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China and Inner Asia
Controlling Public Dissent Through Media Coverage on Administrative Lawsuits in China
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Chicago, United States
Why would an authoritarian leadership assume risk and publicize information about citizen resistance against the state? In general, allowing public knowledge on the widespread antipathy towards the government is self-defeating for an autocrat because such information could reveal regime weakness and possibly incite collective actions (Kuran 1991). However, in China, the state-controlled media outlets cover administrative court cases where citizens file lawsuits against their administrators. I explain this seemingly risky choice as an authoritarian leadership’s co-optation and repression strategy towards potential threats within the society. Administrative litigants are the people who are willing to take the costliest action against the government when facing administrative conflicts. Hence, by selectively increasing accessibility to certain types of administrative court cases, the authoritarian leadership signals two different messages to those potential regime challengers: Within the state-set boundary, the regime may accommodate people (co-optation), but outside the boundary, any resistance will be suppressed (repression). To test the hypothesis, I compiled an original dataset and compared the entire administrative court cases with the cases that are covered in the media between 2014-2018. The empirical findings support my argument: cases that are less politically sensitive and/or where citizens win are most likely to be covered in the media. Yet, at the same time, the media covers highly politically sensitive cases where citizen-litigants end up subordinating to the government.