Neoliberal governance or digitalized autocracy? The rising market for online opinion surveillance in China

Main Article Content

Rui Hou


Much recent attention referring to surveillance practice in China has been paid to Chinese authorities’ authoritarian strategies like hiring online inspectors and building the Internet Firewall. While this focus meets the conventional imagination of a non-democratic regime, it neglects the underlying policy changes and structural arrangements with which the Chinese government conducts its governance in the era of big data. My ongoing study demonstrates, there has appeared a market through which various for-profit institutions are selling data services to help the governments conduct domestic governance in China. Through purchasing the Internet information surveillance system which is based on technologies like data mining, sentiment analysis and cloud computing, most Chinese local governments have incorporated the surveillance of public online opinion into their daily work. This phenomenon implies that a neolibral form of governance which aims at monitoring and guiding public sentiment is taking shape in authoritarian China.

Article Details

How to Cite
HOU, Rui. Neoliberal governance or digitalized autocracy? The rising market for online opinion surveillance in China. Surveillance & Society, [S.l.], v. 15, n. 3/4, p. 418-424, aug. 2017. ISSN 1477-7487. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 20 aug. 2017.
online opinion surveillance; Chinese Internet control; authoritarian repression


Aman, Mohammed M. and Tina J. Jayroe. 2013. “ICT, Social Media, and the Arab Transition to Democracy: From Venting to Acting.” DOMES: Digest of Middle East Studies 22(2):317–47..
Ball, Kirstie. 2009. “Exposure: Exploring the Subject of Surveillance.” Information, Communication & Society 12(5):639–57.
Ball, Kirstie; Daniel, Elizabeth; Dibb, Sally and Meadows, Maureen. 2010. Democracy, surveillance and “knowing what's good for you”: the private sector origins of profiling and the birth of ‘citizen relationship management’. In: Haggerty, Kevin D. and Samatas, Minas eds. Surveillance and Democracy. Abingdon: Routledge.
Bennett, Colin J. 2015. “Trends in Voter Surveillance in Western Societies: Privacy Intrusions and Democratic Implications.” Surveillance and Society 13(3–4):370–84.
Brady, Anne-Marie. 2006. “Guiding Hand: The Role of the CCP Central Propaganda Department in the Current Era.” Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture 3(1):58–77.
Chen, J., Pan, J. and Xu, Y. 2016. Sources of Authoritarian Responsiveness: A Field Experiment in China. American Journal of Political Science, 60: 383–400.
Crampton, Jeremy W. 2015. “Collect It All: National Security, Big Data and Governance.” GeoJournal 80(4):519–31.
Diamond, Larry. 2010. “Liberation Technology.” Journal of Democracy 21(3):69–83.
Harwit, Eric and Duncan Clark. 2013. “Shaping the Internet in China: Evolution of Political Control over Neetwork Infrastructure and Content.” Asian Survey 41(3):377–408.
Han, Rongbin. 2015. “Defending the Authoritarian Regime Online: China's ‘Voluntary Fifty-Cent Army.’” The China Quarterly 224:1006–25.
Hassid, Jonathan. 2012. “Safety Valve or Pressure Cooker? Blogs in Chinese Political Life.” Journal of Communication 62(2):212–30.
Kalathil, Shanthi and Taylor C. Boas. 2010. Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule. Carnegie Endowment. Retrieved January 13, 2016 (
Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret E. Roberts.2016. “How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument.” American Political Science Review. Forthcoming
Mackinnon, Rebecca. 2011. “China ’ S ‘ Networked Authoritarianism .’” Jornal of Democracy. 22(2):32–46.
Mai, Bo. 2016. Data-driven Surveillance as a Business: Analysis of Government Expenditure on Online Public Opinion Monitoring, Unpublished paper.
Liu, Zhen. 2016. "Big Brother is Watching You", Southern China Morning Post. Retrieved (
Lyon, David. 1994. The electronic eye: The rise of surveillance society. U of Minnesota Press.
Petricic, Saša. 2017. “Big Brother Collecting Big Data”. CBC NEWS. Retrived (
Qiang, Xiao. 2011. “The Battle for the Chinese Internet.” Journal of Democracy 22(2):47–61.
Stern, R. E. and J. Hassid. 2012. “Amplifying Silence: Uncertainty and Control Parables in Contemporary China.” Comparative Political Studies 45(10):1230–54.
Stockmann, D. and M. E. Gallagher. 2011. Remote Control: How the Media Sustain Authoritarian Rule in China. Comparative Political Studies XX(X): 1 –32
Sullivan, J. 2014. “China’s Weibo: Is Faster Different?” New Media & Society 16(1):24–37.
Tong, Jingrong. 2015. “The Formation of an Agonistic Public Sphere: Emotions, the Internet and News Media in China.” China Information 29(3):333–51.
Tong, Yanqi and Shaohua Lei. 2012. “War of Position and Microblogging in China.” Journal of Contemporary China 22(80):292–311.
Yang, Guobin. 2003. “The Internet and Civil Society in China: A Preliminary Assessment.” Journal of Contemporary China 12(36):453–75.
Yang, Guobin. 2009. The Power of The Internet in China. Coumbia University Press.
Yang, Guobin. 2012. “A Chinese Internet ? History , Practice , and Globalization.” Chinese Journal of Communication 5(1):49–54.
Yang, Guobin. 2014. “Political Contestation in Chinese Digital Spaces: Deepening the Critical Inquiry.” China Information 28(2):135–44.