Sparrow Extermination, Lantern Shields, and More Terrible Plans in History
Sparrow Extermination, Lantern Shields, and More Terrible Plans in History

Sparrow Extermination, Lantern Shields, and More Terrible Plans in History

Khalid Elhassan - May 26, 2021

Sparrow Extermination, Lantern Shields, and More Terrible Plans in History
Tangshan. iNews

3. When Reality and “Socialist Science” Collided

In 1976, socialist science and China’s earthquake prediction system ran into reality in Tangshan, a coal mining and industrial city about 70 miles east of Beijing. In late July that year, people in and around the city noticed that there was some weird stuff going on. Chicken refused to eat. Rats were spotted running in panicked packs in daylight. The water level in wells rose and fell. On the evening of July 27th, and through the early morning hours of the 28th, fireballs and flashes of colored lights were seen.

Sparrow Extermination, Lantern Shields, and More Terrible Plans in History
Aftermath of the 1976 Tangshan Earthquake. China Daily News

Such phenomena were strange, but people still had work to do and lives to live. So in the early morning hours of July 28, 1976, most of Tangshan’s residents were sound asleep, resting from the previous day’s toil, and recharging for the toil of the day to come. Then at 3:42 AM, disaster struck in the form of a massive earthquake, that registered between 7.8 to 8.2 on the Richter Scale. It lasted for less than half a minute – 23 seconds, to be exact. As seen below, that was plenty of time to inflict a catastrophe.

Sparrow Extermination, Lantern Shields, and More Terrible Plans in History
Aftermath of the 1976 Tangshan Earthquake. China Daily News

2. The Extent of Damage in Tangshan Was Horrific

During the 23-second-duration of the Tangshan Earthquake, nine out of ten buildings in the city were destroyed. Because almost everybody was asleep in their beds – in homes that were decidedly not earthquake-resistant – the death toll was horrific. Stunned survivors crawled out of their homes, many of them naked, covered only in blood and dust. The seismic upheaval started fires, set off explosives in the city’s factories, spilled toxic chemicals, and released poisonous gasses. Water and electricity were cut off, while road and rail links were severed.

Sparrow Extermination, Lantern Shields, and More Terrible Plans in History
Soldiers mobilized for Tangshan rescue efforts. China Underground

Between the initial earthquake and subsequent aftershocks, an estimated 655,000 people were killed, and another 700,000 were seriously injured. The Chinese government was not prepared for such a tragic event. 100,000 soldiers, 30,000 medical personnel, and another 30,000 construction workers were mobilized, and ordered to Tangshan to assist with rescue and recovery. However, just getting them there proved to be a challenge. With road and rail links to the region severely damaged or destroyed, rescuers had to walk to get there. Some of them covered almost 200 miles on foot.

Sparrow Extermination, Lantern Shields, and More Terrible Plans in History
Chinese propaganda falsely depicting speedy rescue efforts after the Tangshan earthquake. Disaster History

1. Aptly, Mao Capped His Rule With Another Bad Idea: Decline Foreign Assistance With Rescue Efforts

When rescuers finally reached Tangshan, many of them lacked the training for pulling survivors out of the rubble. The work of the few who knew what they were doing was hampered by the absence of effective oversight to coordinate their efforts. To make matters worse, Mao’s government had another bad idea: rely exclusively on Chinese rescuers. It was couched in terms of self-reliance, but in reality, the government was too embarrassed to let outsiders witness the incompetence of its response, so it refused all offers of foreign assistance. As a result, during the crucial first few days after the disaster, many died from lack of adequate care.

Sparrow Extermination, Lantern Shields, and More Terrible Plans in History
Mao in 1976, shortly before his death. Rare Historical Photos

The vaunted Chinese earthquake prediction system, the epitome of “socialist science” touted by Mao and his acolytes, had not predicted the Tangshan disaster. The complete lack of warning, combined with a horrific death toll in the hundreds of thousands, was hard to ignore. It was a stark failure that demonstrated to all – even if none dared say so – that the claims of the superiority of Maoist methods and socialist science were ludicrous. It was against that backdrop of yet another demonstrable failure that an aged and ailing Mao went into his final decline, and died a month and a half later, on September 9, 1976.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Atlantic, The, October 24th, 2012 – ‘Time Me Gentlemen’: The Fastest Surgeon of the 19th Century

Burge, James – Heloise & Abelard: A New Biography (2003)

Cracked – How a Surgeon Once Killed Three People in One Operation

Discover Magazine, February 26th, 2014 – Paved With Good Intentions: Mao Tse Tung’s ‘Four Pests’ Disaster

Encyclopedia Britannica – Great Leap Forward

Encyclopedia Britannica – Tangshan Earthquake of 1976

Extreme Tech – Tech Wrecks: Lessons From Some of the Biggest Hardware Screwups

History Collection – 12 Historically Important Perverts

Journal of European Neurology, 2018, 79:106-107 – Edgar Adrian (1889 – 1977) and Shell Shock Electrotherapy: A Forgotten History?

New York Times, February 13th, 2005 – Heloise & Abelard: Love Hurts

Shapiro, Judith – Mao’s War Against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China (2001)

Spartacus Education – Medical Treatment of Shellshock

Timeline – The Deadliest Structural Failure in History Might Have Killed 170,000, and China Tried to Cover it Up

Wikipedia – 1975 Banqiao Dam Failure

Wikipedia – 1976 Tangshan Earthquake

Wikipedia – Lantern Shield

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