The role of the state in China’s post-disaster reconstruction planning: Implications for resilience

Blog by Jiang Xu and Yiwen Shao

27 Aug 2019, 3:54 p.m.
Jiang Xu and Yiwen Shao



The idea of resilience has become popular in our increasingly unpredictable world. It is commonly understood as the ability to survive and adapt in the face of challenges, such as natural disasters. Although the concept of resilience is still evolving, scholars have come to agree that it embodies internal coping and adaptive capacity. .Accordingly, resilience requires societal capacity building rather as well as resistant physical infrastructure provision. The notion of resilience is oftentimes associated with positive, liberal and innovative descriptions and strong state intervention is deemed undesirable. Indeed, resilience and strong state regulation are commonly believed to be contradictory in nature. But, is this necessarily the case? In a policy environment with a strong state tradition, such as China, can the pursuit of resilience be advanced? And, if so, what are its emergent qualities? These intriguing questions motivated us to conduct an assessment of state-led post-disaster reconstruction planning in China.


The massive rebuilding following the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake in Sichuan Province was a politically loaded mission. To speed up progress and ensure reconstruction quality, China’s central government formulated a reconstruction regime. Known as the ‘Pair Assistance Program’ (PAP), this regime required a better-off province to assist a significantly damaged province with funds, staffing, material resources and managerial support. The relative success of the PAP in facilitating the recovery of areas stricken by the Wenchuan Earthquake has encouraged the government to promote PAP in the reconstruction planning response to other major disasters, including the 2010 Yushu Earthquake and the 2013 Lushan Earthquake. Through a questionnaire survey of planners who have directly participated in China’s post-earthquake reconstruction planning, we reveal that  resilience is embedded in various planning practices, even though it is not explicitly expressed as such in any planning documentation.


Countering prevailing arguments, our article reveals that the practice of resilience is path-dependent. As such it can entail both the active intervention and remaking of the state in places where the state has previously endeavored to maintain strong socio-economic control. At issue here is how the balance of state powers and competencies, pressures and incentives both enable and constrain the resilience of local communities. In stating this, we are not denying the necessary role of individuals and communities in building resilience to future catastrophes. Rather, we simply want to emphasize the necessity to pay close attention to the politicized nature of, and important role of the state in, resilience building in China.


Read the article The role of the state in China’s post-disaster reconstruction planning: Implications for resilience on Urban Studies - Online First.




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