For somewhat unfortunate reasons, many more people in the world now know about the existence and location of a city called Wuhan than was the case at the start of 2020. But most of these likely remain unaware of just how pivotal a role Wuhan has played in many events in China’s recent history. Almost 90 years ago the city was at the epicentre of a major flood which, while being quite a different kind of disaster from today’s pandemic, similarly laid bare the complexities of the society which sought to deal with it.
’s The Nature of Disaster in China: The 1931 Yangzi River Flood
(Cambridge University Press, 2018) takes us deep into the world of Wuhan during this cataclysmic period, exploring the flood from numerous different angles – environmental, social, cultural and institutional to name a few. These different perspectives on an event of such vast scale are revelatory in their own right, but also shed light on Chinese and global affairs at a fascinating and important juncture of history, and offer us a way of looking at disasters right up to the present day.
Ed Pulford is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.