Calibrating the Chinese Citizen: Propaganda, E-Petitioning and Big Data-Driven Governance

Lecture | March 7 | 12 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Christian Göbel, Chinese Politics and Society, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Vienna

 Kevin O'Brien, Political Science, UC Berkeley

 Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS), Center for Chinese Studies (CCS)

In China, the majority of city-level governments has set up websites where citizen petitions and government responses can be reviewed by the general public. What is the political logic guiding the establishment of such open petitioning websites? Analyzing policy documents, government websites and open petitions, this paper argues that open petitioning websites represent a form of calibration of a government-operated system that seeks to guide the political activity of China’s citizens and at the same time monitors public service providers.

By means of official propaganda,open government information and online complaints, local officials seek to shape people’s preferences and define what constitutes, in the eyes of the government, legitimate and non- legitimate demands. By signaling their
demands and grievances, citizens assist the government in the monitoring of local service providers. At the same time, they contribute information the government uses to update its propaganda, in particular authoritative narratives regarding China’s development, the parameters of good governance and the rights and responsibilities of Chinese citizens.

In China’s emerging big data-driven governance regime, such information will be used to calibrate a system whose purpose is to both shape and predict human behaviour.

Christian Göbel is professor of Chinese Politics and Society at the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Vienna. His research is concerned with the adaptability of the Chinese Party-State to social, economic and political challenges. He is especially interested in effects of digital technology on local governance in China. His current project examines the interrelationship between petitions, protests and public policy.

 ieas@berkeley.edu, 510-642-2809