the Chinese government ignored a seismologist’s warning

The devastation in China from the horrible earthquake a few days ago is heartbreaking.  But apparently a Chinese seismologist knew in advance the quake was coming, yet his government didn’t heed the warning.

The same night of Sichuan’s May 12 earthquake, Chinese scientist Li Shihui revealed on his blog that Chinese seismologist Geng Qingguo accurately predicted the quake and warned authorities about the disaster in late April. According to Li, Geng’s report was ignored by Chinese authorities.

According to Li, on April 26 and 27, the Committee of Natural Disaster Prediction, an organization under China Geophysical Institute, discussed Geng’s findings and further predicted that a quake measuring 6 to 7 will occur between May 2008 and April 2009 in the area south to Lanzhou City where Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces meet. The committee’s report was turned into China Seismology Bureau as a confidential document on April 30.

In addition, Geng Qingguo clearly pointed out that in Aba region a quake of 7 or higher magnitude is most likely to occur in 10 days before and after May 8, 2008. His prediction has been proved accurate in every aspect: magnitude, location, and time. But his report received no response from the authorities.

It really upsets me that the Chinese government chose to stick their heads in the sand and let over 50,000 people die!  This is worth dozens of 9/11’s in terms of lives lost and negligence by the authorities in power.

Then again, the blind eye our own government under Bush has turned towards the environmental catastrophe that will soon be on our doorstep will likely result in not just hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide, but also the end of whole cities, glaciers, ecosystems, you name it.  We’re in a very perilous situation, and yet our government doesn’t heed the warning of our own scientists.  Some guy in China will no doubt be blogging about our stupidity a couple decades hence, when our coastal cities are flooded and our desert cities are abandoned

7 thoughts on “the Chinese government ignored a seismologist’s warning

  1. orangehairboy, this is just one of the many quack theories sprouting on internet after the Wenchuan earthquake. People claim earthquake can be predicted using strange animal behavior, ‘earthquake clouds’, etc. The guy you mentioned in the article is not really predicting earthquake with scientific methods. He seems to be using some Chinese traditional philosophy or ‘cycle theory’. I don’t know if you can read Chinese, but let me translate the few sentences in the article by Li Shihui:


    Which means :’Under the paradigm of modern Western science and technology, the prediction of destructive earthquakes, especially the short-term prediction, is impossible. This is consensus among earthquake academic circles both in China and overseas.’

    So Mr. Li admits himself Mr. Geng is not predicting using any scientific method. You can decide yourself whether Chinese government, or government of any country, should follow the advice of such methods.

  2. I did some research related to Mr.Geng’s ‘prediction’ (you can imagine how many online discussions are related to Mr.Geng recently) and here are two more details:

    1. Mr. Geng’s claim is that drought can predict earthquake. It’s quite hard to explain scientifically why weather can predict earthquake.

    2. People have checked his tracking record and found he made many false alarms in the past two decades. If government followed his advices Chinese people would have slept outdoor most of the nights.

  3. Which people, and which false alarms?

    I certainly am willing to believe that he might be a quack. The “drought” theory did seem a little dubious to me, but I took it to mean that dry soil rather than a lack of rain could be a predictor of earthquakes. I know also that he was discredited in the seventies by the CCP, but then again, that was in the thick of the Cultural Revolution, when decisions made in most organizations across the political spectrum in China were not necessarily made with the most accurate precision, logic, or just cause.

    He does seem to have predicted this one with spot-on accuracy, so I’d be interested to learn what he had predicted that did not come to pass.

  4. “He does seem to have predicted this one with spot-on accuracy, so I’d be interested to learn what he had predicted that did not come to pass.”

    The point is the only claim of this kind accuracy is from his friend Li Shihui’s blog. I searched the internet and don’t find any other evidence supporting Li’s claim. People simply repost his article on many online forums. Of course if you insist it’s due to the censorship of Chinese government then I stop right here, since censorship can explain any information that you can’t find on internet.

    “I took it to mean that dry soil rather than a lack of rain could be a predictor of earthquakes.”

    If you read the Chinese version of the article on Mr. Li’s blog, you will realize he meant exactly lack of rain, not dry soil. Though not scientific, this kind of ‘theory’ is actually quite consistent with traditional Chinese philosophy.

  5. Maybe you can also ask yourself, if the prediction is really so accurate and so important for millions of people’s lives, why Mr. Li or Mr. Geng didn’t publish it on internet or send it to some international journal? Since Mr. Li was able to publish the claim on his blog after the earthquake, obviously if he wanted to alert people on internet , he could have done it. But he didn’t say he did such things, and we can’t find any evidence he published any alert on internet. Why he didn’t use the most widespread and effective media (internet) to spread his alert and instead resorted to sending ‘secret’ document to the National Seismology Bureau, which he doesn’t trust at all? I think the simplest explanation is this make his claim impossible to be proven false.

  6. Well, you may be right. I’m not a seismologist, though if there is a correlation between drought and earthquakes that can be mathematically proven (I’m not saying he’s done that, but if) I don’t think it need be ruled out. I definitely don’t believe in traditional Chinese medicine or “folk science” for it’s own sake though, and if you say that’s what he’s saying in the direct Chinese translation, I believe he may be a quack. Ditto for the suspicious “it was in a letter but I’m only posting it now after the fact” warnings.

    However, scientific or not, it would not be the first warning about earthquakes to go unheeded by the Chinese government. From the Guardian UK:

    “China is earthquake prone, Sichuan in particular experiencing a similar scale earthquake in 1933. China’s geologists had warned there was a one-in-10 chance of a recurrence within 50 years and buildings and dams should have been built to strict regulatory standards. They weren’t, especially those built most recently. This is not just corner cutting in the quest for fast growth, or the kind of loose practice that comes to light after disasters everywhere. It is the consequence of systemic non-enforcement of regulations in return for bribes – and everyone in China knows it.”

    In my grief over the thousands of senseless deaths, I may have believed in the exaggerations a charlatan, or perhaps not–but I think we can all agree that not enough was done before the fact to minimize the dangers of an earthquake.

    In Los Angeles and San Francisco, we’ve learned from our earthquakes, and when they do happen, the loss of life and property is quite minimal compared to what it might have been. If China’s government wants to bring its people to a new era, it needs to start listening to scientists again so that its cities can be as prepared.

    The same goes for my country, though–we’ve been listening to fundamentalist, doomsday, Creationist, Adam Smith fetishizers (at least, they believe in the free market up to the point where their corporations receive government handouts, contracts, loopholes, and unfair advantages), and ignoring the scientists who have improved our health and technology when they warned us to change our ways about other things.

  7. On this issue I totally agree with you. If the building qualities were as good as those in California, the death toll would have been much lower, and this is definitely something need to be improved after this tragedy, especially for schools.

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