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China's Media Censorship: A Dynamic and Diversified Regime


Media censorship is the hallmark of authoritarian regimes, but much of the motivation and practices of autocratic media censorship still remain opaque to the public. Using a dataset of 1,403 secret censorship directives issued by the Chinese propaganda apparatus, I examine the censorship practices in contemporary China. My findings suggest that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is gradually adjusting its censorship practices from restricting unfavorable reports to a strategy of “conditional public opinion guidance.” Over the years, the propaganda apparatus has banned fewer reports but guided more of them. However, this softer approach of regulating news is not equally enforced on every report or by different censorship authorities. First, the party tends to ban news that directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime. In addition, due to the speed with which news and photographs can be posted online, the authorities that regulate news on the Internet are more likely to ban unfavorable reports, compared with authorities that regulate slower-moving traditional media. Lastly, local leaders seeking promotions have more incentive to hide negative news within their jurisdictions than their central-level counterparts, who use media to identify misconduct among their local subordinates. Taken together, these characteristics create a strong but fragmented system of media regulation in contemporary China.

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Journal of East Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 1598-2408
  • EISSN: 2234-6643
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-east-asian-studies
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