XUEJUAN ZHANG* - Royal Holloway University of London
On the 12th May 2008, an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale struck Sichuan Province's Wenchuan County. Drawing on the results of ethnographic study in the disaster area, this research explores the impact of the earthquake on cultural heritage, popular memory, memorialisation and tourism in Sichuan. I argue that historical sites that come to mark tragic events are not simply commemorative or otherwise historically important because a disastrous event occurred; they are instead places that are continuously negotiated, constructed, and reconstructed into meaningful places through ongoing human action. While these sites are usually understood as static places of "official" cultural expression, they are actually dynamic sites that both generate and are informed by official, popular, and individual memory through acts of local and non-local place consumption.
By focusing on the practices of disaster tourism in post-disaster Sichuan, this study will contribute to the growing body of research on "dark" tourism and related areas. It will also contribute to a growing literature that emphasizes the significance of embodied practice, in this case examining the use and performance of tragic places. In sum, this research explores culture, the politics of space, and the relationship between consumption, memory and identity to reveal the tensions and paradoxical agendas which form around heritage tourism landscapes in a post-disaster society. The findings of this research are relevant to planners, conservationists and other public agencies involved in cultural recovery processes in emerging Asia, as well as having policy consequences for the various levels of government involved.