Han Song: What if a Big Earthquake was to Happen in Beijing?

In his latest post, science fiction writer and subversive blogger Han Song considers the possibility of a major earthquake in Beijing.

Han Song’s style is a little disjointed at times, and this post swings from fantasy and dissidence to history and geology. His assessment of the situation is thought-provoking, if a little 2012. Below is a translation of the post, followed by some highlights from the comments.


Following the earthquake in Yushu, Qinghai province, earthquake experts have corrected themselves, saying that the earth is entering an active period, and that from now on there will be an increase in major earthquakes (earlier, they said that the earthquakes that are happening now were normal).

Whilst paying attention to the relief efforts and the death toll of the Yushu earthquake, I can’t help thinking, could an earthquake possibly hit northern areas, even Beijing? It’s been calm there for many years now. Beijing’s anti-earthquake measures are said to be of comparatively good quality, but I don’t feel particularly comfortable with the build quality of today’s housing.

The population of Beijing is close to 18 million. If 1% were to die in a disaster, that’s still 180,000. I hope you’re not one of these.

In the past few years, Beijing has performed as a hub for the co-ordination of disaster relief efforts. The relief from earthquakes, blizzards and droughts in successive years has all come from Beijing. If Beijing were to be destroyed by an earthquake, especially if ‘big brains’ [presumably governmental leaders and other major decision-makers] were to perish, then the functions of important departments would be lost. Such a situation would be very scary.

Thinking about the scattered bodies of provincial, departmental and bureau cadres, perhaps we can’t call such a situation “scary”.

Of course, the falling of the new terminal building at Capital Airport, the National Grand Theatre, and the new CCTV building would be scary scenes.

Moreover, Beijing is the main force behind the building of a ‘harmonious society’…

But at that time, we would have to think more of Beijing’s common people. In these times, buying a house in Beijing isn’t easy.

In particular, Beijing people don’t respect nature very much these days. At night, it’s even difficult to see the stars in the city. The headquarters of Science-Fiction World and Aomi [China’s two most famous science-fiction magazines] aren’t even in Beijing.

But Beijing has the People’s Daily. So, Beijing needs to do some advance preparation. Actually, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to live in one of those shipping containers that have been spreading around on the internet.

Beijing is located at the confluence of the Yanshan and the central Huabei plain seismic zones, and is also close to the Fenwei seismic zone and the Tanlu Fault; it’s a big earthquake zone.

There was a level 8 earthquake in Beijing in 1679 (the epicentre was in the region of Pinggu and Sanhe). There was no accurate death toll statistic taken at the time, but historical records mention: “officials were unable to calculate successfully the earthquake death toll, entire families were lost”, “mountains of dead bodies, identification impossible”, “the foul stench of the dead filled the air” […] “a military commander named Li entered the city with 87 men and found lodgings. The hotel collapsed entirely; only 3 survived”…

Other relatively strong Beijing earthquakes include a level 6.7 quake that hit Beijing’s southern suburbs in 1057, a 6.5 quake in Juyongguan in 1484, and a 6.7 quake in Tong County in 1665, among others. This doesn’t even include a series of earthquakes in Hebei, near Beijing.

According to the history books, since records began, the area of Beijing (including Hebei) has suffered 592 earthquakes (the last occurring on March 4th 1957), 67 of which were level 7 or above (the last being the July 28th 1967 earthquake in Tangshan).

Some say that Beijing’s big earthquakes took place over a period of 300 years, and after the Tangshan earthquake there will not be another. Oh, I hope so. But experts have also said that it’s impossible to predict earthquakes, so no-one dares to guarantee it.

Don’t say that I’m ‘motivated by a desire to see the world in chaos’, it’s just ‘living in peace while preparing for war’, and [promulgating] common knowledge.


Wang Gangqiang:

Recently, sometimes there’s an earthquake, sometimes there isn’t. How powerful the earthquake was, we only know when it’s over.
How many quakes there have been, everyone will be told afterwards, everyone please relax!
Those who are scared can go and sleep outside, those who aren’t can sleep in their homes, and maintain the normal order of their lives. Don’t spread rumours out of boredom, you’ll terrify us all.

Song Yu’an:

“Living in peace whilst preparing for war”, highly necessary!


Last time you said “it’s appropriate to die in Shanxi”, then there was an accident in a Shanxi coalmine. Don’t make me afraid. My daughter is 6, I’m now having to teach her how to run away quickly if there’s a murderer in her school, how to run downstairs if there’s an earthquake, it’s scaring her so much she’s afraid all day. Last time she prayed to Buddha that there wouldn’t be an earthquake. Now she’s very angry with her Buddhist ancestors.

Song Yukun:

Is the world waking up? I pray that this blogger’s delusions don’t become reality.

0 thoughts on “Han Song: What if a Big Earthquake was to Happen in Beijing?”

  1. Slight correction: the date of the Tangshan earthquake was in 1976, not 1967.

    180,000 people dying? I’d imagine it would be much higher than that, depending on the circumstances of where the epicenter was, the magnitude, and what time of day it hit. Also, especially considering the sheer density of a place like Beijing. Imagine if it was during the day and the subways collapsed. The result would be absolutely catastrophic.

    The Tangshan quake killed around 245,000 because it leveled poorly constructed buildings in the middle of the night.

    I read in a book not long ago that Jiang Qing (Mao’s wife) said after the quake, what do 245,000 matter when there are so many others in China to be worried about?


  2. PP, I heard about this, too. But i can’t find any reliable source, that could give me some useful information about this. I’m German, but I’ve friends in Beijing. I’m rally worried. I would like to get more information about, if there will be an earthquake between 23rd and 29th April in Beijing, or not. Does anybody know about a useful link or something? Information in Chinese would be Ok as well.


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