Six years after a massive quake, a Chinese city has been rebuilt
A massive reconstruction program is nearing completion for the cities damaged by the 1976 earthquake in northeastern China. The earthquake leveled Tangshan, an industrial city of 1 million people, and badly damaged the nearby port of Tianjin. The following is a progress report on China's rebuilding effort.mSkip to next paragraph
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Chen Shougang and his family are a symbol of Tianjin's recovery from the earthquake of 1976 and of China's hopes for reaching xiao-kang - a stage of being moderately or comfortably well-off.
(Xiao-kang is a term frequently used by Premier Deng Xiaoping and other Chinese leaders to describe their goal of a per capita income of $800 to $1,000 by the end of this century.)
Mr. and Mrs. Chen live in a two-room apartment with their son and two daughters on the third floor of a large housing complex built three years ago. (The Chens' oldest daughter is married and lives elsewhere in the city.) Their kitchen has a balcony useful for drying cabbage and clothes. They have electricity, running water, and their own toilet. But their building has no central heating system. For cooking and for winter warmth, the Chens use a coal stove.
''Our apartment is not as modern as some of the new ones going up in Tianjin, '' Mr. Chen said apologetically.
But Mr. Chen is fortunate and he knows it. Before the earthquake he and his family were living in a crowded one-story courtyard. They had only two small rooms each about 10 square meters in size. Their kitchen was a makeshift affair, built into the courtyard by Mr. Chen, a carpenter, and they had no running water. They shared a toilet with all the other families of the courtyard. For baths, then as now, they go to a public bathhouse.
Mr. Chen's apartment is part of the 10 million square meters of public housing Tianjin has built in the last four years - as much housing as Tianjin had at the time the People's Republic was established in 1949. But, according to Lu Xuezheng, secretary-general of the mayor's office, 11 million square meters of housing were damaged or destroyed by the earthquake, so the city still has some way to go before it has completely recovered from the disaster of 1976. ''Our housing problem has been eased, but it has not been fundamentally solved, '' Mr. Lu said in a recent interview.
When the earthquake struck on July 28, 1976 the Chens were asleep, as were all their neighbors. ''Ours was an area of one-story houses, all about 70 years old,'' Mr. Chen recalled. ''Our walls and roofs collapsed. We rushed outside and found it was raining.''
The shaking was severe, first up and down, then side to side. For the next several weeks the Chens lived in terror of aftershocks. Then, with cold weather coming on, they moved to makeshift housing put up by Mr. Chen's company - walls of brick and wheat-stalks mixed with mud, a plastic sheet for a roof.
Tianjin was much more fortunate than Tangshan, 60 miles northeast and epicenter of the earthquake. Tangshan, a coal-mining and industrial city of a million, was almost completely destroyed, with great loss of life.
The housing complex the Chens now live in was completed late in 1979 and the Chens moved in at the end of the year at a time when many Tianjin citizens were still living in temporary earthquake centers. ''The houses in this area were almost totally destroyed,'' said Mr. Chen. ''So army bulldozers moved in very quickly to clear the ground and build new housing. As former residents of the area, we had priority once the housing was finished.''
Officially, all Tianjin's earthquake shelters had been pulled down as of the end of last year, and all earthquake victims rehoused. But walking through Tianjin's streets one still comes across makeshift housing, behind which tall modern buildings are beginning to rise. Compared to this correspondent's first visit to Tianjin 21/2 years ago the city is vastly improved. Peace Street, Tianjin's main thoroughfare, is again a bustling street with many new shops encouraged by the city fathers' policy of increasing cooperatives and even individually owned enterprises.
Eventually, Mr. Chen expects both his younger daughters to get married and move out of the family home. His son, however, will soon bring a bride home; Mr. Chen has already bought the lumber to build the engaged couple a grand, three-door wardrobe.
The Chens have bicycles, a sewing machine, a television set, an electric fan. They would have bought a washing machine, but Mrs. Chen put her foot down. ''As long as I still have two daughters at home, we don't need a washing machine,'' she said. ''When they get married I think we may buy one.''