First, here at A Modern Lei Feng, our heart's go out to all those in Sichuan and around China who were affected by the 7.8 earthquake that hit near Chengdu yesterday. We will be donating money and doing what we can to help and encourage others to do the same.
There is not much we can add to the earthquake reporting, while it was felt in Beijing and Shanghai, it didn't create real damage and only those in high rises knew that it was even happening. I do agree with others, this is yet another bad sign in what was supposed to be a very lucky year for China. Beyond the snow storm, the T!betan protests (and the torch relay aftermath), and now this earthquake, there is hand, foot, and mouth disease that has been spreading through interior provinces, the Qingdao train accident, the thwarted terrorist attack in Xinjiang and the possible "terrorist" attack on a Shanghai bus, plus rumors about potential terrorist attacks against transportation targets in Beijing. At this point, China has been struck with so many disasters, both natural and man-made, what's next?
So what more can we offer? For those in Beijing and Shanghai, the earthquake wasn't so scary, but fear spread when rumors started circulating widely about aftershocks that would measure between 3 and 6 on the Richter Scale and would take place between 10 pm and midnight. This was sent as a legitimate SMS and was received over and over again, it even made it onto some reputed (if there is such a thing when talking about Chinese media) media websites, though it was quickly removed.
In the US, usage of text messaging is relatively limited while in China it is used by everybody as its cheaper than a phone call and often more convenient, especially when on a packed bus or subway. Usage of SMS is one of the main ways rumors spread so quickly (ie the AIDS Kabab rumor as another example). Rumors tend not to spread so much in the US because they often are sent through email and the reader has full usage of the internet to check the veracity of the rumor. In China, even when the text message defies logic (ie being able to predict the time of an earthquake, AIDS spread through food), the number of times you receive them and how they are often sent from otherwise highly intelligent individuals makes it harder to ignore.