Normalization of Censorship: Evidence from China

34 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2022 Last revised: 23 Feb 2023

See all articles by Tony Zirui Yang

Tony Zirui Yang

Washington University in Saint Louis

Date Written: November 2, 2021


Previous research claims that public awareness of censorship will lead to backlash against the regime. However, surveys consistently find that Chinese citizens are apathetic toward or even supportive of government censorship. To explain this puzzle, I theorize that citizens are subject to a process of normalization. Specifically, individuals become desensitized to censorship when the range of censored content expands beyond politically threatening topics like government criticism and collective action to other seemingly harmless non-political issues. Using 15,872 censored articles on the largest social media platform in China and two original survey experiments, I show that (1) a majority of censored articles are unrelated to politically threatening topics, and (2) respondents exposed to the censorship of both political and non-political content report higher support for the censorship apparatus and the regime than those only exposed to political censorship. These findings highlight how the normalization of repressive policies contributes to authoritarian control.

Keywords: Censorship, China, Normalization, Public Opinion, Authoritarian Control

Suggested Citation

Yang, Tony, Normalization of Censorship: Evidence from China (November 2, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Tony Yang (Contact Author)

Washington University in Saint Louis ( email )

One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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