We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham Research Online
You are in:

At war with water : the Maoist state and the 1954 Yangzi floods.

Courtney, Chris (2018) 'At war with water : the Maoist state and the 1954 Yangzi floods.', Modern Asian studies., 52 (06). pp. 1807-1836.


This article offers a critical reappraisal of the Maoist state's response to the 1954 Yangzi floods. It uses a variety of sources, including previously classified government reports and oral history testimony, to challenge the official narrative. It argues that, far from being a remarkable victory for the new government, the flood was a humanitarian catastrophe that caused almost 150,000 deaths. Government hydraulic policies were partly to blame, as the vast majority of disaster victims were located in rural areas that were flooded deliberately in order to protect cities. In addition to revealing the true scale of the flood, this article uses the disaster as a prism to examine the early Maoist state. The government's combative environmental policies turned disaster governance into a war on water. This approach had certain benefits, particularly in terms of organizing an effective urban relief campaign. Unfortunately, campaign politics fostered an atmosphere of distrust, which encouraged many citizens to resist disaster-prevention policies. The example of the 1954 flood reveals the profound impact that a political context can have upon the outcome of a supposedly natural disaster.

Item Type:Article
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Download PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:This article has been published in a revised form in Modern Asian studies This version is free to view and download for private research and study only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. © Cambridge University Press 2018
Date accepted:01 November 2016
Date deposited:23 November 2018
Date of first online publication:17 July 2018
Date first made open access:23 November 2018

Save or Share this output

Look up in GoogleScholar