Reconstructing the Local World after the Sichuan Earthquake: The Role of Mourning Rituals


American Research in the Humanities in China




The earthquake in Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province in May, 2008 caused a death toll of more than 80,000 people. Local people faced a huge challenge: How do they survive such a devastating loss of life? Among the resources that helped them cope with the loss of life and symptoms of trauma, traditional mourning rituals played an important role. Even though the disaster disrupted regular death rituals, the strong tradition of mourning rituals was quickly recuperated in various forms in the aftermath of the quake. This research, based on anthropological fieldwork in Yingxiu Township, the epicenter of the quake, examines the process of ritual reconstruction. It first examines the tradition of death and mourning rituals in western Sichuan over the past century, and then examines key elements of mourning rituals which emerged to become one of the cornerstones for the reconstruction of the local lifeworld.