A description of the active faults of the East Asian mainland must consider two important relationships: one tectonic and one sociological. The tectonic observation is the collision of India with the “soft underbelly” of Eurasia, uplifting the Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau and deforming the Asian interior as far as 3000 km north of the Himalaya, north to Lake Baikal in Siberia and the Tien Shan in western China and adjacent Kyrgyzstan. North of the Himalaya, the Tibetan Plateau, the highest in the world, is “escaping” eastward toward the South China Sea at the same time it is attenuated along normal faults that strike north–south, similar to faults in the southern Aegean region, but at a larger scale.
The sociological phenomenon is the rise of earthquake science in China following the Communist revolution of 1949. China has a long history of earthquake devastation, including the loss of more than 800 000 lives in an earthquake in 1556, and more than 200 000 in an earthquake in 1920. The losses in 1556 probably represent the greatest loss of life in a single earthquake, although as people in the developing world continue to move to megacities, and there is no effective political response toward earthquake mitigation, this record will probably be broken in the near future (Bilham, 2004, 2009). China’s reaction to the earthquake challenge has been unique among major nations, a response to its cultural traditions.