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Seismic Activity in China and Sichuan Province

Seismically speaking, China is a very active country. According to Volcano Discovery, since 1900, China has witnessed 8 earthquakes of magnitude 8.0 or above, 150 earthquakes between 7.0 and 8.0, and 995 earthquakes between 6.0 and 7.0.

China mainly occupies the Eurasian plate as well as part of the Indian plate (Himalayas) and a small part of the Philippine Sea tectonic plate in the Coastal Range of Taiwan. The collision of the Indian plate and the Eurasian plate has caused numerous earthquakes throughout Western China, especially in Tibet and the Yunnan, Xinjiang, Sichuan, Gansu, and Qinghai provinces. Although the whole area of China is not seismically active, it is the western part of China that often gets faced with disastrous earthquakes, some of the deadliest earthquakes in the world’s history.

However, the western part of the country is not the part that most people live in – more than 90 percent of China’s 1.3 billion residents reside in the eastern half of the country, where earthquakes usually do not occur. The western part of China also has poorer transport and building codes.

The deadliest earthquake in China was the 1976 Tangshan earthquake (northern province Hebei) with a magnitude of 7.6, which caused more than 300,000 fatalities. The most recent earthquake, occurring in 2010, with a death toll of more than a thousand fatalities, was the magnitude 6.9 Yushu earthquake in northwest province Qinghai, with 2,698 people confirmed dead, 270 missing and 12,135 injured, 1,434 of them severely1.

2008 M7.9 Wenchuan Earthquake

The earthquake that all Chinese people still remember today occurred in 2008. The magnitude 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake struck Sichuan province, killing over 60,000 people, and creating economic losses of 845 billion yuan (US$132 billion)3.

Most of the earthquakes in China occur in Sichuan province and according to the USGS, most of the earthquakes in Sichuan occur because of the collision between the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates. As India drives northward into Asia, it forces the Tibetan Plateau out of its way, eastward into China2, causing the entire region to be frequently stricken by earthquakes.

At the time of this earthquake, many countries showed great respect for China and helped them enormously during that difficult time. The former Slovenian President Danilo Türk (1952 -) was the first president who arrived at the earthquake’s location and on behalf of Slovenia contributed 1.08 million yuan and delivered humanitarian aid to the people harmed by the earthquake.

Since this earthquake, China’s government has begun to invest greatly in overall seismic monitoring and earthquake studies. For example, they have started to deploy denser broadband and strong-motion seismometers from which the data is transferred in real-time to both local and international data centers. Moreover, earthquake early-warning systems have been tested in many regions in the Sichuan province in the last few years.

1975 Haicheng Earthquake – First Successful Earthquake Prediction

Earthquake prediction in China was already popular between 1966 and 1976, during the period of China’s Cultural Revolution. It reached its peak with the successful prediction of the 1975 magnitude 7.5 Haicheng earthquake in China’s northeast Liaoning province. The prediction was based mainly on the foreshock sequence, due to which some of the final evacuation orders were given only hours before the destructive earthquake, preventing further loss of life. However, the devastating 1976 Tangshan earthquake that was previously mentioned led to a reduction in the popularity of earthquake prediction in China, since it proved that the earthquake prediction system was not as reliable as primarily thought.

However, China is not giving up. The government is well aware of the many losses that are brought by earthquakes and how they influence the country’s economy and people’s well-being. Therefore, they keep investing in research to develop more accurate early-warning systems. 



1) Volcano Discovery. Largest Earthquakes in or Near China on Record Since 1900 – List, Stats and Map. Accessed on 08-Jun-2022. Available at:

2) ACT Alliance. 2010. ACT Appeal: Support to Survivors of the Yushu Earthquake, China – CHN101. Accessed on 08-Jun-2022. Available at:

3) Oskin, Becky. 2013. What Caused the Deadly China Earthquake? Accessed on 08-Jun-2022. Available at:

4) United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). 2019. China: Commentary: Is Sichuan More Prone to Earthquakes? Accessed on 08-Jun-2022. Available at: