China’s date with big data: will it strengthen or threaten authoritarian rule?

Jinghan Zeng

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The rise of big data has brought with it enormous possibilities, for better or worse. In China, the government has been enthusiastically preparing for the coming of the era of big data. This article examines how the authoritarian regime in China has been employing big data to improve its governance and to move towards a ‘Big Brother 2.0’ model. The regime has combined cooptation with coercive control to exploit digital technology, in order to maximize its utility and thus maintain authoritarian rule. Moreover, existing debates on digital technology largely focus on the changing power structures between state and society, but neglect power structures within regimes and their implications for authoritarianism. This article argues that the use of massive digital data may backfire against the authoritarian regime as it may change the power structure within the state. That is to say, efforts to embrace big data may also undermine the authoritarian rule. A more accurate understanding of the Chinese authoritarian regime's resilience and vulnerability in the information age will help us grasp the essence of China's rise as a fragile global power.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1443–1462
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2016

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