The Earthquake in Tangshan1
By Sidney Shapiro
As if these events weren’t momentous enough, nature joined in with an earthquake in July of 1976 which killed hundreds of thousands.2 Its epicenter was the industrial city of Tangshan, only about 100 miles from Beijing.
I was awakened before four in the morning by the violent shaking of our bed and Phoenix yelling: “Earthquake! Earthquake!” Still half asleep, I clumsily dressed and staggered into the front garden. Everyone was present and accounted for – our bao mu, our nextdoor neighbors and their kids. Yamei was honeymooning in Shanghai with husband Taiping. The house seemed intact. Later we found a big crack, right through the foot-thick wall, running from ceiling to floor.
Others didn’t get off so lightly.3 Many of Beijing’s picturesque buildings have plastered-over walls of rubble and mud.4 Quite a number collapsed under the initial tremor – nearly eight on the Richter scale at Tangshan, six or seven around Beijing. Casualties were higher in Tianjin and towns in the earthquake zone, where people rushed out into the narrow crowded streets and were killed by flying bricks and tiles. In traditional single storey homes, where pillars and beams support the roof, it was relatively safe indoors. The walls were only to ward off the weather, and tend to fall outward during quakes.5 Prefabricated tall modern dwellings were the most dangerous.6 The huge cement slabs which formed the floors and ceilings came down flat, directly, crushing all beneath.
We learned these things, and other quake lore, in the next few days.7 The unthinkable had happened. Centuries before, Beijing had been chosen as the capital partly because it had been free of the serious quakes which periodically rocked other parts of north China. We should have been warned, according to the stories going round. The seismographic instruments had recorded suspicious signs. Moreover, snakes and burrowing animals had come out of their holes, horses had refused to enter their stalls, domestic fowl had roosted high in trees. Certain officials had been lulled by a false sense of security – or had been criminally negligent.
Recriminations were no use. The situation had to be met. Immediately, the Chinese genius for organization and self-discipline swung into action. Food and medical care were rushed to Tangshan and other badly stricken areas. Teams began clearing away the rubble and erecting shelters.
In Beijing, the parks and playgrounds were filled with makeshift shacks of every description.8 They lined the sides of broad avenues, and mushroomed in gardens and on campuses.9 It was feared there might be another quake. Indeed, the ground never stopped trembling, and there were minor shocks every few days. Many homes were destroyed. Of those still standing, several needed only one more good shake to bring them down as well. For about a week everyone was urged to stay out of all buildings, regardless of condition, except where absolutely necessary.10
Fortunately, the water supply in Beijing was not disrupted. Electricity, which had been cut, was restored for certain hours of the day. Trams and buses ran. Most work resumed. But vigilance was constant. Yamei, who had hurried back with Taiping from Shanghai, was among the doctors on duty in the hundreds of first-aid stations set up all over the city.
With our next-door neighbors, we erected a temporary shelter in our common front garden. We built it of poles – supplied by our respective offices – plus tarpaper, matting, and plastic sheets.11 Our beds were planks laid on benches and chairs. We all slept there at night.12 There had been a little looting – which was severely punished.13 The main danger was a new tremor. Someone had to remain awake at night to hear any shouted warnings, and listen for a possible ringing of the phone, which was in the house.
I rather enjoyed my shifts. Beijing was very beautiful in the summer moonlight. The stillness was almost absolute broken only by the occasional wail of a far off train.14 You could feel beneath your feet the solidity of a city which for 1,000 years had been a major center of civilization. It would take more than an earthquake to destroy Beijing.15
Gradually, as the weeks went by, those who could began moving back into their homes. Outdoor living was inconvenient, and the nights were turning cold. Remembering my army training, I dug a drainage ditch around the shelter, but when it rained the inside of our flimsy structure was damp from leaks and drips.
For a time after returning to the house, we continued to be cautious. Chinese beds are simply a mattress on a board platform. We, being more effete, had managed to buy a box-spring affair, but still retained the board platform of our old bed.16 We suspended it above us by tying it to the bedposts in the pious hope that this would protect us should the ceiling fall in the night. Similar contraptions were erected for the rest of the household. We kept banging our heads every time we sat up, and finally decided repeated concussions might prove more injurious than what, by then, seemed a highly unlikely collapse.17 We dismantled the thing and resumed more or less normal living.18
1. 1976年发生的唐山大地震给当地和京津地区造成重大损失，影响到普通人的正常生活。沙博理在其英文自传My China: The Metamorphosis of a Country and a Man（《我的中国》）中用生动、细腻的笔触记录了这次地震后两个月的生活情况，措辞精准，句式活泼，行文简洁，不乏诙谐，生活气息浓厚，是一篇不可多得的散文风格纪实文字。选文取自该书1997 年版第203—205 页，标题为译者所加。
2. 句中these events指1976年发生的几件大事：1月8日周总理去世，4月5日天安门事件，7月6日朱德逝世。基于对全篇主旨的考量，将joined灵活译成“添乱”，与文末resumed译作“恢复”形成首尾对照，是基于语篇理解后的措辞选择。
3. 根据语义将原文成分进行词性转换，将原文谓语动词did not get off转化为译文的名词主语“损伤”；原文主语others转化为译文的主语修饰语“其他房舍的”，使译文通顺流畅，符合中文的表达习惯。
5. ward off the weather译作“遮风挡雨”，四字格的运用既准确到位，又干脆利落。
8. of every description拆分成独立短句“各式各样”，避免句子冗长。
15. 用“岂能”这一反诘的语气来对应原文中的比较级more than an earthquake，生动形象地表现沙博理对北京这一文明古都的热爱与自豪之情。
16. being more effete译作“上了点年纪”，并用关联词“因为”连接表原因。
18. 作者对“旧床板”这一保护装置的态度较为厌烦，翻译时将其译为含有贬义色彩的“玩意儿”形象地再现作者的原意，也与后文more or less在情感态度上互为呼应，处理得十分巧妙。