China and Inner Asia

Roundtable Session

(31) Wenchuan Earthquake: A Decade of Changes and Continuities

3/22/2018
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Washington Room 3, Exhibit Level

This roundtable marks the 10-year anniversary of the biggest disaster in China’s recent history, the Wenchuan Earthquake, which transformed state-society relations, crisis management and ideology work. In the immediate post-quake aftermath, the unprecedented outpouring of social compassion, volunteerism, rise of NGOs and open media coverage appeared to mark the long anticipated emergence of civil society in China. These brief intervals of possibility flickered out as the Party-state embarked on a top-down process of reconstruction, moral performance, and legitimation. The state at once exhibited responsiveness and deployed its repressive apparatus to silence grieving parents whose children were crushed underneath shoddily-constructed ‘tofu-dreg’ schoolhouses, and to censor the media. To this day, the Wenchuan disaster remains a sensitive subject to investigate. Our panelists will discuss, from a variety of disciplinary and methodological perspectives, the different Chinas that emerged, and were buried, during the earthquake and its aftermath, distilling the shifts and continuities in China’s modes of governance and state-society dynamics.

As a former NPR correspondent during the Wenchuan earthquake, our chair, Louisa Lim, is uniquely positioned to moderate the roundtable. All the other participants will draw from their recent books, entirely or partially devoted to the study of the disaster. Christian Sorace will discuss the earthquake from the perspective of the Communist Party’s legitimation strategies and concern with image-building. Kang Yi will trace the development trajectory of different types of non-governmental organizations and discuss the fluid NGO–state relationship during the eight years after the earthquake. Bin Xu will discuss how the earthquake revealed both the strength and weakness of ordinary Chinese citizens’ volunteering under an authoritarian state and how the disaster has been remembered and forgotten in political and cultural practices. Maria Repnikova will explain how the earthquake served at once as a turning point for media-state relations and as a dramatic example of the contradictions in state’s crisis management that ensue to this day. Everett Zhang will discuss how survivors’ resentment regarding the deaths of school children was informed by and reinforced a different sense of natural disaster and justice in China from that present in the 1976 Tangshan Earthquake.

 

 

Christian P. Sorace

Colorado College, New Jersey

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Louisa Lim

University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Christian P. Sorace

Colorado College, New Jersey

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Maria Repnikova

Georgia State University, Georgia

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    Bin Xu

    Emory University, Georgia

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      Kang Yi

      Hong Kong Baptist University, Not Applicable, Hong Kong

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        Everett Zhang

        Institute for Advanced Study, New Jersey

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