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China: Afterthoughts following the New Zealand earthquake

By John Kennedy

Like 7-year-old Julie Murphy getting her lemonade stand shut down earlier this summer, news of the earthquake last week in New Zealand inspired countless discussions all across the Chinese Internet.

For Sina blogger and Christchurch resident Sun Jiayang, this was her first earthquake:


Reading Chinese reports, all seem highly favorable of New Zealand's response to the earthquake. For sure, the scale of this earthquake was roughly the same as that of the one in Haiti; yet no one died, and only two were injured. You can't deny that this was a miracle. One reason being that Christchurch has nearly no tall buildings, another being that the earthquake took place just after entertainment venues closed for the night; one hour earlier and the situation would have been completely different. Rescue teams were quickly dispatched, a great relief to residents who showed no signs of panicking. Aside from drinking water being quite scarce, that is, and shops being despicable in raising the price of water so high.

More of Sun's photos can be seen here.

The minimal damage done and lack of deaths directly caused by the earthquake, writes Sina blogger Vast Digital Ocean, was less of a miracle than the result of solid preparation, from schools to building standards:


We will never forget how, after the Wenchuan earthquake, it was discovered that schools which collapsed had previously been reported as unsound, that steel wire had even been used in place of steel bars in concrete bases; we paid a particularly devastating price as a result of those tofu-dreg schoolhouses. And in New Zealand, responsibility for any problems which do appear is firmly placed on the builders, architects and government personnel who gave approval.


Further, the degree to which the public is informed about protection against earthquakes is also key. According to experts, based on the experiences of past major earthquakes, 90% of deaths take place when people run outside and are crushed under collapsing walls and buildings. In earthquake-prone Japan, earthquake response drills are held every year so that when earthquakes do strike, the public won't panic. While China does at present place significant emphasis on earthquake response education, campaigns promoting earthquake response know-how lack both continuity and breadth. Many people aren't clear on the theories regarding how earthquakes occur, and thus are prone to believe earthquake rumors.


Just what does “people as the base” mean? The experience of the New Zealand earthquake gives us an ample explanation. One statistic suggests that of earthquakes over the past fifty years of similar scale, deaths incurred in developing nations have been more than 20 times higher than in developed nations. As the planet has entered an era of seismic activity in recent years, strengthening and spreading earthquake response education has become extremely important; this earthquake in New Zealand serves as a most telling instruction.

While not everyone has forgotten the lives lost in the devastating earthquake in Sichuan, in the two years since, have building standards improved? This is the angle Sina blogger ‘Traveler for Life' takes in his September 7 post, ‘Can the zero-death miracle of New Zealand's earthquake be copied?':



Speaking plainly, the prime minister of New Zealand said, ‘We were very lucky that no lives were lost in the earthquake.' To see the prime minister attribute this miracle to “luck”, and not factor in wise government policies and what not, leaves me scratching my head. That someone so honest and straightforward can end up as head of a rich nation leaves me even further surprised.

Getting to my point, can or cannot New Zealand's miracle be copied? My response to that is pessimistic. Just like Han Han's life cannot be copied, nor can New Zealand's miracle.


Why is my view on this so pessimistic? Due to excess negative stimulus, I just can't be optimistic. When I see developers using bamboo sticks in place of steel bars in Anhui, I have to ask, are buildings where materials have been skimmed like this able to withstand an earthquake? No. Yet even this week, in the ancient dynastic capitol of Xi'an, steel bars on the building supplies market were discovered to have been pulled extra thin to save costs. And reportedly, these bars are being used in around a hundred different workplaces. With these deadly bars being used in the building of commercial housing, some people are laughing while others are distressed. When the next major earthquake strikes, even god won't be able to protect us.
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