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The Worst Man-Made Disasters in China

List RulesMan-made disasters that happened in China

Though China has a historical legacy of natural disasters, including earthquakes, torrential rain, and flooding, industrial China has also been increasingly affected by industrial accidents like the industrial explosions that occurred in Tianjin in August 2015. Such man-made disasters in China are all too common.

Often, these incidents are aggressively classified as "natural disasters" by government officials who want to minimize international focus on China's need for environmental and institutional reform. In other cases, industrial tragedies are blamed on worker negligence, when they are, in fact, the result of systematically lax safety regulations and substandard equipment.

What are some of the worst disasters in the history of China? Some of the most deadly industrial accidents in history have occurred in China during the last century. What's really troubling about these Chinese disasters is just often they repeat themselves. Flooding, mudslides, and deadly underground mining explosions, for example, have become such common occurrences in China that they sometimes fail to receive international attention.

Massive pollution, industrial disasters, and environmental catastrophes are all devastating problems. Too often, these incidents are not "accidents" or "natural disasters" at all - they're tragically avoidable man-made disasters. These industrial and environmental disasters in China are presented here in reverse chronological order.
  • Guiyu's E-Waste Graveyard

    Date: Current/ongoing
    Location: Guiyu, China
    Deaths: Unknown

    Probably the largest site in the world for "e-waste" (un-recycled electronic components) is located in Guiyu. The accumulation of these materials has become such a devastating problem that the entire area has been transformed into a wasteland of dismantled circuitboards and bricked iPhones. Over 80% of the world's discarded electronics end up in Guiyu. Residents suffer from an increased rate of miscarriages, and over 88% of children in the region suffer from lead poisoning.
  • Tianjin Chemical Explosion

    Date: August 12, 2015
    Location: Tianjin, China
    Deaths: 114+ (approximately)

    Insufficient safety procedures and oversight have been blamed for a chemical warehouse explosion in Tianjin in August of 2015. At least 114 people were killed in the massive blast and ensuing fires, with another 700 injured and thousands more homeless. Toxic fumes unleashed by the explosion also posed a potentially even greater threat to the surrounding area. Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged that the accident reminded Chinese industry of the need for increased workplace safety, describing this and similar disasters as "lessons paid for with blood."
  • Yangtze River Pollution

    Date: September 7, 2012
    Location: Chongqing, China
    Deaths: Unknown

    On September 7, 2012, residents of Chongqing awoke to discover that the city's Yangtze River had turned vibrantly red overnight. Turns out this wasn't the first time such a thing had occurred in the region: the Jian River in Luoyang had changed color similarly a few months earlier, thanks to a nearby chemical plant illegally dumping toxic dyes into the water. The Yangtze has become one of China's most corrupted rivers, with nearly a 75% increase in pollution over the past 50 years. These dramatic rises in water pollution have resulted in rampant E. Coli infections and up to 50% higher rates of infectious diseases like hepatitis and dysentery.
  • Shanxi Mudslide

    Date: September 8, 2008
    Location: Linfen, Shanxi Province, China
    Deaths: 250 - 280 (approximately)

    Due to sloppy enforcement of government safety regulations, an unlicensed landfill mine in Shanxi Province collapsed in 2008, killing at least 250 people and injuring 33, with as many as 500 individuals officially listed as missing or unidentified. In addition to on-site workers, the mudslide affected the adjacent village of Yunhe - its crowded outdoor marketplace was completely destroyed. The Shanxi mudslide also resulted in the displacement of over 1,000 citizens.