Tag Archives: Tangshan

China, Learning and Growing Stronger

The Economist has the best analysis of the Sichuan earthquake, focusing on how embarrassment leads globalizing governments to learn the right lessons.

So was the contrast with the China of 1976, when an even deadlier earthquake struck the city of Tangshan. The full awfulness of that event—at least 250,000 people died—was not revealed for months, and offers of foreign help were spurned.

China’s rulers are still proud and sometimes prickly, but for reasons good and bad they have changed. They got a nasty shock, for instance, in 2003 when an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS, showed how a virulent new plague, if uncontained, might impose huge costs on a modernising economy. This taught them that burying bad news is not always sensible. A fierce freeze-up this January showed how the weather could also bring paralysis, less economically damaging perhaps but awkward all the same over a great national holiday. This showed them the merits of occasionally admitting imperfection, and even of offering a prime-ministerial apology. Since then they have learnt that beating up their Tibetan citizens may not be wise just as they are trying to impress the world with an Olympic extravaganza.

Tom’s take is pretty good, too.