Disaster Recovery Planning after Two Catastrophes: The 1976 Tangshan Earthquake and the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake

August 2016 (VOL. 34, NO. 2)

Download this article

The 1976 Tangshan earthquake and the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake rank among the deadliest natural disasters in the world. We argue that China’s weak planning capacity and its inexperience with disaster recovery in the 1970s were important contributing factors to the slow recovery after the Tangshan earthquake. The recovery planning struggled to present a blueprint that balanced the time sensitive nature of disaster recovery against the government’s ideologically-driven desire to reinvent Tangshan into a model socialist city. The recovery planning after the Wenchuan earthquake was heavily influenced by the lessons that the Chinese government drew from its own handling of the Tangshan earthquake recovery. The national government put great emphasis on the speed of recovery planning and progress – with great attention directed towards the housing sector. China’s strong planning institutions and the existence of prior development visions for the disaster region enabled the government to achieve its goals of speedy planning and fast physical reconstruction. However, future research is needed to investigate how this form of rapid physical planning and reconstruction relates to the overall socio-economic recovery in the earthquake-impacted area.