China Beat Archive


Date of this Version


Document Type



2012 Feb 21 in The China Beat


Copyright 2012 James Palmer


When the Tangshan Earthquake hit northern China on July 28, 1976, the country was in the midst of a tumultuous year that would grow even more chaotic with Mao’s death less than two months later. In retrospect, the massive earthquake has been viewed as a sign of trouble to come and a signal that major changes were on the horizon. In his new book, Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao’s China, James Palmer delves into the history of 1976, tracing the developments of that pivotal year for all in China, from the leaders residing within the walls of Zhongnanhai to the coal miners of Tangshan who saw their city leveled and nearly a quarter of a million people killed by the quake. In the excerpt below, Palmer describes life in provincial but industrious Tangshan before the earthquake hit.