Tangshan earthquake

Indian Ocean quake inspires collaboration targeting Tangshan

In an attempt to catch up with Wikipedia's much-publicized coverage of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, the Collaboration of the Week project spent last week focused on the 1976 Tangshan earthquake in China, perhaps the most comparable disaster to occur in recent history.

The Collaboration of the Week (or COTW) aims to turn nonexistent or stub articles into content that can qualify as a featured article, and has in fact produced several featured articles through these efforts. Nominees for the main COTW article are selected based on votes from project participants, and must achieve increasing levels of support over several weeks before they are chosen. The article is then featured on the Community portal and the group works on it together for the week (some development may also happen while the article waits to become the main COTW).

Coverage gap

On 27 December, the day after the Indian Ocean earthquake, Violetriga observed on the COTW page, "I looked for the biggest natural disaster of modern times and found our coverage quite lacking." At the time, no article on the Tangshan earthquake existed at all, only a brief paragraph in the Tangshan article.

Violetriga created a tiny new article based on this paragraph, and over the next few weeks a small handful of paragraphs was added. Meanwhile, its nomination to be the COTW article continued to gather support, and it finally became the featured collaboration on 23 January.

Over the course of the week, Tangshan earthquake underwent a significant transformation, with a number of editors participating and even a bit of vandalism. The text expanded, an image from the earthquake was added, and the article was organized into sections. Even so, by the conclusion of its week as the COTW, the article had barely 50 edits.

Uncertain counts

Like the Indian Ocean earthquake, the death toll in Tangshan remains uncertain. As a result, one matter that comes up for consideration is which is the greater disaster (in Moment magnitude, however, the Indian Ocean quake is clearly greater).

The official figures for the Tangshan earthquake are lower than some of the estimates that have been reached for the Indian Ocean earthquake. As a result, at one point the COTW excerpt on the Community portal page was changed to say that it "was the largest earthquake to hit the modern world in terms of the loss of life", rather than is. However, the Tangshan earthquake article itself was never changed to match this.

Which is more appropriate to say is probably open to question in any case. The official Tangshan death toll from the Chinese government is widely considered to be too low, and many estimates would place it significantly higher than that of the Indian Ocean quake. Since it may be that neither earthquake will ever have its ultimate toll fully determined, the question may remain forever open.

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