Book Review: Danger of the Dragon Year

1976 was not an auspicious year for China. That “cursed year” of the dragon saw the deaths of Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong and anywhere between 242,000 and 650,000 people killed in a 23-second quake that nearly obliterated China’s coal mining capital. As historian and author James Palmer writes in his latest work, Heaven Cracks Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao’s China: “The 23 seconds of the earthquake were probably the most concentrated instant of destruction humanity has ever known. In Tangshan alone it did more damage alone than either Hiroshima or Nagasaki, more damage than the fire bombings of Dresden, Hamburg or Tokyo, more damage than the explosion at Krakatoa. It took more lives in one fraction of northeast China than the 2004 tsunami did across the whole of the Indian Ocean. While the actual strength of the earthquake was not remarkable – 7.8 on the Richter scale … it was the speed, timing and placing of the quake that made it so devastating.”

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