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Tradition or Safety? Cultural Preservation Dilemmas Under Disaster Risk and Modernization – A Case from China’s Traditional Villages.

Authors: Qiuxi Li*, Department of Geography; Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware
Topics: Cultural Geography, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Development
Keywords: Cultural preservation, fire risk, modernization, community resilience, development,
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Fire has always been a nightmare for ethnic villages in China’s Guizhou Province, currently resulting in a tension between recovering traditional wooden houses or pursuing a “safer” dwelling in concrete houses. The aim of this research, firstly, is to examine the factors influencing people’s dynamic decisions in housing material choice, especially for the relationships between heritage preservation and development in the context of disaster risk, modernization and tourism development in ethnic regions. More broadly, this research calls for attention to the question about whether ethnic minorities are justified in abandoning their old style of life and obtaining modernization, or if they must be bound to their traditions to comply with their underlying duties – to defend the ‘authenticity’ of culture.

Through analyzing 155 surveys and 30 interviews that were collected during fieldwork, the results show that 57% of respondents prefer concrete housing than traditional wooden housing. Among the 12 variables that influence residents’ housing material choice, safety and cost are what people care most. The result also challenges the conventional wisdom that cultural preservation is the consensus of all mankind. In this case, many people are not obsessed with retaining traditional housing, and 17% of respondents even do not know the meaning of cultural preservation. The finding of this study offer advice not only for the post-disaster reconstruction of historical settlements in China but also for how can tradition be protected under the influence of disaster risk and modernization as a global issue.

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