Gansu was an especially remote section of China for an earthquake to strike and 1920 a particularly chaotic time in the countryâ€™s history; consequently, one of the deadliest earthquakes of the twentieth century remains hardly known. In this recounting of his search for materials on the Haiyuan earthquake of December 1920, the author discusses the challenges and risks of piecing together a major event with only fragmentary evidence. When comparing reports produced in the wake of the disaster it became clear that reformist â€˜New Culture movementâ€™ intellectuals in Beijing sought to cut from the record local military and gentry relief efforts described in eye witness accounts from Gansu. The New Culture movement, bent on casting Chinese governance at the time as inept and morally bankrupt, was soon coopted by the Nationalist and Communist parties and shaped official versions of Chinaâ€™s past, including understandings of the 1920 quake. What emerges is a cautionary tale of how the historical record itself is formed, in this case in service of revolutionary goals.