Hangzhou Tsunami

It’s a bit late to broach the subject of the December 26 tsunami disaster, but I’m going to forge recklessly ahead anyway.

Soon after the tsunamis hit, photographs began circulating the internet, supposedly showing the waves hit the shores of the regions that were devastated. I remember getting one of those e-mails and thinking, “yeah, that’s a big wave all right. How terrible.” And that was it. I didn’t question the authenticity of the photos.

Hangzhou tsunami

The embarrassing thing is that the photos were taken in Hangzhou, of a yearly spectacle on the Qiantang River called a tidal bore. I’ve watched the tidal bore from the exact same location featured in some of the pictures, and I didn’t even recognize it! (The year I went, the waves were not nearly as big, though.)

See the rest of the “Hangzhou tsunami” pictures on Snopes.com. Thanks to Heather for sending me the link, and to Richard for reminding me of it.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Da Xiangchang Says: January 21, 2005 at 3:29 pm

    Pretty scary stuff. I can’t believe almost a quarter million people have lost their lives during the Indian-Ocean tsunamis! I was actually was in Krabi, Thailand in mid-November checking out the islands. The three tour guides–1 guy, 2 girls–were very nice and helpful, and I wonder if they perished in the tsunamis a month later. Hopefully, the countries around the Indian Ocean would be developed enough one day to install a tsunami warning system like America has in the Pacific. Nature is never more ruthless and cruel than with the poor of this world.

    Re the pictures: tsunami or tidal bore, check out the guy with his kid daughter on his shoulders running away from the water. What the HELL is that guy thinking?!! Reminds of the bicyclists I’ve seen in China blindly crossing the street without looking back! Do they NOT understand the physical world and its dangers?!!

  2. Hangzhou! That’s really funny, I remember seeing this picture a few weeks ago presented as a “tsunami horror” shot. But the scene was unmistakably Chinese, and I knew the tsunami didn’t come close to the PRC so something was amiss. It was, honestly, that little blue truck that tipped me off, the ultimate symbol of modern China (well, besides the Santana and all those mini-minivans which are also in the picture). John, thanks for clarifying, I definitely should have known. 🙂

  3. I remember you’re mentioning a tidal bore when you were living in HZ. I even remember looking it up. What I don’t remember is why it doesn’t happen at every tidal change> Do you know what the “trigger” is? It’s evidently something predictable or they couldn’t build a tourist attraction around the event.

  4. Oh man, I’m so embarassed reading your post. I also got sent this and other photos. I also thought the same things but did more. I decided this photo would be a great tool to get my classes talking about the tsunami. I showed this very photo to 14 classes and wondered why the responses were so out of place. When I asked what was happening, they said, big wave of water. When I asked what the people were doing, they said, watching the big wave. When I asked where it was, they wouldn’t say. When I asked, wouldn’t you be running for your life? Nothing. When I asked, “Have you heard about the tsunami on Boxing Day?” Nothing. So I put it down to the Chinese education system leaving kids critically clueless and wrote a pretty arrogant sounding post about it on my blog. Looks like I’m the one who’s bloody clueless and should have been doing his homework.

  5. interesting article, although it still leaves some questions unanswered. is it the tidal change during full moon that brings it on? or is it only like once or twice a year or something? anyone know?

    at the end of the article, after the bibliography, it says “File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.44.” i take it that is a computer program? it needs some help! maybe just the addition of something like the spelling and grammar checkers that are part of english (language) word processing programs? dunno enough about programming to know if that’s possible, but it’s a shame for someone to pay for and count on a program that does a subpar job. ya know? hey, john, maybe you could help develop version 4.0! 😉

  6. Anonymous Says: February 4, 2005 at 2:08 am

    more pictures! now.

  7. Stuart Matthews Says: October 18, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    I rode the Tidal Bore on a surfboard in 1988 for the TV Doc.,”Jaws of the Dragon”The wave deserves a great deal of respect.This month a group of French and American surfers are attempting to surf it for the first time in 19 years when I did it.I rode the “Tide” on two separate days with the largest wave a 2m foaming mess ontop of a 6m swell..a combined wave height of 8m..hope this was of interest..I cherish the memories,the film and the photos.Stuart Matthews

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