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年發生的唐山大地震給當地和京津地區造成重大損失，影響到普通人的正常生活。沙博理在其英文自傳My China: The Metamorphosis of a Country and a Man（《我的中國》）中用生動、細膩的筆觸記錄了這次地震后兩個月的生活情況，措辭精準，句式活潑，行文簡潔，不乏詼諧，生活氣息濃厚，是一篇不可多得的散文風格紀實文字。選文取自該書1997 年版第203—205 頁，標題為譯者所加。
2. 句中these events指1976年發生的幾件大事：1月8日周總理去世，4月5日天安門事件，7月6日朱德逝世?；趯θ髦嫉目剂?，將joined靈活譯成“添亂”，與文末resumed譯作“恢復”形成首尾對照，是基于語篇理解后的措辭選擇。
3. 根據語義將原文成分進行詞性轉換，將原文謂語動詞did not get off轉化為譯文的名詞主語“損傷”；原文主語others轉化為譯文的主語修飾語“其他房舍的”，使譯文通順流暢，符合中文的表達習慣。
5. ward off the weather譯作“遮風擋雨”，四字格的運用既準確到位，又干脆利落。
8. of every description拆分成獨立短句“各式各樣”，避免句子冗長。
15. 用“豈能”這一反詰的語氣來對應原文中的比較級more than an earthquake，生動形象地表現沙博理對北京這一文明古都的熱愛與自豪之情。
16. being more effete譯作“上了點年紀”，并用關聯詞“因為”連接表原因。
18. 作者對“舊床板”這一保護裝置的態度較為厭煩，翻譯時將其譯為含有貶義色彩的“玩意兒”形象地再現作者的原意，也與后文more or less在情感態度上互為呼應，處理得十分巧妙。