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From Tangshan to Wenchuan: a fault line through modern China
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13:51, June 16, 2008

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· 8.0 Richter scale earthquake hits SW China
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Following the 8.0-magnitude earthquake that rocked southwest China on May 12, a young woman sent her own shockwaves through the Internet.

Under the name "Post-90 Xiao Yun", she uploaded about 10 intimate photos of herself, including some in which she was completely nude, on to www.tianya.cn, one of the country''''s leading online communities. They were posted with an appeal to the public to donate to the quake relief effort.

Xiao Yun, who claimed to be 19 and a native of Sichuan Provinceliving in Beijing, wrote that she was a student and was pleased tosee people across the country helping Sichuan. She called for further donations and promised more photos as an incentive.

The move caused a public uproar and wide divisions.

Whether her behavior was proper or not is open to debate, but it serves as an extreme example of how greatly Chinese society has changed since the Tangshan earthquake in 1976.


On July 28, 1976, towards the end of the 10-year Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the industrial city Tangshan, 150 km east of Beijing, was torn apart by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake.

Yu Pei, a Beijing resident then aged 22, hurriedly set up a temporary shelter with his neighbors at a downtown stadium. Nationwide, almost 400 million frightened people abandoned their homes for rough shelters.

In these emergency shanty towns, slogans such as "Denounce Deng while conducting disaster relief" were ubiquitous. They referred to the future Chinese leader and author of the country''''s reform and opening up, Deng Xiaoping, who had been rehabilitated in 1973, but was still under attack from his political rivals as an alleged inciter of mass protests.

Posters and paintings of these slogans were everywhere; reminders that revolutionary class struggle was still the primary mission for China.

So there were few reports about the rescue and relief work by troops and members of the public. The media reported instead how people in quake-ravaged Tangshan held "denouncing-Deng meetings" in the rubble.

"At the time, there were all kinds of rumors and it was really hard to know what was true. People were scared and upset," recalls Yu Pei, now 54, a specialist in world history at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The Tangshan earthquake claimed more than 240,000 lives. But the death toll was only revealed three years later, after Deng took power.

Zhang Jianping, author of "The Fault Line", a book about the Tangshan earthquake, says the recovery of individual and family life following the tremor was seldom mentioned in public or in the media.

The primary goals and issues at the time were to "restore production of coal, steel and porcelain as soon as possible", says Zhang, who then served in the Air Force of the People''''s Liberation Army (PLA) in Tangshan. The industrial city was known for coal, steel and porcelain.

Traditional Chinese values have long held that individuals should, if necessary, sacrifice themselves for the collective and national good.

But during the Tangshan earthquake, under the reins of the ultra-left, individual interests and values were neglected, and everything was subject to the needs of the "class struggle".

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