5 Lessons From Deadly Quake in China

Hundreds are killed remote Qinghai province

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A 7.1 magnitude earthquake in the Western Chinese province of Qinghai has killed at least 400 so far and injured as many as 10,000. Chinese media report that the quake, which destroyed many buildings including an estimated 90 percent of homes in the town of Jeigu, has been followed by 18 aftershocks so far. While the impact has been disastrous, the affected area was primarily rural and mountainous, limiting the damage. Here are the lessons being drawn about the disaster.

  • Chinese Web Censorship Going Strong  The Wall Street Journal's Loretta Chao and Josh Chin report that Chinese social networking and search service Baidu was blocking topics related to Qinghai. "Filtering discussion on a sensitive region like Qinghai, which is located close to the Tibet Autonomous Region and is home to many ethnic Tibetans, would fall within the realm of what Chinese Web sites are sometimes required to do by the government."
  • ...Aggressive 'Media Management'  The New Yorker's Evan Osnos writes, "Xinhua has unleashed blanket coverage, which is the part of the new strategy by Chinese authorities to set the narrative of the news before it can take shape on the Web. This is notable when compared to the Tangshan Earthquake in 1976, which killed hundreds of thousands. China kept it quiet for years."
  • School Children Saved by Quake Timing?  The New Yorker's Evan Osnos explains, "In the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, schools collapsed in large numbers, while neighboring buildings survived. That led to a politically charged discussion of the extent to which corruption and waste contributed to poor school construction. It’s not yet clear how many students may have died, but early reports are encouraging." Osnos says that while 70 percent of school buildings reportedly collapsed, only five children were reported dead. Because the quake struck early in the morning, Osnos asks "Did timing save lives?"
  • Remote China Remains Far From Reach  Global Voices' John Kennedy grimly reports, "Relief work is being hampered by the remote location and high altitude of the epicenter, currently also experiencing sandstorms and below-zero weather; army officials have been frank about the challenges faced by rescue efforts due to lack of appropriate equipment in the area, with local police stating that while people are still alive in the rubble, they will have to be dug out by hand."
  • Will China Repeat Past Oppression?  Chinese Twitter user Foxmuldery predicts what the Chinese government's narrative may be: "1. There are no tofu-dreg buildings; 2. The victims are emotionally stable; 3. Out-of-province media are not allowed in for interviews; 4. All reporting must use Xinhua bulletins; 5. The names of the dead will not be made public; 6. People who make claims of tofu-dreg schools are guilty of state subversion; 7. Experts will once again explain why earthquakes cannot be forecast; 8. News reports of experts who in just March stated that destructive earthquakes would not take place again will disappear." (Translation via John Kennedy.)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.