Amplifying Silence: Uncertainty and Control Parables in Contemporary China

Comparative Political Studies, October 2012, pp. 1230-1254.

25 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2012 Last revised: 26 Sep 2012

See all articles by Rachel E. Stern

Rachel E. Stern

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Jurisprudence & Social Policy; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law Study Group

Jonathan Hassid

Iowa State University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: ,

Abstract

Well-known tools of state coercion, like administrative punishment, imprisonment and violence, affect far less than 1% of Chinese journalists and lawyers. What, then, keeps the other 99% in line? Building on work detailing control strategies in illiberal states, we suggest that the answer is more complicated than the usual story of heavy-handed repression. Instead, deep-rooted uncertainty about the boundaries of permissible political action magnifies the effect of each crackdown. Unsure of the limits of state tolerance, lawyers and journalists frequently self-censor, effectively controlling themselves. But self-censorship does not always mean total retreat from political concerns. Rather, didactic stories about transgression help the politically-inclined map the grey zone between (relatively) safe and unacceptably risky choices. For all but the most optimistic risk takers, these stories - which we call control parables - harden limits on activism by illustrating a set of prescriptions designed to prevent future clashes with authority. The rules for daily behavior, in short, are not handed down from the pinnacle of the state, but jointly written (and re-written) by Chinese public professionals and their government overseers.

Keywords: State-society relations, China, control, activism, journalists, lawyers, control parables

Suggested Citation

Stern, Rachel E. and Hassid, Jonathan, Amplifying Silence: Uncertainty and Control Parables in Contemporary China (,). Comparative Political Studies, October 2012, pp. 1230-1254.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1642493

Rachel E. Stern (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Jurisprudence & Social Policy ( email )

School of Law
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-2150
United States

University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law Study Group

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

Jonathan Hassid

Iowa State University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Ames, IA 50011
United States

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