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The Great Wenchuan Earthquake of 2008: Dark Tourism, Seismic Memorials, and Disaster Rituals

Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Cultural Geography, Tourism Geography
Keywords: Dark Tourism, Seismic Memorials, Disaster Rituals; Wenchuan Earthquake
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The Wenchuan earthquake of May 2008 was one of China’s greatest seismic disasters. With an epicenter near Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwest China, the earthquake left over 87,000 dead or missing, over 374,000 injured, and over 5.5 million homeless. In the aftermath, three types of disaster ritual seemed to emerge. The first, as represented by major memorial projects like the Beichuan National Earthquake Museum, the Yinxiu Earthquake Epicenter Museum, and the Hanwang Earthquake Memorial Park, are national and provincial efforts to commemorate the losses. The rise of “dark” or disaster tourism attracting visitors from all over China and beyond to see the destruction has been a second type ritual to emerge in the aftermath of the Wenchuan earthquake. Considerable research has focused on these two types of disaster ritual in Sichuan and after natural disasters in other parts of the world. Although we touch briefly on both these types of disaster ritual, our major focus is a third type: the local responses in particular towns and communities, and among local ethnic groups. We consider several cases in which the commemoration of the Wenchuan earthquake express new secular rituals that seem to be rooted, somewhat paradoxically, in older spiritual traditions and Confucian practices.

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