Natural disasters in China

China is one of the countries most affected by natural disasters. It had 5 of the world's top 10 deadliest natural disasters; the top 3 occurred in China: the 1931 China floods, death toll 3 million to 4 million, the 1887 Yellow River flood, death toll 0.9 million to 2 million, and the 1556 Shaanxi earthquake, death toll 0.83 million.

"Natural disasters occur frequently in China, affecting more than 200 million people every year. They have become an important restricting factor for economic and social development."[1]

In the course of recorded history, many types of natural disasters – except volcano eruptions – have occurred in China, which include floods, droughts, meteorological, seismic, geological, maritime and ecological disasters as well as forestry and grassland fires.

These natural disasters pose serious threats to life and property safety to China and its people and severely affect the comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable development of that country's economy and society. In addition, they threaten China's national security and social stability and stand in the way of economic development in some regions and poverty alleviation of certain rural population.

Natural disasters historically

The Chinese term for natural disasters reveals the traditional view of disasters as divine retribution: tianzai (天災), literally 'heavenly disaster'.

In ancient beliefs, natural disasters were seen as Heaven’s response to immoral human behaviour, whereby the conduct of different individuals carried different weights. While the behaviour of common people ranked last, the actions of bureaucrats had a greater effect.[2] Given that in Imperial China the emperor's behaviour was believed to be the most important, popular belief was that the emperor should attempt to prevent disasters by ensuring his conduct was in following with moral codes – and if a disaster should occur, he was responsible for addressing the consequences. According to the Overseas Development Institute, the state-led nature of humanitarian aid in today's China traces back to these traditional beliefs.[3]

This concept of cosmic linkage between natural disasters and human conduct was radically rejected at the height of Maoist years, when nature was represented as ‘an enemy to be overcome, an adversary to be brought to heel’. Propaganda posters were produced with the slogan, "Earthquakes cannot frighten us, the people will certainly conquer nature."[4]


China has had 6 of the world's top 10 deadliest floods and landslides of all times; the top 5 all occurred in China. Estimated deaths in the 1931 China floods range between 2 million and 4 million, listed as the deadliest flood of all times, which is also the deadliest natural disasters of all times. The 1887 Yellow River flood ranked second in death toll in both flood and natural disaster, claiming lives of between 0.9 million to 2 million. The 1938 Yellow River flood was third, with 500,000–700,000 deaths.

After a record grain harvest of 466 million metric tons in 1995, another record crop of 475 million metric tons was expected in 1996. This yield was anticipated despite torrential summer rains throughout China that flooded 32,500 square kilometres (8 million acres) of cropland, caused thousands of deaths, left millions homeless, and cost billions of yuan in damage. The Yellow River crested at its highest recorded level, inspiring fears of a catastrophic dike breach. Nevertheless, over the past 50 years, natural disasters on average had reduced China's harvests by approximately 1% annually. Work proceeded on the world's largest flood-control and hydroelectric project, the controversial Three Gorges Dam on the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) above Yichang. Chinese planners were considering huge water-diversification projects to channel excess water from the Chang Jiang to arid northern regions.


China had 3 of the top 10 world's most fatal earthquakes, including the 1556 Shaanxi earthquake that reportedly killed more than 830,000 people, listed as the deadliest earthquakes of all times and the third deadliest natural disaster. The 1976 Tangshan earthquake, with death toll estimated to be between 242,419 and 779,000, is ranked the third deadliest earthquake of all times, and 8th deadliest natural disaster. The 1920 Haiyuan earthquake killed 200,000 to 240,000, ranked the fourth deadliest earthquake and 9th deadliest of all natural disasters. The 2008 Sichuan earthquake that took lives of close to 70,000 was the greatest since 1976.

The People's Republic of China established a National Earthquake Administration in 1971 to take charge of monitoring, research, and emergency response for earthquakes. It was renamed China Earthquake Administration (CEA) in 1998, mandated by the Earthquake Prevention and Disaster Reduction Act of PRC[5] under the State Council. Each provincial, autonomous regional, and centrally administrated municipal government also has its own earthquake administration that is under the direction of CEA.[6]


China had 6 of the world's top 10 deadliest famines; the top two occurred in China. The CCP, at the time, officially blamed the Great Chinese Famine between 1958 and 1961 that killed between 20 million and 43 million on natural disasters. If this were true, it would be the #1 deadliest famine. Another famine that occurred in 1907 was said to have claimed 24 million lives, ranked as #2.

Emergency management

The National Disaster Reduction Center (NDRC) of the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) is a specialized agency under the Chinese Government engaged in information services and supporting decisions on various natural disasters. It provides reference for disaster-management departments in their decision-making and technical support for China's disaster-reduction undertakings by way of collecting and analyzing disaster information, assessing disasters and emergency relief, and analyzing and studying disasters using such advanced technology as satellite remote sensing.

See also


  1. Disaster Emergency Management in China
  2. Elvin, M. ‘Who Was Responsible for the Weather? Moral Meteorology in Late Imperial China’ Science, Technology, and Medicine in East and Southeast Asia, 1998
  3. Krebs, Hanna B. "Responsibility, legitimacy, morality: Chinese humanitarianism in historical perspective", Overseas Development Institute, September 2014
  4. Krebs, Hanna B. "Responsibility, legitimacy, morality: Chinese humanitarianism in historical perspective", Overseas Development Institute, September 2014
  5. Chinese: 《中华人民共和国防震减灾法》
  6. "Introduction to CEA (中国地震局:机构简介)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 2008-09-21.

External links

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