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June 15, 2012 11:21 AM What the Chinese Government Worries About

By Henry Farrell

A new paper by Gary King, Jennifer Pan and Margaret Roberts.

The size and sophistication of the Chinese government’s program to selectively censor the expressed views of the Chinese people is unprecedented in recorded world history. … In this paper, we show that this program, designed to limit freedom of speech of Chinese citizens, paradoxically also exposes an extraordinarily rich source of information about the Chinese government’s interests, intentions, and goals — a subject of longstanding interest to the scholarly and policy communities. … Our central theoretical finding is that, contrary to much research and commentary, the purpose of the censorship program is not to supress criticism of the state or the Party. Indeed, despite widespread censorship of social media, we find that when the Chinese people write scathing criticisms of their government and its leaders, the probability that their post will be censored does not increase. Instead, we find that the purpose of the censorship program is to reduce the probability of collective action by clipping social ties whenever any localized social movements are in evidence or expected. We demonstrate these points and then discuss their far-reaching implications for the state, civil society, political control, and the economy.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Henry Farrell is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.