United Nations Global Programme Study: Qinglong County Surviving the Tangshan Earthquake

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Integration of Public Administration and Earthquake Science: The Best Practice Case of Qinglong County 
First seismograph invented by Zhang Heng (79-133a.d.)  The magnitude 7.8 Great Tangshan Earthquake (GTE) occurred under the city of Tangshan, China, on July 28, 1976. When the dust settled, a quarter of a million people had died, and only a small handful of buildings were left standing. Emerging from this tragedy is a public administration best practice: public administrators of Qinglong County integrated scientific knowledge and monitoring by lay public, and prepared for the Great Tangshan Earthquake. Although 180,000 buildings in the county were destroyed, not one life was lost in the county due to the devastation (one person had a heart attack) while over 240,000 people died in surrounding areas. 

The UN Global Programme for the Integration of Public Administration and the Science of Disasters conducted a detailed study of Qinglong County between 1995-1996. This is Qinglong County's remarkable story. 

Oct.10, 1996 
Part of the following exhibit was presented at the Resumed Session of the 50th UN General Assembly in New York, April, 1996 

Related events and publications 
  • Chronology of the Qinglong County experience, in Guidelines on Capacity Building for Disaster Management, UN DDSMS, New York, 1996

  • National Public Radio aired interview with Dr. Jeanne-Marie Col on 

  • All Things Considered (26 July 1996) 


  • China's Campaign to Predict Quakes, by Li Hui, with Jeffrey Mervis in Science (13 September, 1996) 

Two years prior to the Great Tangshan Earthquake... 
The remarkable story of Qinglong County begins with State Council Document No. 69, issued two years earlier in 1974, alerting public officials in the North China-Bohai region of a possible magnitude 6 or greater earthquake. This national policy statement encouraged counties to intensify efforts in disaster preparedness, detection of earthquake precursors, public education and the strengthening of earthquake disaster management offices. 
Qinglong County began a campaign to educate the public on basic earthquake knowledge, precursory phenomena, and how to prepare for earthquakes. Over the next two years, county officials distributed more than 70,000 books and 14,000 exhibition posters, as well as presented over 120 slide shows prepared by the State Seismological Bureau. By mid-1976, nearly every county resident knew something about earthquakes.

Sixteen county-, 42 commune-, and 442 village-level observation stations were established and staffed by community volunteers. These lay stations watched for changes in color, clarity, temperature, and level of water, as well as changes in animal behavior, geoelectricity and geomagnetism. 

In response to Document No. 69, Qinglong County set up an earthquake disaster management programme headed by twenty-one-year-old administrator, Wang Chunqing. 

July 14-21, 1976 
Scientist Wang Chengmin 

Administrator Wang Chunqing

Two weeks before the Tangshan earthquake... 
Administrator Wang Chunqing attended a conference organized by the State Seismological Bureau (SSB) for the North China-Bohai region. During this conference, on the evening of July 16, 1976, scientist Wang Chengmin of the SSB's Analysis and Prediction Department spoke at an informal meeting attended by sixty conference participants. Young administrator Wang Chunqing was among the audience. He took detailed notes of the scientist's presentation, including this entry: 
  "...There is a strong possibility of a magnitude 5 
      earthquake from July 22 to August 5, 1976 in the 
      Tangshan region. A magnitude 8 is also likely in the 
      second half of '76. Preparations should be made 
On July 21, 1976, administrator Wang Chunqing returned to Qinglong County. He reported on the Tangshan conference, highlighted the talk given by scientist Wang Chengmin, and included updated information from the county's 16 lay monitoring stations. Public officials of Qinglong County took the report very seriously and acted upon the information immediately. 

School classes were relocated and held outdoors several days before the eventual earthquake. Students also played an important part in the collection of data. 
    At the Longshan High School, teacher Gao Qianhong 
  assigned a student team to monitor instruments
  measuring geomagnetism, crustal stress, and water-
  well levels. Another team was assigned to observe 
  animal behaviors. While the instrument group did not
  see any unusual signals, nocturnal animals like weasels 
  and rats were observed to move in broad daylight, unafraid 
  of their human observers. Based on these observations 
  and administrator Wang Chunqing's recommendations, 
  Mr. Gao organized a round-the-clock earthquake watch 
  and took other preparedness measures. 

    At the insistence of students who observed significant 
  changes in animal behavior, a school training workshop 
  on earthquake preparedness planned for July 28th was 
  moved to the 27th, one day earlier.
July 24, 1976 

An official early warning from the Chinese Communist Party Committee of Qinglong County was issued advising people to prepare for a possible devastating earthquake. 

The County government took advantage of a planned agricultural meeting to publicize the earthquake warning. Telephone and public announcement systems were also used to broadcast the alert. 

Volunteer earthquake monitoring stations report: 
    From July 24th, natural spring water had become 
  muddy and undrinkable. 
July 26, 1976 

By July 26th, temporary earthquake tents were set up. Led by County Secretary Ran Guangqi, who moved into an earthquake tent himself, over 60% of Qinglong County's more than 470,000 residents moved out of their homes. Those who did not move were instructed to keep their doors and windows open at all times to avoid being trapped in case of an earthquake.
  Businesses also relocated to outdoor locations where they continued their normal activities. 
July 28 03:42:56 


Fatalities in Tangshan area 

The earth started to move beneath Tangshan in the early morning hours of July 28th... 
At a depth of 11km directly under the city of Tangshan, the Great Tangshan Earthquake (GTE) unleashed a destructive power four hundred times greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. Fatalities were sustained as far away as Beijing, about 200km west of Tangshan. 

In Qinglong County (115 km from Tangshan), more than 180,000 buildings were destroyed by the GTE; over 7,000 of these totally collapsed. However, only one person died, and he died of a heart attack. Meanwhile, in the city of Tangshan and in all its other surrounding counties, more than 240,000 people were crushed to death and 600,000 were seriously injured. Five hours after the earthquake, Qinglong County dispatched the first medical team to the disaster zone, and within a very short time, sent relief teams to Tangshan to help with rescue work and transport of the wounded.

Near the Epicenter... 


A case of Preparedness in Tangshan... 
Dr. Dong Wu of Qinglong's Dazhangzi Hospital had travelled to the city of Tangshan on the day of July 27th and stayed at his relatives' house that night. He told them about the possibility of an earthquake and of Qinglong's preparations. Following earthquake preparedness instructions, he kept his clothes by his bedside. When the magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck, he was able to dress quickly, awaken his relatives and flee from the house. Except for one injury from a falling object, the family escaped unharmed. 

To the Present... 
In the twenty years since the Great Tangshan Earthquake, the Chinese have strengthened their capacity to mitigate earthquake disasters from the perspectives of both science and public administration. Successes in these areas have resulted in fewer fatalities during earthquakes. 
A Recent Example 
At a State Seismological Bureau meeting on January 14, 1995, scientists pointed out that the southwest part of Yunnan Province was one of the areas where a serious earthquake might occur. Based on anomalies recorded at 16 monitoring stations in June, 1995, scientists alerted local administrators to the possibility of a magnitude 5.5 earthquake in southwest Yunnan province before the middle of July. 
June-July 1995 On June 24, 1995, public administrators informed the regional population of over 500,000 to intensify observations and to prepare for a possible major earthquake. From June 30th to July 12th, three earthquakes of magnitude 5.5, 6.5, and 7.3 struck the area. Due to the timely actions of public officials, only 11 lives were lost. 

July 28, 1996 

On this twentieth anniversary of the Great Tangshan Earthquake, we look forward to the day when communities will be able to reduce loss of lives from natural disasters because of the lessons learned from Qinglong County. 


Original exhibit designed by Liu Xiaohan and Xu Wenli of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Geology (Beijing, China), and Wang Chengmin of the State Seismological Bureau (China). Webpage graphics created in conjunction with Alicia Goldman-Angel (The Trowbridge Group, Cambridge, MA). Deep appreciation also goes to Joanne Sullivan (UN Global Programme Youths and Volunteer Coordinator) and Carolyn Pfister (Dixon Intermediate School, Dixon, CA) for their expertise in editing the web pages.

If you have questions, comments, or problems about this site, please contact Douglas Ling (Globalwatch /Fire Station Earth).

© 1996 UN Global Programme for the Integration of Public Administration and the Science of Disasters, and Globalwatch/Fire Station Earth. All Rights Reserved.

Last updated: October 10, 1999 

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