The Xianshuihe fault is one of the most active faults in southwestern China. Recently, three large earthquakes occurred along it in 1967 (Ms = 6.1), 1973 (Ms = 7.5), and 1981 (Ms = 6.8).

The 1981 event occurred near the central portion of the fault zone. Modeling of the body and surface waves indicates pure left-lateral strike-slip motion on a vertical fault striking N40°W consistent with the surface trend of the Xianshuihe fault. Two major ruptures are suggested for this source, with a total moment of 1.3 × 1026 dyne-cm. The 1973 event occurred about 65 km northwest of the 1981 event and ruptured about 90 km bilaterally along the fault. The body-wave synthetics indicate three main ruptures during faulting within 43 sec, with a total moment of 1.8 × 1027 dyne-cm. The mechanisms are similar to the 1981 event, and the average slip is determined to be 3.8 m. The largest aftershock (Ms = 5.9) occurred 1 day after the main event with a normal-fault mechanism striking almost perpendicular to the surface breakage. The 1967 event occurred at the northwestern end of the fault zone, with a strike of N65°E. It had a nearly normalfault mechanism with a seismic moment of 4.5 × 1025 dyne-cm. The largest aftershock (Ms = 5.1) occurred 7 hr later with a similar focal mechanism.

The primary faulting along the Xianshuihe fault is left-lateral strike-slip, but the normal faulting with strike direction about perpendicular to the Xianshuihe fault trace is common, especially in the northwestern segment. The faulting pattern in this region is consistent with the regional stress field caused by the India-Tibet collision. The normal event which is not on the major fault seems to have more frequent foreshocks and aftershocks than those on the main fault.

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