An Explanation of Self-Censorship in China: The Enforcement of Social Control Through a Panoptic Infrastructure

By Simon K. Zhen
2015, Vol. 7 No. 09 | pg. 5/5 |

Conclusion

The unusual phenomenon that this research paper sought to explain was the self-censoring tendencies of Chinese citizens on the Internet and in the media. Contemporary scholars such as Castells and Morozov provide theories that allow us to understand the overarching structure of the system. However, they fail to address the notion that individuals are exercising self-censorship even in the absence of coercive force. Foucault’s Panopticism provides a much superior explanation for China’s contemporary situation. It effectively explains how the unequal gaze that the government possesses, its mass surveillance endeavors, its ability to internalize disciplinary individuality, its ability to convert knowledge into , and its ability to produce docile bodies, creates an environment that fosters self-censorship.

These findings have three profound implications with respect to the future outlook of censorship both in general and specifically for . First, it is becoming more evident that authoritarian states such as China (and possibly even North Korea) are increasingly relying on to develop their surveillance infrastructure. Technology enables mass surveillance, which is extremely efficient. There are no signs of this trend reversing as states become increasingly reliant on technology. In China’s case, it has developed, and will continue to develop sophisticated structures such as the Great Firewall and the Great Cannon to help increase the efficacy of its censorship project. As states that exercise heavy censorship become progressively reliant on technology, the amount that they will need to spend on infrastructure for surveillance and censorship will merely increase. Even if states decide to station soldiers across the country to enforce censorship, this line of argument still holds true. However, this begs the question: what about poorer states in the Global South? Foreseeably, as technology continues to advance, the most effective and efficient means of mass censorship and surveillance may very well be exclusive to developed countries that are able to afford the infrastructure in the first place. This puts poorer nations, especially those in the Global South, at a disproportionate disadvantage.

Second, the evidence and findings of this paper suggest that despite the continued efforts of the international community, non-governmental organizations, and domestic dissidents, regime change in China is virtually impossible. The sophisticated censorship apparatus, the self-censoring tendencies of citizens, the nonexistence of major dissent, the heavy sanctions associated with transgression, the norms that continue to affect everyone within the system, the lack of political accountability, the fact that citizens do not get a say in politics, and more importantly, the absolute control that the CPC possesses, create a highly favorable status quo bias for the CPC. At least in the immediate future, the CPC will not lose power in China, nor will efforts likely undermine its rule.

However, although regime change is practically impossible, the threshold for policy change is considerably lower. As a closed society in the mid-20th century, the Chinese government was able to instate many controversial statutes such as positioning Red Guards across the country and permitting public executions. But these directives ceased to exist when China opened up its borders and liberalized trade with the rest of the world. In the status quo, although it technically retains the power to, it does not, and cannot publically execute transgressors like it once did. At least to some extent, it is subject to the indirect jurisdiction of international norms, and must obey statutes such as the United Declaration of Human Rights insofar as it cares about the real market consequences of radical disobedience. China opened its borders for economic and monetary reasons. Although this is highly unlikely because of China’s sphere of influence in the global market and its hegemonic privileges, based on the fact that major change was prompted by economic reasons, if coalitions could somehow successfully threaten China’s market interests, it could potentially force the government to change some degrees of its censorship practices.

On a final note, this paper’s findings are not unique to China and can be applied to various other disciplines and areas. The key finding of this paper was that the Chinese government’s creation of a panoptic-like state encourages its citizens to practice self-censorship, even in the absence of direct force. Although some of the censorship mechanisms are unique to China, the concept of Panopticism is not. If other governments (regardless of whether that government is authoritarian, totalitarian, or even democratic) are able to somehow, not necessarily in the same fashion that China has, implement policies that promote the creation of a panoptic-like state, they will also be able to cause their citizens to self-censor their own behaviors on an everyday basis—with the level of self-censorship amongst citizens dependent on the extent to which that state is panoptic.


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Endnotes

1.) "Definition of Self-censorship in English:." Self-censorship: Definition of Self-censorship in Oxford Dictionary (American English) (US).

2.) Legitimate State Monopoly Over The Means of Violence." United States Institute of Peace.

3.) Elman, Benjamin A.A Cultural History of Civil Examinations in Late Imperial China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

4.) Westad, Odd Arne.Decisive Encounters: The Chinese Civil War, 1946-1950. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2003.

5.) Wu, Hongda Harry, and George Vecsey.Troublemaker: One Man's Crusade against China's Cruelty. New York: Times Books, 1996.

6.) "Uneasy Silences Punctuate 60th Anniversary Coverage." CMP Newswire.

7.) Short, Philip.Mao: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 2000.

8.) "Uneasy Silences Punctuate 60th Anniversary Coverage." CMP Newswire.

9.) Goldstein, Melvyn C.The Snow Lion and the Dragon China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

10.) "Tibet Online - Why Tibet? - HISTORY LEADING UP TO MARCH 10TH 1959."

11.) Rojas, Robinson. "DECISION CONCERNING THE GREAT PROLETARIAN CULTURAL REVOLUTION (Adopted on 8 August 1966, by the CC of the CCP)." The Robinson Rojas Archive. January 1, 1968.

12.) Schrift, Melissa.Biography of a Chairman Mao Badge: The Creation and Mass Consumption of a Personality Cult. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001.

13.) Solomon, Richard H.Mao's Revolution and the Chinese Political Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.

14.) Myers, James T.Chinese Politics: Documents and Analysis. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.

15.) "Tiananmen Square, 1989: The Declassified History." June 1, 1999.

16.) Zetter, Kim. "CHINA CENSORS: THE TIANANMEN SQUARE ANNIVERSARY WILL NOT BE TWEETED." June 2, 2009.

17.) Walton, Greg.China's Golden Shield: Corporations and the Development of Surveillance Technology in the People's Republic of China. Montréal: Rights & Democracy, 2001.

18.) James, Randy. "A BRIEF HISTORY OF: Chinese Internet Censorship." Time.

19.) Fallows, James. "“The Connection Has Been Reset.”" The Atlantic. March 1, 2008.

20.) Perlroth, Nicole. "China Is Said to Use Powerful New Weapon to Censor Internet." The New York Times. April 10, 2015.

21.) Jacobs, Andrew. "China Further Tightens Grip on the Internet." The New York Times.

22.) China - The Enemies of Internet. March 7, 2013.

23.) Bennett, Isabella. "Media Censorship in China." Council on Foreign Relations.

24.) Fallows, James. "“The Connection Has Been Reset.”" The Atlantic. March 1, 2008.

25.) Castells, Manuel.Communication Power. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009.

26.) Ibid., 283.

27.) Ibid., 279.

28.) Tong, J. "Press Self-censorship In China: A Case Study In The Transformation Of Discourse."Discourse & Society, 2009, 593-612.

29.) Ibid., 600-12.

30.) Morozov, Evgeny.The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2011, 101.

31.) Ibid., 106.

32.) Ibid., 106-116.

33.) Ibid., 106-120.

34.) King, Gary, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret E. Roberts. "How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression."American Political Science Review, 2013, 326-43.

35.) Ibid., 326.

36.) Ibid., 339.

37.) Shambaugh, David. "CHINA'S PROPAGANDA SYSTEM: INSTITUTIONS, PROCESSES AND EFFICACY."The China Journal, No. 57 (Jan., 2007), Pp. 25-5857 (2007): 25-58.

38.) Ibid., 38-55.

39.) Ibid., 55.

40.) Ibid., 58.

41.) Ibid., 57-8.

42.) Hatton, Celia. "Is Weibo on the Way Out?" BBC News. February 24, 2015.

43.) "Chinese Rumormonger Gets Four Years." Xinhua News. November 18, 2014.

44.) Hunt, Katie, and CY Xu. "China 'employs 2 Million to Police Internet' - CNN.com." CNN. October 7, 2013.

45.) Sterbenz, Christina. "China Banned The Term '50 Cents' To Stop Discussion Of An Orwellian Propaganda Program." Business Insider. October 17, 2014.

46.) Ibid.

47.) Checkel, Jeffrey T. "Social Construction and European Integration." Ed. Brent F. Nelsen and Alexander C-G. Stubb. The European Union: Readings on the Theory and Practice of European Integration. Vol. 3. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2003, 351.

48.) Ibid., 359.

49.) Ibid., 351-52.

50.) Ibid., 360.

51.) Ibid., 358-60.

52.) Ibid., 360.

53.) March, James G., and Johan P. Olsen. "The Logic of Appropriateness." Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2013, 1.

54.) Shambaugh, David.,57.

55.) Foucault, Michel.Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977, 125-129.

56.) Ibid., 135-167.

57.) "Definition of Discipline in English:." Discipline: Definition of Discipline in Oxford Dictionary (American English) (US).

58.) Foucault, Michel, 171-214.

59.) Ibid., 135-167.

60.) Bentham, Jeremy. "PANOPTICON." PANOPTICON. June 16, 2001.

61.) Ibid., 1.

62.) Foucault, Michel.Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 215-27.

63.) Rayner, Tim. "Foucault and Social Media: Life in a Virtual Panopticon." Philosophy for Change. June 21, 2012.

64.) Allmer, Thomas. Towards a Critical Theory of Surveillance in Informational Capitalism. Frankfurt Am Main: Peter Lang, 2012. 22.

65.) Shirk, Susan L. The Political Logic of Economic Reform in China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. 3-53.

66.) "China Jails Journalist over Leaked 'state Secrets' - BBC News." BBC News. April 17, 2015.

67.) Lu, Rachel. "A New Definition of Chinese Patriotism." Foreign Policy A New Definition of Chinese Patriotism Comments. September 11, 2011.

68.) Williams, Michael. Citizenship Education and Lifelong Learning: Power and Place. Hauppauge, N.Y.: Nova Science Publishers, 2003, 107.

69.) Ding, Shen. "Modernization without Democratization in the Digital Age: China's Micromanagement of Its Contentious State–Society Relations." Asian Journal of Political Science 23, no. 1 (2015): 1-22.

70.) Jacobs, Andrew. "Tiananmen Square ‘Negatives’: An Art Book or a Protest?" The New York Times. February 23, 2015.

71.) "China Tries Hard to Ignore 25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square Crackdown." CBSNews.

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