Yu Maochun: From Tiananmen to the Sichuan Quake: A Profile of Wen Jiabao

Written by Yu Maochun, Professor of East Asia and Military History at the US Naval Academy, from China Brief:

The well-coordinated, massive relief and propaganda efforts organized by the central government are called by some international observers the most pronounced phenomenon emerging from China’s recent natural devastations (People’s Daily Online, May 22). But the government in Beijing has always been keen on organizing massive projects such as the one the world witnessed following the January snowstorms and now the Sichuan quake, as Beijing is one of the few governments in the world that can, and is willing to, utilize vast human and material resources on such a scale. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) ability to mobilize the entire nation showcase the efficacy and power of the CCP, which has maintained a monopoly on national and local governance and social movement. In fact, in the annals of the CCP government’s mass movements to mobilize the nation that either caused catastrophe—such as the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s that led to the famine killing at least 30 million Chinese—or alleviate the impacts of natural disasters, this current national campaign, officially billed as “Resist the Quake, Redress the Disaster” (kangzhen jiuzai) movement, is less intense when compared to the mass relief and propaganda campaigns of the past. For example, the 1975 Yangtze River flood that killed at least 85,000 people [1], the 1976 Tangshan earthquake that took at least 242,000 lives [2], or even the more recent 1998 “Resist the Flood, Redress the Disaster” campaign of 1998 had relief and propaganda campaigns on a much larger scale. This is because the government would very much like to replace the quake from the people’s conscience with the grand party that is much higher on the leadership’s agenda list: Namely, the 2008 Summer Olympics.

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