Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


International Relations

Reader 1

Minxin Pei

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The aim of this thesis is to investigate the Chinese government’s disaster response over the past two decades, analyze any patterns or recurring management behaviors, and understand the government’s overall emergency response capability. Disaster response is one area that reflects the Chinese Communist Party’s ability to govern and exhibit performance legitimacy. As an authoritarian regime, the CCP relies on repression and performance to maintain its authority, especially so when national disasters occur. During times of crisis, the CCP is expected to maintain control and minimize potentially negative consequences. Not doing so results in a potential image crisis and loss of legitimacy. The cases studied in this thesis were the 2005 Songhua River benzene spill, the 2008 winter storms, the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, the 2015 Tianjin warehouse explosions, and the 2016 June and July floods. The 2008 Wenchuan earthquake was the deadliest disaster in a generation and provides the most thorough example to investigate China’s government disaster response capabilities. Two of these crises were industrial chemical accidents near or in major Chinese cities. The remaining two were weather disasters spread over a large area that required a far-reaching and coordinated government response across multiple provinces. Each of these sets displays a type of national disaster that China experiences regularly.

In conclusion, the investigation makes two conclusions about the government’s disaster response capabilities. First, the central government is able to make extensive use of its overall authority and hierarchical structure to mobilize state resources on a massive scale. This includes the CCP’s control of the People’s Liberation Army and state emergency personnel, the government’s economic authority to impose immediate regulatory measures, and ability to gather and distribute physical resources. Second, the CCP seeks to avert an image crisis to maintain a veneer of performance legitimacy. Two common tactics are repressing investigative journalism and jailing critics while molding an image of a paternalistic and protecting state through compassionate moral performance. However, the necessity for this last conclusions hints at why such practices are necessary in the first place. The CCP’s rush for economic growth, lack of accountability, and propensity for corruption among other things are the very factors that have allowed disasters to become crises. Extreme measures are necessitated because the system the Party has built is prone to crisis. Without fundamental change, the CCP will continue facing such crises in the foreseeable future.