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China and Inner Asia
Flood "Victims", Self-Aid Production, and the Transformation of Disaster-Stricken Society in Early Communist China
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
State University of New York, Binghamton, China (People's Republic)
This paper focuses on the 1954 Yangzi River flood and the strategies flood "victims" employed to negotiate hostile environment in everyday life in Central China. As the first major natural disaster that occurred after the establishment of the Communist regime, the 1954 flood became a test of the new government's ability to handle disasters and consolidate its political legitimacy. In the entire Yangzi River Valley, Hubei province was the worst-hit area. The flood submerged more than one million hectares of arable land, razed at least twenty-two million houses, and killed more than thirty thousand people and ten thousand farm animals. Under such circumstances, local government initiated the self-aid production campaign 生产自救运动 and started a new transformation of local society in the early 1950s.
By investigating local archives, photo galleries, and personal memoirs, this paper examines the flexible and diversified production and marketing activities during the self-help production campaign. Around the flood season, local society encountered a series of problems, including the high degree of population mobility, the lack of land and farm animals, and the insufficiency of sales channels. To adapt to the new physical and social environments, local officials, lower-level party cadres, and ordinary people took steps to find appropriate organization forms and to expand production areas and sales network across the country. These experiences laid the foundation for a new mechanism in disaster management after 1949 and were correlated to the relief work adopted in the Great Famine.