Nov. 18, 2022 (Friday), 12-1 PM (CST)

If You Have a Problem, Call the Police? Police Action and Inaction in China”

John Wagner Givens (Kennesaw State University) and Suzzane Scoggins (Clark University)

Abstract: Understanding how people interact with the police in an authoritarian state is difficult. In China, research has revealed much about the experiences of protestors, but we know little about how average people talk about everyday encounters with police officers and other frontline enforcement agents. Using a dataset of anonymous posts scraped from a legal advice site that contains 246,000 questions about security personnel, this study provides new insight into a wide range of interactions between the police and society. Because the posts are relatively uncensored, they reveal data about police corruption, violence, and misconduct as well as more mundane matters such as police indifference and assistance. The unique reach of the posts allows us to probe geographical and economic development differences in experiences with the police and compare them across time as police reforms were enacted and key police brutality scandals made public. By capturing ground-level descriptions of regular people, the results offer an unprecedented view into police action and inaction in China.

Discussants: Lauren McCarthy (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and Kevin O’Brien (University of California at Berkeley)


Nov. 4, 2022 (Friday), 12-1 PM (CST)

Listen to the Party: Understanding Emotional Propaganda in Authoritarian China with An Audio-As-Data Approach”

Haohan Chen (The University of Hong Kong), Yiqiang Wang (HKU), Tony Zirui Yang (WUSTL)

Abstract: Existing studies on authoritarian propaganda focus on cognitive propaganda, authoritarian states’ information manipulation aiming to alter citizens’ rational political choices in favor of the regime. However, few studies have systematically examined authoritarian rulers’ strategies in emotional propaganda: political cues aiming to alter citizens’ irrational part of political attitudes — emotions. In this paper, we describe and explain the prevalence of emotional propaganda in authoritarian China using a novel audio-as-data approach. We collect original audio-visual recordings from Xinwen Lianbo, a flagship news program on China Central Television (CCTV). We construct audio-based measures of emotional arousal, vocal pitch, from the state-sponsored news program as measures of the intensity of the state’s effort in emotional propaganda. Our preliminary findings suggest three patterns of China’s strategic use of emotional propaganda. First, vocal pitch is positively correlated with enthusiasm in the text transcripts of news. Second, a higher vocal pitch is used to report on critical political news including the COVID-19 pandemic, the leadership, and political mobilization. Third, vocal pitch demonstrates considerable variation over time and peaks around important political events. This paper has both theoretical and methodological contributions to the study of political communication in authoritarian China.

Discussants: Bryce Dietrich (University of Iowa) and Rory Truex (Princeton University)


Oct. 14, 2022 (Friday), 12-1 PM (CST)

“Transparency for Authoritarian Stability: Open Government Information and Contention with Institutions in China

Handi Li (Emory University)

Abstract: It is widely agreed that authoritarian governments conceal or censor information in order to maintain social stability. However, does transparency necessarily increase mass threats? Many non-democracies have recently adopted open government information (OGI)—a policy transparency measure allowing citizens to identify illegal government behaviors that affect them. Based on the Chinese case, I theorize that policy transparency can redirect popular discontent from the streets to institutional dispute resolution venues such as the courts. Using online and in-the-field survey experiments about OGI on land-taking compensation, I show that OGI improves citizens’ preference for legal and political institutions and causes them to prioritize institutions over protest when they have grievances against government. Multiple findings suggest that this is because the evidence of local misbehavior increases their perceived fairness of institutions for dispute resolution. This study shows that, unlike macro-level information transparency, policy transparency mitigates the risk of protest in an autocracy.

Discussants: Mary Gallagher (University of Michigan) and Guy Grossman (University of Pennsylvania)


Sep. 30, 2022 (Friday), 12-1 PM (CST)

“We Hear You: How do State-run Media Pay Attention to Online Public Opinion? Evidence from China

Lucie Lu (UIUC)

Abstract: Winning citizens’ hearts and minds has long preoccupied autocrats, but we know surprisingly little about how they communicate with their citizens in an informational age. While state-run media arguably is their most important communicative tool in hand, conventional wisdom says that state-run media in authoritarian regimes are lying propaganda machines. Surprisingly, as media channels compete for audiences’ attention, state-run media have become the leading opinion leaders on social media. How do Chinese state-run media propagandize on social media so that audiences will not simply ignore, resist or ridicule their messages? I argue that state-run media no longer primarily produce blatant propaganda on social media. Instead, they engage with viral events online, reproduce fact-based news reporting and cite elite opinions with anti-foreign sentiment to highlight the superiority of the citizens’ home government. Using an original data collection of Weibo, I explore what types of trending searches are more likely to receive state-run media responses and the impact on activating opinions and pro-government sentiment in online discussions. I primarily use supervised machine learning methods to classify and analyze the contents of over 110,000 daily trending searches and their top public-rated comments, and social media posts from five state-run media outlets from November 2019 to December 2020. I find that the state-run media are more likely to engage with favorable comparisons of China compared to other benchmark democracies, especially the U.S.. When state-run media respond, fact-based reporting style is more effective than emotion-based anti-West opinions in activating the public’s positive evaluations of the Chinese government’s performances, or criticism of foreign countries. This paper revisits and challenges the prior view of state-run news outlets’ propaganda roles in the leading informational authoritarian regime. Hard propaganda is much downplayed on social media; in contrast, state-run media effectively orient the public discussions and sentiment to denigrate the West and praise their home government.

Discussants: Jennifer Pan (Stanford University) and Erik Peterson (Rice University)


Sep. 9, 2022 (Friday), 12-1 PM (CST)

“The Adaptability of the Chinese Communist Party

Martin Dimitrov (Tulane University)

Abstract: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrated its one-hundredth birthday in 2021. Its durability poses a twofold question: How has the party survived thus far? And is its survival formula sustainable in the future? This book, which is forthcoming in the Elements in East Asian Politics and Society Series at Cambridge University Press, argues that the CCP has displayed a continuous capacity for adaptation, most recently in response to the 1989 Tiananmen protests and the collapse of communism in Europe. As the CCP evaluated the lessons of 1989, it identified four threats to single-party rule: economic stagnation; socioeconomic discontent; ideological subversion; and political pluralism. These threats have led to adaptive responses: allowing more private activity; expansion of the social safety net; promotion of indigenous cultural production; and rival incorporation into the party. Although these responses have enabled the CCP to survive thus far, each is reaching its limit. As adaptation stagnates, the strategy has been to increase repression, which creates doubt about the ongoing viability of single-party rule.

Discussants: Meg Rithmire (Harvard Business School) and Anne Meng (University of Virginia)


2022, Spring

May 13, 2022 (Friday), 12-1 PM (CST)

“Terrifyingly Normal: How Bureaucratic Incentives Shape Repression in China

Erin Baggott Carter (USC), Jonghyuk Lee (NTU), and Victor Shih (UCSD)

Abstract: The extant literature on government repression has largely focused on cross-national factors such as regime types, institutional constraints on the executive, and proximity to neighboring civil wars. We add to a growing literature on subnational factors of repression by focusing on bureaucratic incentives to repress, which we argue can have a profound impact on subnational distribution of state repression. Focusing on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s institutions governing stability maintenance and cadre promotion, we hypothesize that the asymmetric distribution of risks in the event of large-scale riots, which necessitated bloody crackdowns, deterred promising officials from using force in the first place, whereas officials with lower career prospects were more indifferent to the use of force. Empirically, we test this hypothesis by drawing on novel data on the career trajectories of regime officials and a national data base of labor protests. Using both an instrumental variables strategy and a structural equation approach, we show that the promotion prospects of regime officials had a plausibly causal effect on repression. Consistent with our expectations, officials who were more likely to be promoted were less likely to violently repress labor protests and more likely to peacefully mediate them. However, officials, even promising ones, relied more on repression for protests that were large, occurred during pro-democracy anniversaries, or occurred in regions with perceived separatist threats, consistent with the extant literature’s observation of the regime’s hardline stance on political protests.

Discussants: Ben Appel (UCSD) and Dan Mattingly (Yale)


April 15, 2022 (Friday), 12-1 PM (CST)

“Credit for Compliance: How Institutional Proliferation Establishes Control in China”

Haemin Jee (Stanford University)

Abstract: Autocrats want to secure compliance with laws, regulate market players, and deter rule-violating behavior. However, they remain wary of strengthening the judicial institutions that are necessary to achieve these goals but could undermine autocratic power. How do autocrats resolve this legal dilemma? I argue that the answer lies in institutional proliferation, the creation of new information-consolidating and punitive institutions. Implications of this theory are tested through an empirical examination of the social credit system in China. I propose that the social credit system (1) shares the same goals as existing institutions and (2) addresses their limitations. Using original data on local implementation of the social credit system, I show that its major targets are commercial actors, and that reasons for punishment under the social credit system are closely tied to existing laws and regulations. Multiple government agencies contribute to the social credit system, illustrating its information-consolidation function. Finally, the social credit system also doles out additional punishments to increase enforcement. The paper then investigates the effects of the social credit system on law implementation. Taking advantage of the phased-in local enactment of the social credit system and newly collected panel data, I use a difference-in-differences design to demonstrate that the social credit system improves the enforcement of laws but does not lead to increased political power of the courts.

Discussants: Jennifer Gandhi (Emory) and Martin Dimitrov (Tulane)


April 1, 2022 (Friday), 12-1 PM (CST)

“How Information Flows from Global to Chinese Social Media”

Yingdan Lu (Stanford University), Jack Schaefer (UCLA), Kunwoo Park (Soongsil University), Jungseock Joo (UCLA), Jennifer Pan (Stanford University)

Abstract: A large body of research shows that government censorship—internet shutdowns, blockages, firewalls—impose significant barriers to the transnational flow of information despite the connective power of digital technologies. In this paper, we examine whether and how digital information flows across borders despite government censorship. We develop a semi-automated system that combines deep learning and human annotation to find co-occurring content across different social media platforms and languages. We use this system to detect co-occurring content between Twitter and Sina Weibo as COVID-19 spread globally. We find that less than half of viral tweets about COVID-19 and China co-appear on Weibo. Among co-occurring content, less than appeared to have flowed from Twitter to Weibo. Information describing the situation on the ground, which was likely useful to global audiences, made its way out of China. Viral tweets condemning the Chinese regime and Chinese people—content likely to elicit negative emotions and possibly confirm existing viewpoints—made its way into China. In contrast to expectation, information flows, both in and out of China, were facilitated by ordinary users more so than by media or online opinion leaders.

Discussants: Haifeng Huang (UC, Merced) and Tamar Mitts (Columbia).


March 18, 2022 (Friday), 12-1 PM (CST)

The Irrational Investor Problem: Regulatory Visions, Paternalism, and the Stock Market in East Asia

John Yasuda (Johns Hopkins University)

Abstract: Despite the marked transformation in E. Asia’s financial systems, regulators continue to employ hard paternalistic approaches to their stock markets that are viewed as counterproductive to development.  In contrast to explanations centered on fleetfooted capital, economic development, political patronage, and institutional comparative advantage, this article argues that the persistence of hard paternalistic regulatory practices can be explained by a regulatory vision to a common analytical framework to order complex uncertain environments that serve as regulatory first principles – centered on an irrational investor.  This understanding of investor rationality is in marked contrast to a liberal market variant, which emphasizes a rational investor, and thus provides a distinctive comparative lens to understand regulatory behavior in a moment of global financial hybridization. The study draws on over 90 elite interviews of senior regulators, stock exchange officers, and market practitioners conducted in China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, from 2015 to 2019.

Discussants: Diana Stanescu (Stanford) and Victor Shih (UCSD).


March 4, 2022 (Friday), 12-1 PM (CST) (1-2 PM EST)

Selective Delocalization: Patterns of Subnational Leadership Succession during China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign (2013–2020)

Jingyuan (Juan) Qian (University of Wisconsin, Madison) and Feng Tang (Tsinghua University)

Abstract: The Anti-Corruption Campaign, launched by President Xi Jinping in late 2012, has been one of the most far-reaching bureaucratic overhaul in modern Chinese history. How does the Anti-Corruption Campaign shape the pattern of personnel appointment at the local level? In particular, what type of officials are more likely to be appointed to replace ex-local leaders removed due to corruption? In this paper, we argue that a major selection criteria for successors to corrupt officials is local detachment. Because those officials are often tasked with eliminating their predecessor’s influence and strengthening local control for the upper-level authority, they are expected to be less embedded in local power dynamics and free from nepotism and conflict of interests. Using an original dataset of all Party secretaries and mayors from China’s 287 prefecture-level cities between 2013 and 2020, we show that officials who replace corrupt local leaders are much less likely to be chosen from the same locality compared to officials whose predecessors were transferred, promoted, or retired. In addition, successors to corrupt local leaders typically spend much shorter time serving in the locality in the past, and are more likely to have held previous positions in provincial- and central-level bureaucracies. Our study sheds new light on how Xi’s Anti-Corruption Campaign reshuffles the central-local relations in China.

Discussants: Mai Hassan (University of Michigan) and Zeren Li (Yale University)


February 18, 2022 (Friday), 12-1 PM (CST)

Triumphalism and the Inconvenient Truth: Correcting Inflated National Self-Images in a Rising Power

Haifeng Huang (University of California, Merced)

Abstract: Do people in a rising authoritarian power with pervasive propaganda and information control overestimate their country’s power and reputation in the world? This is an important question since national overconfidence and grandiose self-imagery can cause international conflicts and harm a country’s own development. I show, with a survey conducted in 2020 and a pre-registered two-wave survey experiment in 2021, that the Chinese public overwhelmingly overestimates China’s global reputation and soft power relative to benchmark public opinion polls on China conducted around the world, even during a crisis. Informing Chinese citizens of China’s actual international image lowers their evaluations of the country and its governing system and moderates their expectations for its external success. These effects from simple information interventions are at least somewhat durable, and they indicate that triumphalism and self-aggrandizement can be meaningfully mitigated.

Discussants: Songying Fang (Rice University) and Arturas Rozenas (NYU)