Normalization of Censorship: Evidence from China

32 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2022

See all articles by Tony Zirui Yang

Tony Zirui Yang

Washington University in Saint Louis

Date Written: November 2, 2021

Abstract

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 argue 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 a dataset of 15,872 censored articles on WeChat and two original survey experiments in China, I show that (1) a majority of censored articles are unrelated to politically threatening topics, and (2) respondents exposed to the censorship of non-political content display less backlash toward the regime and its censorship apparatus. My findings highlight how normalization of repressive policies contributes to authoritarian control.

Keywords: Censorship, China, Normalization, Desensitization, Backlash, Authoritarian Control

Suggested Citation

Yang, Tony, Normalization of Censorship: Evidence from China (November 2, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3835217 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3835217

Tony Yang (Contact Author)

Washington University in Saint Louis ( email )

One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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