Disrupting the Chinese State: New Actors and New Factors
Asiascape: Digital Asia (2016)
25 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2017 Last revised: 4 Oct 2018
Date Written: May 24, 2016
How do the development of digital technology influence the architecture of China’s governance structure? This paper will focus on two elements that, it argues, are radically transforming the modus operandi of the Chinese state. First, it will discuss the rapid emergence of the huge private corporations that have come to dominate China’s Internet, and the increasing symbiosis between them and political processes. This paper will argue that a strategic public-private nexus is forming at the centre of China’s political architecture, where the particular properties of private Internet corporations are used to counter some of the perennial problems that plague the Party-State. Second, it will discuss the leadership’s perception of how new forms of data, data gathering, processing and analysis (generally referred to as “big data” (da shuju) may enhance its governing capabilities (zhizheng nengli). Prior e-governance efforts were largely dedicated at digitization of existing data, generally held by state bodies. However, in China as elsewhere, private corporations have rapidly developed new profit modes based on the exploitation of hitherto unmined data. Unsurprisingly, China’s control-oriented government sees this as a great opportunity to enhance its ability to monitor the activities of its citizens, businesses and government officials. One particular manifestation of this approach is the social credit system (shehui xinyong tixi) that is currently under development. This paper will argue that the data-empowered agenda has the potential to radically disrupt China’s information order. From the central point of view, it will erode the separation between the centre and the periphery, as encapsulated in the well-known proverb “the mountains are high, and the emperor far away” (shan gao, huangdi yuan). Nevertheless, as Internet-based approaches become institutionalized, it is equally likely that current governance pathologies will reproduce themselves in the online sphere.
Please note: this is the working version of this paper. The published version can be found through the Brill database.
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