A Jolt to China’s Bedrock
In another era, Chinese citizens would have asked whether these epic trials, particularly an earthquake in which 50,000 people are feared dead, might signal that the Communist Party had lost what the ancient Chinese called “the mandate of heaven” — the political blessing of a higher power.
In this day and age, however, the party faces a more practical hurdle to cross: to show that it is modern, responsive and efficient enough to keep China’s economic rise on track and maintain the support of its people through intensely difficult straits.
“Emperors had an obligation to provide relief when disasters occur, and of course [the current government] won’t lose the mandate if they care for the people well,” said Dali Yang, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore.
To do so, Chinese authorities have turned to television: non-stop broadcasts on state television have showcased China’s surge of troops, relief workers and aid into shattered Sichuan province. Many of those images show Premier Wen Jiabao clambering into rubble, grieving with survivors or reiterating the government’s commitment to its people.