It is estimated that a shallow earthquake centered in eastern Sichuan Province could cause the deaths of up to 5,000 people. True, people tend to live more densely in China than in other countries, but in the western provinces, the population is more spread out. Anything that can kill that many is significant. Heck, the worst earthquake in the US, the one in San Francisco in 1906, only killed about 3,000. This one, weighing in seismically at 7.8, was felt as far away as Beijing (1,500 km away), Hanoi (1286 km away), and Bankok (2274 km). Deaths resulting from the quake have been reported in the surrounding provinces of Gansu and Yunnan and the autonomous city of Chongqing. No reports of death have come from Tibet, Qinghai, Shaanxi, or Guizhou, the other nearby provinces, as yet.
Some of the details of the article were particularly puzzling to me. The mention of a specific number of deaths in the Beichuan Qiang Autonomous County was particularly unusual, or so I thought. I was familiar with the autonomous cities such as Shanghai and Tianjin, both of which are not actually part of the provinces that surround them. The local governments of these cities report directly to the national government, giving them more autonomy and a higher level of commercial control. I always thought this was to give more freedom to those larger cities in a position to take advantage of such special status internationally. Why then would something as small as a county be given the same kind of freedom and control?
Wikipedia was singularly unhelpful in this instance, as the main reference to the Beichuan Qiang Autonomous County gave very little information, and the provided link to the official website of the area was dead. However, one of the words, Qiang, gave me a hint. Weren’t the Qiang one of the minority groups in China? They were, in fact. There are actually several such autonomous areas containing high concentrations of a particular ethnic group. I would like to be able to visit such an area, to see what life is like there. And that’s the most politically correct statement you’re going to get out of me for awhile.