Legacies of the Sichuan Earthquake: Disasters As Past and Present Political Events

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 8:00 PM
Room: 304
Oral Presentation
Bin XU , Global and Sociocultural Studies, Florida International University, Miami, FL
This paper examines legacies of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China in politics of subsequent disasters, particularly Yushu and Ya’an earthquakes. The legacies were manifested in three political realms: state leaders’ compassionate performance, the state’s cooperation with the civil society, and mourning rituals for disaster victims. While the Sichuan earthquake provided a cognitive template for people to interpret subsequent disasters as well as a political action patterns for political actors to follow, its legacies’ features and effectiveness varied across events and realms. First, while leaders’ compassionate performance in subsequent disasters resembled Premier Wen Jiabao’s in Sichuan, it was much less effective. Second, the state’s cooperation with the civil society organizations was politically selective and biased. Third, the mourning ritual for disaster victims was institutionalized but deprived of its substantive meaning, and the spontaneous mourning for student victims of the collapsed schools was suppressed. This paper explains the variations by examining both situational and structural dimensions of state-society relations. I argue that structural tensions between the state’s moral legitimation and its other political interests as well as contextual factors alter the shaping power of the Sichuan earthquake’s legacies. More broadly, I propose a state-society relations perspective to theorize political legacy.