China adopts professor’s earthquake recommendations after catastrophe

Kristine Philips

1933 Calif. earthquake focal point for model

Students are sitting in class taking notes. There’s a loud rumbling noise and the classroom starts shaking. Windows break and the ceiling comes down.

Students are pinned between their desks and underneath piles of rubble. Some may make it out of the building, some may not.

For Hongshan Li, professor of history and native of China, this terrifying scenario took on personal significance when thousands of people were killed on May 12, 2008, when a earthquake with a magnitude of 8.0 hit the Sichuan province near Beijing.

When subpart construction and poor materials were found to be the cause of the numerous schools collapsing, Li sought to research the policies of the government and compare them to how the United States, particularly California, has regulated its construction codes.

“I tried to look at history to see why American schools are safe,” Li said. “All of China is subject to earthquakes, not like the U.S., where it’s mostly California that has earthquakes.”

Using a 1933 California earthquake as his primary focus point, Li explored how California had changed its regulations of building codes following the massive earthquake.

He published a paper in September 2008 that was accepted by the China Association for Science and Technology, the largest private organization of scientists and technology workers in China. CAST lobbies the central and provincial Chinese governments to pass laws on various agendas.

“The security and safety of schools is very important,” Li said. “What China should do is to follow higher standards.”

In his paper, Li recommends higher construction standards in schools. According to the CAST Web site, the organization has adopted the paper and has formed it into a formal government document.

The document is now in the hands of the deputy prime minister, the ministries of housing, education and urban development and the standing committee of science, education and health in the National People’s Congress.

“The lawmaking process has just started,” Li said. “They want to work out a law. It’s difficult to go through at this time, though.”

Li notes any law the government could pass may not happen for a considerable time. Though he believes the law would have public support, the government is already in the process of rebuilding schools that would not conform to the higher building standards.

“This law is especially valuable because of the one-family, one-child policy,” Li said. “A lot of families that lost children in that earthquake are very upset with the government for not taking action sooner.”

Contact general assignment reporter Kristine Philips at [email protected].