbling of the thunders coming from the Southeast, and died away in the Northwest. We were all quite scared but we didn't know what occurred. A short while later, our table was tossed up and down. The beams of the houses groaned audibly. A moment later, we got to know an earthquake was happening and we got out immediately. It was quite noisy outside and we could here the cries and screams of women and children everywhere. When we look at the street, we could see men and women stayed together without any clothes. They were so nervous as to forget having something on. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn]

There was a woman who just got up to the toilet when the earthquake occurred. She came back and saw a wolf taking her son away. The neighbors came to her help and the wolf ran away leaving her son. The woman was quite happy and started to tell her adventures wrestling with the wolf. A long time later, she came back to her sober mind and realized she didn't wear anything! Immediately the woman ran away with great abashment.

Severe Earthquakes in China in the 19th Century

A strong earthquake occurred in China on July 24, 1836. Tablet Inscriptions at the Buddha Temple read: An earthquake occurred at midnight. The temple collapsed. More than seven counties suffered from the earthquake and 87,621 dwellings collapsed. 6707 people were pressed flat. The flood became more fierce with the heavy rain, people had no place to find a shelter, let alone food and drink. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn]

A magnitudes 7.5 earthquake occurred on April 11 (or March 11) 1871 at Batang, Sichuan province. Officer Luozong Wangdeng wrote in “The Merits and Virtues Inscriptions about Earthquakes in Chinese and Tibetan”: With a loud explosive, hundreds of houses were ruined in a second. All mansions, temples, storehouses, forts and residential buildings collapsed. Later on, a fire arose and spread quickly. Houses were burned down. Thousands of Han soldiers and Lamas were buried. Everything collapsed and were ruined to the ground. The ground changed quickly, either became a deep hole or a cliff like gap. The road was split by a 19 miles long gap, one to three feet wide with a deviation of three to six feet. The Batang area was damaged most severely and the damage also cover from Samla to Bachage Mountain up and down to KoKo Mountain. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn] . Nature reported: The American Minister in China, General Lowe, has just forwarded the following account of the fearful earthquake which occurred in the Bathang: “Bathang lies on a very elevated spot beyond the province about 200 miles west of Li-Tang, and about thirty post stations from the district town of Ta-tsien, on the high road to Thibet. About eleven o'clock on the morning of the 11th of April, the earth at Bathang trembled so violently that the government offices, temples, granaries, stone houses, storehouses, and fortifications, with all the common dwellings and the temple of Ting-lin, were at once overthrown and ruined; the only exception was the hall in the temple grounds, called Ta-Chao, which stood unharmed in its isolation.

A few of the troops and people escaped, but most of the inmates were crushed and killed under the falling timber and stone. Flames also suddenly burst out in four places, which strong winds drove about until the heavens were darkened with the smoke, and their roaring was mingled with the lamentations of the distressed people. On the 16th the flames were beaten down, but the rumbling noises were still heard under ground like distant thunder, as the earth rocked and rolled like a ship in a storm. The multiplied miseries of the afflicted inhabitants were increased by a thousand fears, but in about ten days matters began to grow quiet, and the motion of the earth to cease. The grain collector at Bathang says that for several days before the earthquake the water had overflowed the dykes, but after that the earth cracked in many places, and black, foetid water spurted out in a furious manner. If one poked the earth the spurting instantly followed, just as is the case with the salt wells and fire wells in the eastern part of the province; and this explains how it happened that fire followed the earthquake in Bathang. As nearly as can be ascertained there were destroyed two large temples, the offices of the collector of grain tax, the local magistrates' offices, the Ting-lin temple, and nearly yoo fathoms of wall around it, and 351 rooms in all inside; six smaller temples, numbering 221 rooms, besides 1849 rooms and houses of the common people. The number of people killed by the crash, including the soldiers, was 2,298, among whom were the local magistrate and his second in office. The earthquake extended from Bathang eastward to Pang-Chahemuth, westward to Nan-Tun, on the south to Lintsah-shih, and on the north to the salt wells to Atimtoz, a circuit of over 400 miles. It occurred simultaneously over the whole of this region. In some places steep hills split and sunk into deep chasms, in others mounds on level plains became precipitous cliffs, and the roads and highways were rendered impassable by obstructions. The people were beggared and scattered like autumn leaves, and this calamity to the people of Bathang and the vicinity was really one of the most distressing and destructive that has ever occurred in China.”

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Memorial for the Tangshan Earthquake in 1976

Strong Earthquakes in China in the Early 20th Century

A magnitude 7.6 earthquake on the Gansu-Qinghai Border Region of China on May 22, 1927 killed more than 40,900 people. Some reports say as may as 200,000 people died. This event is called the 1927 Gulang earthquake or the Nan-Shan earthquake. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) there was extreme damage in the Gulang-Wuwei area. “Landslides buried a town near Gulang and dammed a stream in Wuwei County, creating a new lake. Large fissures and sandblows occurred in the area. Damage occurred from Lanzhou through Minqin and Yongchang to Jinta. It was felt at Xi'an and as far as 700 kilometers (440 miles) from the epicenter. This area along the base of the Qilian Shan (formerly named Nan Shan, which is why this is sometimes called the Nan Shan earthquake) was part of the Silk Road connecting China with Central Asia. Some sources list the death toll as high as 200,000, but this may be a confusion with the much-bigger Ningxia quake of 1920. Also, Gu et al. report that over 250,000 livestock were killed by this earthquake.” [Source: USGS]

The 1932 Changma earthquake in Gansu occurred at 10:04am December 25 . It had an estimated magnitude of 7.6 and destroyed 1,167 houses and caused 275 to 70,000 deaths and 320 injuries. The earthquake was located on the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. It affected the entire Changma Basin and the western part of the Hexi Corridor in Gansu province. The greatest damage occurred in Changma. In Gaotai, Jinta, Anxi and Dingxin part of the city walls and some buildings collapsed and many houses were damaged. In the town of Changma all 800 families were affected, 270 people died and at least another 300 were injured; deaths were also recorded in Gaotai (3) and Jinta (2). [Source: Wikipedia]

1920 Haiyuan Earthquake

At around 7:00pm or 8:00pm on December 6, 1920, a massive earthquake hammered Haiyuan County in north-central China. The epicenter was in the LiuPan Mountain area on the borders of Gansu Province and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Haiyuan and Xiji counties were damaged most seriously. The earthquake was felt over a widespread area — Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi and even Qinghai, Hennan, and part of Shanxi also suffered from the earthquake. When the earthquake took place, the lights swayed in Beijing. Even the people far away in Shanghai could feel it.[Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn]

According to the Guinness Book of Records the earthquake produced the deadliest landslide ever, killing 180,000 people in Gansu Province on December 16, 1920. The earthquake occurred at a depth of about 15 kilometers and aftershocks followed for three years. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) describes it as a magnitude 8.3 event, and the Chinese Earthquake Administration said it measured 8.5. The death toll from the quake and landslides associated with it and from starvation and exposure in the extreme winter cold that followed was very high. The USGS estimated conservatively that 200,000 people died. A 2010 Chinese study estimates that 273,000 people perished. Almost half of the people in Haiyuan County reportedly died. [Source: AIR Worldwide, December 17, 2020]

A letter by Lin Cai to his mother read: This earthquake caused “the villages in East LiuPan Mountain area to be buried. The ground surface became high hills and deep valleys. The mountain exploded and the ground opened up. Dark water flooded anywhere. The four cities including Haiyuan and Guyuan were completely destroyed. More than 70,000 peopled died in the earthquake in Haiyuan only. The total casualty was no less than 200,000.” “ Walls and buildings of Guyuan were collapsed, the bulk head was ruined. The rural areas were hit more severely. Two villages the northwest were leveled completely. 30,000 people were killed and 60,000 domestic animals were buried in soil.”

It was extremely cold that day when the earthquake occurred. Because the residents stayed indoors, many people died in the earthquake. After the earthquake, the North Warlords didn't take any measures and they simply let things go from bad to worse. Some people were suffocated to death. Some died of the pains in serious wounds or were even tore up by wolves. Many people died of hunger or coldness. The spread of the diseases in the next years also resulted in numerous death.

Xingtai Earthquake in Hebei Kills Over 8,000 in 1996

From March 8 to March 29, 1966, a series of earthquakes over magnitudes 6 or 7 occurred in Xingtai in Hebei Province. The first earthquake — a 6.8 magnitudes one — struck East of Longyao County, Xintai, Hebei. Then five more earthquakes, all over magnitude 6 took place one after the other. On March 22, the most serious earthquake — measuring 7.8 in magnitude — hit the Southeastern part of Ningjin County. Because of the soft soil and high underground water level in the earthquake area, the earthquake caused tremendous damages to large areas. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn]

More than 142 counties were affected by the 6.8 magnitude earthquake and more than 136 counties were severely damaged by a 7.2 scale earthquake. The earthquake felt areas included Duolun (in Inner Mongolia) in the North, Yantai (in Shandong Province) in the East, Nanjing (in Jiangsu Province) in the South and Tongchuan in the West.

The earthquake caused the deaths of 8,182 people and injured 51,395. More than 2 million dwellings and 86 bridges were destroyed. Altogether, more than 115 fires were caused by the earthquake and 16 people were burned to death. The number of burned houses was 153. Avalanches occurred in 300 places in Xingtai and nearby, which caused 22 consequent fires. About 80 hectares of forest and brush mountains were burned The ground opened up and underground water was sprouted out.

Some bridges over the Puyang River were seriously damaged. The top was removed from the 1.8- meter pier of the Da Xin Village Bridge, cutting off road access to the south. Even in Tianjin and Zhuo County, some distance away, electricity stopped for a short time. There was also severe damages in the West part of Shi Jiazhuang, Xiyang in Shangxi Province. The Central Government paid much attention to the earthquake, immediately ordering the army to help out in rescue efforts. Premier Zhou Enlai arrived at the quake-stricken area on March 9th in spite of dangers from aftershock. A total of 94 medical teams and 7115 medical personnel were dispatched there too.

More damage from the Tangshan Earthquake in 1976

Tangshan Earthquake

The worst earthquake in the last 250 years and the third worst one of all time occurred in Tangshan, a city on the South China Sea about 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Beijing. It is estimated that 270,000 people were killed and 160,000 were injured.

The Tangshan earthquake struck at 3:42am on July 26, 1976 and measured 7.8 on Richter scale. The epicenter was near the city center. It is quite unusual for this to happen. Within seconds, a city with one million people was razed to the ground. The people and the city suffered much from the earthquake. Even Beijing and Tianjin were severely affected. Damage occurred over a 30,000 square kilometer area. The shock could be felt in 14 provinces, cities and municipalities, one-third of the country territory. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn]

"For 20 seconds," wrote Patrick Tyler in the New York Times, " the landscape heaved repeatedly, pummeling the city of just over one million with earth-splitting jolts and causing all but a handful of buildings to collapse on sleeping residents. All communications were cut off. People crawled from the rubble dazed and in darkness. A light drizzle was falling. Nearly one-forth of Tangshan's resident's were dead." Water supplies were cut off, factories were destroyed, people dug for buried neighbors until they dropped from exhaustion and went days without food and water. More than 7,000 entire families were wiped out.

According to the Chinese government after the earthquake, the central government organized emergency operations and helped 300,000 out of 600,000 people survivors escape from Tangshan. The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) sent nearly 150,000 soldiers to help with the rescue work. The take-offs and landing of the aircrafts reached up to 390 planes each day. A total of 159 special health care trains were sent to Tangshan. Government agencies at all levels helped drinking water, food and clothing in a timely manner. Preparatory work for the reconstruction started at the end of 1976. By 1990 and new Tangshan had been rebuilt and was flourishing.

At the time of the Tangshan earthquake, in 1976, the Chinese government was in the last stages of the Cultural Revolution, before Chairman Mao’s death, and was widely criticized for its insufficient mobilization immediately following the earthquake. Recovery from Tangshan earthquake in 1976 was delayed due to political struggles that took place after the death of Mao. There were reports that the earthquake was preceded by strange animal behavior and other signals.

Tangshan Earthquake Damage, Deaths and Casualties

The Tangshan earthquake took place in the middle of the night when nearly everyone was sleeping. Most of victims where unable to do anything and were buried in the ruins. The places of most severe damage extended over an area of 47 square kilometers. All buildings along the Jing-Shan railway were completely destroyed. One eight-kilometers-long and 30-meter-wide crack opened up across courtyards, houses, roads and canals. In the earthquake area and nearby, there were crack zones, watersprouts, sand boils, blow holes, land and mudslides, rolling boulders, foundation subsidence, Karst cave collapses and the opening of sinkholes. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn]

Casualty figures vary. One report listed 655,237 dead and 779,000 injured. A 1979 report by the Chinese Seismological Society listed 242,000 dead and 164,000 injured. Just in Tangshan, 1700 people suffered disabilities for their lives. The direct economic loss was 540 million yuan as well as the damages of 530 houses and 1479 square kilometers of public houses.

Water, power, mines, communication and road traffic were all completely shut down. Infrastructure including hospitals and pharmaceutical equipment were completely destroyed. During the earthquake, seven commodity and oil container trains derailed. The highway bridge over the Jiyun River and Luan River collapsed and cut off the traffic from Tangshan to Tianjin and the Northeast. Water pipelines and water plants were severely damaged. Buildings and infrastructures in Kailuan Mines were damaged too. The underground work was stopped and nearly ten thousand workers were blocked there. Tangshan Iron and Steel Corporation were forced to stop. The melting iron and steel was solidified in the furnace.

Three large-size reservoirs and two medium-size dams collapsed and were split. The supposed wave-proof walls crashed down like the walls of Jericho. A total of. 240 of the 410 small reservoirs were destroyed and 60,000 pumped wells were clogged with sand. Sand covered 330 square kilometers of agricultural land; salt water-flooded lands soil reached 470 square kilometers. More than 55,000 farm machines were damaged; 36,000 livestock and 442,000 pigs were killed. Living conditions for survivors deteriorated quickly and intestine infections and stomach diseases spread far and wide.

Survivor Stories from Tangshan

Survivors recall watching the entire city collapse around them, being trapped for days beneath rubble and abandoning loved ones to search for survivors. "It was very silent for a few seconds," one survivor told the New York Times, "and then you began to hear the shouts and cries." Later another survivor said, "No one cried. It was so big and so many people died that the streets were all piled up with copses. People didn't even think to cry."

Officials in Beijing didn't realized the city had been completely leveled until 12 hours after it happened. They were alerted to the scale of the disaster by a Tangshan coal miner, Li Yulin, who drove a red ambulance for six hours along dirt roads to reach Beijing. He showed up with mud all over his face and his clothes in tatters at the gates of Zhongnanhai, the high-walled compound where China's leaders live, to deliver his report.

"It took days to mobilize the army and start relief operations," Tyler wrote. "The Tangshan residents dug with their hands, stacking tens of thousands of bodies along the alleyways and roads so chocked by debris that the trucks could not always get through to remove the dead. Airplanes flew over the city spewing disinfectant to stop the spread of disease. China's leaders forbade foreigners from traveling to the area and rejected offers of aid from international relief agencies...With no water and only bags of biscuits dropped from airplanes in the first days, the people of this city had little time to mourn the dead, whose bodies were dumped in mass graves."

"There were a lot of heroic stories," one man told Reuter. "For the following few days there was no water to drink, but still people were able to get restaurant produce. Tangshan otherwise recovered miraculously quick. Some of city’s famous pottery plants started up after 20 days and all of them were producing by the end of the year.

Coverage and Legacy of the Tangshan Earthquake

W.G. Huang wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “Through the media we were told the Chinese people took pride in being self-reliant and were capable of handling our own disaster. Then...our teacher told us the government was worried the foreigners would come in and infiltrate China under the pretense of helping out. Once a week we spent an afternoon in school reading in the government newspaper about how people overcame adversity in the disaster areas inspired by a Chairman Mao quotation: 'Humans can conquer nature.'"

“Still unofficial reports slipped through. One time I heard from a friend whose mother was a nurse and had been summoned to Tangshan that tens of thousands of people had been killed. When I told my father, he immediately warned me not to share re information with others. He was worried I could get myself into trouble for spreading rumors...The result of all this secrecy and effort to control rumors was, of course, that people relied heavily on rumors, even to make critical decisions.”

Tangshan was able to recover with generous support form the government and materials form the area's abundant natural resources. Today, Tangshan is a prosperous industrial city of 1.55 million people (six times as many people as after the 1976 earthquake). "Basically a whole new city was planned on top of the ruins," a city official told New York Times.

During the 20th anniversary of the earthquake banners and slogans at construction sites read "Develop the Spirit of Resisting the Earthquake to Build Times Plaza" and "Diligently Launch the Month of Famous Gods Sales to Commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Resisting the Earthquake." At one timer there were plans to build a $72 million Tangshan earthquake theme park.

Mao died only months after the Tangshan earthquake, which was seen by some as a “mandate from heaven.”

Aftershock and Buried, Films About the Tangshan Earthquake

“Aftershock “(2010) become the highest-grossing domestic film of all time in China, earning $79 million in the summer of 2010. Directed by Feng Xiaogang, it tells the story of a mother's emotional reunion with her daughter, three decades after a 1976 earthquake devastated the Chinese city of Tangshan, killing more than 240,000 people.

Describing the opening of “Aftershock”, Richard Bernstein of the New York Times wrote: “First you see a tremendous swarm of dragonflies, which is one of those odd natural phenomena believed to prefigure an earthquake. Then there are some modest scenes of domestic life in the Chinese city of Tangshan on July 27, 1976. An unsuspecting brother and sister squabble over a single tomato, until their mother settles the dispute by giving it to the boy...Then at 3:42 a.m. on July 28, unmitigated disaster strikes...Buildings shake, the earth splits apart, bricks, concrete slabs and roofs cascade downward as a city of one million people is reduced to rubble in the space of 23 seconds. Among the victims are the two children we’ve already met, pinioned under a concrete slab, covered in dust, their lives ebbing away.”

Based loosely on a novel by the Chinese-Canadian writer Zhang Ling, Aftershock is something of a Chinese version of William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, in which a mother is forced to choose which of her two children will survive the Holocaust. In the Chinese case, the mother of the two children trapped under the concrete slab is told by rescue workers that, in order to save one child, the slab will have to be moved in such a way that the other child will be crushed. The mother is pushed to decide — quickly, because time is running out... Save my son, she says, in an anguished voice just loud enough so her daughter can hear. A family drama of love, guilt, separation and redemption ensues that local audiences have clearly found deeply moving.”

Wang Libo’s film “Buried” was one of the prizewinners of the 2009 Beijing Documentary Film Festival. Made in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, this probing documentary looks back at controversies surrounding the 1976 Tangshan Earthquake... Using a range of expert testimonies, Wang builds a provocative argument that Chinese officials had significant information forewarning of an imminent earthquake, but did not take sufficient action to help prevent the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. The implications of the film’s conclusions bear heavily on the Chinese government’s handling of both the Tangshan and the Sichuan earthquake. Buried leaves disturbing questions about the power and responsibility of government in disaster management. [Source: dgeneratefilms.com ]

On his “Buried” Wang Libo said: The 1976 Tangshan Earthquake left a lot of open questions. Before the earthquake, seismological personnel in Tangshan and quake experts in Beijing had already warned of an imminent quake. But in the end, more than 240,000 people had to pay with their lives, causing a shocking tragedy of massive proportions. Why did this happen? In the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake about 100,000 people were killed. Faced with terrible quakes, the human race repeats tragedy time and time again. It is terrible that people can only offer money and bland tears after the disaster when better preparation could have saved lives. A nation has to courageously face its own weakness to remain hopeful.

The entire film, embedded via YouTube, can be watched here: http://dgeneratefilms.com/critical-essays/controversial-earthquake-doc umentary-now-on-youtube/

Image Sources: Taken from various sources on the Internet, Qinhai earthquake from China.org

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2022

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