From Natural Hazard to Man-Made Disaster: The Protection of Disaster Victims in China and Japan

Published on 13 June 2018


In East Asia, disasters have been regarded as events which uncover the mistakes of the past as much as they provide opportunities for building a more just society. In Japan, this phenomenon was captured through the concept of “world rectification” (yonaoshi) in the past and continues to lead to the improvement of disaster preparedness to this day. In the same way, disasters in historical China were not only interpreted as expressions of heavenly wrath for a ruler’s mistakes, but also as an opportunity for better governance. Taking into account the way in which disasters simultaneously mirror existing trajectories and open up space for new ones, this chapter compares the protection of disaster victims in China and Japan by looking at two recent catastrophes, the 2008 earthquake in Wenchuan and the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown of 11 March 2011 in eastern Japan. We pay particular attention to the framing of both disasters as either man-made or natural, which carries significant social and political implications. Both governments made use of this distinction to shrug off responsibility and to influence mobilisation processes among the victims. The distinction between man-made and natural disasters also had a significant influence on the resulting institutionalisation processes.

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This book chapter is in Protecting the Weak in East Asia: Framing, Mobilisation and Institutionalisation, edited by Iwo Amelung, Moritz Bälz, Heike Holbig, Matthias Schumann, and Cornelia Storz. This book investigates public claims for the protection of weak groups and interests in Japan and China from the nineteenth century to the present day. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, it engages with ongoing global debates relevant to both Western and non-Western societies whilst also providing an historically informed analysis of contemporary issues.

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