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Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao's China Hardcover – Jan 3 2012

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 6 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The year that changed China July 23 2012
By David Mohr - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The year 1976 changed China forever, from the chaos of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution to the modern, authoritarian corporate state. James Palmer gives a compelling, well-written account of this year's major events: the death of Zhou Enlai, the supression of demonstrations in honor of Zhou Enlai, the massive earthquake that leveled the city of Tangshan, the death of Mao Zedong, and the arrest of the Gang of Four.

At least one reviewer faulted Mr Palmer's writing style as "too breezy." I disagree. He was writing for the intelligent layman, not for his fellow scholars. In fact, after I read this book, I gave it to my wife, whose knowledge of China comes primarly from the news and the accounts and novels of Lisa See. She thoroughly enjoyed this book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
How one era in China ended and another began Feb. 23 2012
By Robert Fisher - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
James Palmer's book Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes is the saga of 1976, probably the most tumultuous year in the modern history of China. Palmer tells an exciting tale of both political intrigue and survival as Mao Zedong, the founder of the People's Republic was dying and a leadership struggle ensued, and of the city of Tangshan, which experienced a major earthquake. In 1976, China was in the tenth year of the Cultural Revolution, a movement that was marked by bands of Red Guards attacking people they suspected of being less than zealous in their support of Mao, friends and family members turning on each other, and chaos being the order of the day. Many Chinese had by this time become quietly disgusted by the excesses of the movement. There was also disillusion in the air. In 1971, Lin Biao, a man hailed as the apparent heir of Chairman Mao, died while supposedly fleeing China after an unsuccessful coup attempt. One day Lin was the recipient of the highest praise; the next day, he was damned as a traitor. It made people wonder about what was going on in the capital. In early 1976, Zhou Enlai, one of the most beloved figures in the government died, sparking widespread mourning as Zhou was seen as a moderating influence and representing China at its best. But Mao was jealous and when mourners gathered in Tiananmen Square, there were beatings and arrests. In July, a massive earthquake struck the city of Tangshan, killing thousands. It would be years before the city could be rebuilt and the government's response proved mixed, at best. Earthquakes were seen by some as portents of great change. Just weeks later, Mao died after a long period of illness. His widow, Jiang Qing and her three associates, nicknamed the Gang of Four, were known as fierce supporters of the Cultural Revolution and hoped to maintain the power they enjoyed but Palmer notes that they failed to understand when Mao died, much of their power went with him. The Gang was soon arrested and more moderate leadership emerged. Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes is well-told and interesting. I liked the fact that the index helpfully listed the positions people held, so it was easy to recall who was who. Palmer has found many good stories in the book. There is the young idealist who is executed, even as the Cultural Revolution comes to a close. There are the people of Tangshan, struggling for survival in the flattened ruins of their town. Jiang Qing comes across as both ambitious and oblivious. If I have a criticism, it is the sometimes too breezy quality of some of the passages. A bit more formality would have been an improvement and this is what denied the book a fifth star. However, for those interested in modern Chinese history, this will prove worthwhile reading.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Places events in a new context April 30 2012
By GeorgeB - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book puts much of what is happening in China today into a context that I don't believe most Westerners understood prior to its being published. An easy, fun, even gripping read for those interested in politics and history. I highly recommend this book.
Riveting and well written July 3 2013
By J. D. Barrett - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In 1976, the year Mao died, and China was holding its breath to see if the Gang of Four or the reformists would win, the Tangshan Earthquake killed a quarter of a million people but China was so closed off, not many outside China even heard of it. But the most moving quote is about what occurred in the more recent Sichuan quake in which "only" 80,000 people died: "...A young mother's body was found bent over her still living three-month-old baby shielding him. She had typed a message on her mobile phone while dying: "My dear baby, if you survive, remember your mother loves you." Wow! And the book also gives us a closeup of what was happening behind the scenes politically. A really fine books.
10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Inside the World's Greatest 'Regime Change' Jan. 20 2012
By Loyd E. Eskildson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book's title comes from a Chinese belief that natural disasters can be a sign that the Mandate of Heaven has been taken from a ruling dynasty.

Americans remember 1976 as our 'Bicentennial Year.' Many Chinese also remember that year - for much more momentous reasons. That year finally brought China true 'regime change' after decades of strife. First came the death of popular Premier Zhou Enlai (1/8), then a great earthquake (7/28) killed about 250,000 Chinese and exposed the incompetence of Mao's government (similar to how Hurricane Katrina exposed Bush II's government, almost 30 years later). Next came Mao's 9/9 death, the arrest of the 'Gang of Four' (led by Mao's wife - Jiang Qing, ending their effort to continue Maoism and the Cultural Revolution), and finally the groundwork for a New China.

Prior to the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, China had also endured long civil wars and the Japanese invasion. Thus, they were more than tired of violence and inept economic management when Mao died - crucial to enabling reformers to take over and succeed.

Historian and author Palmer contends Premier Zhou Enlai lived his last years in fear, pain, and regret. 'Fear,' because many of his former allies had been disposed of by Mao et al over the last ten years for standing up to Mao's Great Leap Forward (intended to transform agriculture and industry, it instead brought starvation to 32+ million) and the subsequent violence and chaos of the Cultural Revolution (Mao's effort to cleanse the Party of those who had opposed him; an estimated 2 million more died). 'Pain' because Mao made it hard for Zhou to get medication and good doctors after being diagnosed with cancer. 'Regret' because Zhou had also betrayed allies while proclaiming devotion to Mao, and done more than his share of political purging and executing during the early days of the revolution.

The Tangshan quake left some survivors thinking they had suffered a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Aid from abroad was refused and the Chinese lacked heavy equipment, flat heavy roofs (80% of residential buildings) and other design deficiencies contributed to the disaster. A Stanford professor visiting the area in 1979 reported the city 'still totally devastated.' Most people in the city were living in tents, sheds, or portions of collapsed buildings. Clearing of the debris did not begin in earnest until 9/81.

Hua Guofeng was Mao's anointed successor - Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping had again been purged - this time because of false rumors that he'd incited demonstrations on 4/5 to remember Zhou Enlai, fed by Mao's grandson and wife. Hua's last instructions were to continue the public criticisms of Deng, and resist those wanting to reverse verdicts handed down during the Cultural Revolution against 'leftists' believed opposing Mao. Almost immediately after Mao's death Hua sense the Gang of Four was moving against him, so he reached out to Ye Jianying (retired Army Marshal, and Deng ally), and Wang Dongxing (Mao's Security Chief, and Long March veteran - Wang wasn't opposed to the Gang of Four, but had hated the acerbic Jiang Qing for decades). Hua himself provided a link to Mao's legacy, but was not linked to the Cultural Revolution, etc., having 'helicoptered into the upper CCP in the early 1970s. Hua also took time to visit Tangsah; Jiang Qing was too busy plotting against Deng.

The Gang of Four didn't realize how much they were hated, nor that they were being plotted against. Three were told to come to a 10/5 meeting to discuss revisions to Mao's works, and were easily captured upon arrival. Jiang was captured at her temporary home, without her normal entourage, and also without incident. A few of their supporters were also rounded up, and the top media taken over. Next, the plotters explained what had happened and why to the Politburo - members were also told Hua's intent that Mao's direction and the Cultural Revolution would continue; just to be safe, they were kept in an all-night meeting. When the information was released publicly, there was little reaction.

Fortunately for Deng, Hua lacked charisma; unfortunately for Hua, his vision ('Two Whatevers') amounted to simply more of whatever Mao had supported. Deng had strong support from the military, was released from house arrest, and returned to his Vice-Chairman position. Deng immediately asserted that 'Two Whatevers' wouldn't do, and that even Mao had only claimed to be 70% correct. Deng then reinstated those who had lost power in the Cultural Revolution and purged those who had taken their place. (Previous purges had usually involved indefinite imprisonment or execution for those involved; Deng simply created easy jobs or retirement positions for those being replaced.) By 12/78 Deng was firmly in control, and began China's economic experimentations, and improved relations with the West - allowing reduced military expenses and greater foreign business support.

Deng's one 'black mark,' per Westerners, was the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989. His rationale - fear that the nation would descend back into civil war.

Deng died in February, 1997. By 1999, the government stopped assigning jobs to university graduates, and by 2003 getting married/divorced no longer required work unit approval.