Framing a Mega-Disaster: Political Rhetoric and the Wenchuan Earthquake

Disasters threaten political careers and the stability of public institutions. They also create opportunities. Political actors are known to exploit crises and disasters to launch initiatives to change policies or institutions. A body of theoretical work has emerged that seeks to explain how and why political leaders react to crises and disasters. This article discusses these theories and investigates if and how these theories can be employed to understand the reactions of Chinese political leaders to the Wenchuan disaster. The authors identify three rhetorical building blocks that political leaders use to construct crisis frames. The authors then analyze the crisis frames that Chinese leaders used in the response to this disaster. The authors show that Chinese political leaders adopted a defensive strategy: they publicly recognized the earthquake as “big and bad,” using exogenous reasoning to avoid accountability issues. They refrained from large-scale policy commitments. The authors explain how this frame is different from the dominant frame that emerged after the SARS crisis.


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  • Accession Number: 01734624
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Mar 24 2020 10:51AM