Thanks Jamil, you expressed what I was thinking about this post far more articulately than I ever could.
Far from being some kind of dirty secret, the Tangshan earthquake is widely discussed in the media and by the Chinese that I know.
Emma, I'm also in Beijing so I enjoyed your post. It reminded me how disengaged I am from the expat community apart from my fellow students. We haven't had any problems with visas at our university but the rumours were rife, and the work visa thing has affected a couple of people here.