Beyond repair : state-society relations in the aftermath of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake
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My dissertation offers insight into the political epistemology of the Chinese Communist Party and state on the basis of their activities during the post-2008 Wenchuan earthquake reconstruction. By “political epistemology,” I mean how the Party thinks about the nature of politics, including but not limited to the role of the state in the economy. An important facet of this approach is taking seriously the CCP’s distinctive manner of thinking, writing, and talking about politics that is too often dismissed as empty jargon that means little in post-Mao China. I show how a Maoist conception of politics remains at the bedrock of how the CCP understands its own political identity and actions. Certainly, many of the salient features of Maoism have been discarded, such as the emphasis on class struggle, continuous revolution, and the role of the masses in political movements. Despite these trends toward de-politicization and technocracy, the Party’s confidence in the rationality of its planning apparatus and in its ability to mobilize politically to achieve the ends of market construction and biopolitical social transformation constitutes what I call Maoist neo-developmentalism. Each of my empirical case chapters examines a localized combination of post-disaster reconstruction with a national strategy for long-term, “great leap” development. Thus, each chapter traces how the Party’s plans to capitalize the countryside - by way of urbanization, tourism, and ecology – have become stuck in transitional processes. The spectacular market transitions and transformations envisioned by Party leaders became cycles of state investment in local economies that only function by virtue of continued state involvement. The Party’s massive expenditures of maintaining the appearance of success, however, generated local resentment at perceived waste, indifference, and corruption. Each case chapter shows evidence not so much of social resistance to the state (although of course that happened, too) but an intimate negotiation between state and society of high expectations, broken promises, and frustrations. I argue that these “perforations” deep within the tissue of the state-society relationship only make sense when viewed from the context of a Maoist social contact in which the Party’s legitimacy depends on its perceived ability to serve the people.