1976 Tangshan earthquake

title = Tangshan earthquake
date = July 28, 1976
(China time zone)

depth =
location = coord|39.60|N|118.20|E|display=inline,title
magnitude = 7.8
countries affected = People's Republic of China
casualties = highly controversial 242,419 to 779,000 dead (3rd deadliest earthquake of all time)
The Tangshan earthquake (zh-cp|c=唐山大地震|p=tángshān dà dìzhèn), also known as the Great Tangshan earthquake or GTEZschau, Jochen. Küppers, Andreas N. [2003] (2003). Early Warning Systems for Natural Disaster Reduction. ISBN 3540679626] , was a natural disaster that occurred on July 28, 1976. It is believed to be the largest earthquake of the 20th century by death toll.Spignesi, Stephen J. [2005] (2005). Catastrophe!: The 100 Greatest Disasters of All Time. ISBN 0806525584] The epicentre of the earthquake was near Tangshan in Hebei, People's Republic of China, an industrial city with approximately one million inhabitants. The number of deaths initially reported by the Chinese government was 655,000, but has since stated the number to be around 240,000 to 255,000. A further 164,000 people were recorded as being severely injured.Stoltman, Joseph P. Lidstone, John. Dechano, M. Lisa. [2004] (2004). International Perspectives On Natural Disasters. Springer publishing. ISBN 1402028504 ] The earthquake came in between a series of political events involving the Communist Party of China. It shook China both literally and figuratively in 1976, which was later labeled a "Year of curse".

The earthquake hit in the early morning, at 03:42:53.8 local time (1976 July 27 19:42:53.8 UTC), and lasted for around 10 seconds.Roza, Greg. [2007] (2007). Earthquake: True Stories of Survival. The Rosen Publishing. ISBN 1404209972] Chinese Government's official sources state 7.8 on the Richter magnitude scale, though some sources listed it as high as 8.2. It was followed by a major 7.8 magnitude aftershock some 16 hours later, increasing the death toll.

Early warnings and predictions

Many people in Tangshan reported seeing strange lights (the so-called earthquake light) the night before the earthquakeFact|date=May 2007. Well water in a village outside of Tangshan reportedly rose and fell three times the day before the earthquake. Gas began to spout out of a well in another village on July 12 and then increased on July 25 and July 26 fact|date=July 2008.

More than half a month before the earthquake struck, Wang Chengmin (汪成民) of the State Seismological Bureau (SSB) Analysis and Prediction Department had already concluded that the Tangshan region would be struck by a significant earthquake between July 22, 1976 to August 5, 1976. Abnormal signals were mentioned for Beijing, Tianjin, Tangshan, Bohai and Zhangjiakou regions. Wang made an effort to publicize the information to 60 people. One of the people listening in Qinglong was official Wang Chunqing (王春青).

The prepared: Qinglong County

After voicing the concerns to Wang Chunqing (王春青), his county took the report very seriously. Already some sources showed that the county had been preparing as much as two years earlier. [ [http://www.globalwatch.org/ungp/doc69-tr.htm www.globalwatch.org doc69] ] Up to 800 members of his county tried to respond. Between July 25-26, 1976 each community of Qinglong county had emergency meetings to prepare and instruct villagers. Buildings were examined and water reservoirs were given special attention. The county secretary in charge, Ran Guangqi (冉广岐) decided to risk his political career and certain jail term to prepare the 470,000 residents of the county for the upcoming earthquake by ordering officials to educate the people as well as evacuate the local population to safer areas.

Twenty years later (in 1995), the United Nations concluded that the early warnings paid off, and that public administrators, scientists and citizens working together increased the survival rate. There was a huge difference between a prepared versus an unprepared county.


The high loss of life caused by the earthquake can be attributed to the time it struck and how suddenly it struck, as well as to the quality and nature of the buildings people were in. The earthquake lacked the foreshocks that sometimes come with earthquakes of this magnitude. It also struck at just before 4 AM, leaving many people unprepared as they lay asleep.

Tangshan itself was thought to be in a region with a relatively low risk of earthquakes. Very few buildings had been built to withstand an earthquake, and the city lies on unstable alluvial soil. Therefore hundreds of thousands of buildings were destroyed.

The earthquake devastated the city over an area roughly 4 miles by 5 miles. Many of the people who survived the initial earthquake were trapped under collapsed buildings. Tremors were felt as far away as Xi'an approximately 470 miles (760 km) away. 85% of the buildings were collapsed into ruins or became uninhabitable.

The seismic waves spread far, with damage in cities such as Qinhuangdao and Tianjin, and a few buildings as far away as Beijing, 140 km from the epicenter, were damaged. The economic loss totaled to 10 billion yuan.

Death toll

Controversial statistics

Until fairly recently, China's political environment makes it difficult to gauge proper statistics with natural disasters. Successive governments have placed more importance on the appearance of harmony rather than proper information to discern the extent of the damages. The Tangshan Earthquake came at a rather politically sensitive time period during the late stages of the Cultural Revolution, making accurate statistics especially difficult to find. The Tangshan earthquake killed 242,419 people according to official figures, though some sources estimate a death toll is up to three times higher. This would make it the deadliest earthquake in modern times, and the second or third deadliest in recorded history. It is worth noting that the population of Tangshan at the time of quake strike was estimated to be around 1.6 million. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/28/newsid_4132000/4132109.stm News.bbc.co.uk on this day 4132109] ] As most of Tangshan's city proper was flattened, it is reasonable to estimate the actual death toll to be much higher.

Many experts believe the Chinese government has never released an accurate death toll for the disaster. The death toll figure of 242,419 came from the Chinese Seismological Service in 1988, while some sources have estimated the death toll to be at 650,000. [Pickering, Kevin T. Owen, Lewis A. [1997] (1997). An Introduction to Global Environmental Issues. Routledge. ISBN 0415140994.] Others range as high as 700,000. [Theodore S. Glickman. [1993] (1993). Acts of God and Acts of Man. DIANE Publishing. ISBN 1568063717] The initial estimates of 655,000 dead and 779,000 injured were released by Hebei Revolutionary Committee.Spence, Jonathan. [1991] (1991). The Search for Modern China. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393307808]


The Chinese government refused to accept international aid from the United Nations, and insisted on self reliance.Spence, Jonathan. [1991] (1991). The Search for Modern China. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393307808] Shanghai sent 56 medical teams to Tangshan, in addition to the People's Liberation Army who were assisting while also trying to fix their tarnished image of Red guards destructions earlier. Its own efforts were criticized as inadequate.Fact|date=May 2008 It was also criticized for having ignored scientists' warnings of the need to prepare for an earthquake. Fact|date=May 2008 Furthermore, many patients and wounded were ferried out to medical centers throughout China, due to the overwhelming number of wounded Fact|date=June 2008

Rebuilding infrastructure started immediately in Tangshan, and the city was eventually completely rebuilt. It now houses more than a million people and is known as "Brave City of China."

Political aftermath

The earthquake came as an event in one of the most dramatic years in the history of the People's Republic of China. In the continuous "Curse of 1976" in China: the earthquake was preceded by the death of Zhou Enlai in earlier months, followed by the deaths of Zhu De and Mao Zedong. Just a year before the disaster, the Gang of Four seemed unstoppable in 1975. [Lu, Ning. [2000] (2000). The Dynamics of Foreign-Policy Decisionmaking in China. Westview Press. ISBN 0813337461]

The political repercussions of the disaster and its aftermath contributed to the end of the Cultural Revolution in China. [cite web |url=http://discover.npr.org/rundowns/segment.jhtml?wfId=4281429 |title=NPR : A Disaster's Long-Term Effect in China |accessdate=2007-11-04 |format= |work=] The Gang of Four accused Deng Xiaoping of sabotaging relief efforts as part of its "Criticize Rightist Deviationism" campaign. Mao's chosen successor Hua Guofeng showed concern, thereby solidifying his status as China's paramount leader. He, with Chen Yonggui, made a personal visit to Tangshan on August 4 to survey the damage. This visit earned him considerable prestige and two months later, he staged what amounted to a coup by arresting the Gang of Four.

Generally, authorities who were unfavourable of Deng Xiaoping reminded residents in Tangshan and the rest of China that the struggle against Deng should not be hindered by a natural disaster. The Gang of Four filled the press about their concern for the victims, but explicitly said that the nation should not be diverted by the earthquake, and that the priority was to denounce Deng Xiaoping instead.Chang, Jung. [2003] (2003). Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. Simon and Schuster. China. ISBN 0743246985] Many of the first hand accounts of the quotes came from the autobiography of Wild Swans.

Jiang Qing said:

Other Gang of Four slogans said:

Other rally slogans read:


Within China's geography, the deadliest known earthquake in history occurred in 1556 in Shaanxi, China. The 1556 Shaanxi earthquake is estimated to have killed 830,000 people in China, although reliable figures from this period are hard to verify. [ [http://neic.usgs.gov/neis/eqlists/eqsmosde.html neic.usgs.gov] ] Another earthquake is the Gansu, China earthquake killing an estimated 200,000 in 1920. In 1927 another earthquake struck in the same area, this time at Xining; measuring 8.6 on the Richter scale it also resulted in 200,000 deaths. Other earthquakes that have caused an extreme loss of life in the same decade includes the Great Kantō earthquake, which killed 143,000 in Tokyo in 1923.

The 2008 Sichuan earthquake had the same measurement on the Richter scale at 8.0 in magnitude. It, however, occurred in a mountainous region where relief efforts were noticeably hampered by the geographical makeup of the land nearby. The Sichuan earthquake also had a much quicker and more organized response system than Tangshan, as the political, social and technological environment is different. The Chinese government allowed international aid and open media access to the disaster area.

ee also

*List of earthquakes
*List of earthquakes in China
*2008 Sichuan earthquake


External links

* [http://history1900s.about.com/library/weekly/aa061500a.htm "Tangshan: The Deadliest Earthquake"] at About.com
* [http://www.globalwatch.org/ungp/qinglong.htm "Integration of Public Administration and Earthquake Science: The Best Practice Case of Qinglong County"] at GlobalWatch.org
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/28/newsid_4132000/4132109.stm 1976: Chinese earthquake kills hundreds of thousands] (BBC, "On this day", 28 July)

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