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China Scholarship Digest #11

A monthly list of new China-related academic research.

Articles published in May 2022

66 journals scanned

72 articles from 24 journals

Chinese Studies

The China Journal

To develop a robust surveillance apparatus in the digital age, autocracies are compelled to rely on foreign suppliers or to allow domestic private entrepreneurs to enter a strategic industrial sector. The process through which China developed a surveillance state led by globally competitive security companies exemplifies this authoritarian capitalist dynamic. Initial liberalization enabled domestic firms to adapt foreign technology and eventually introduce innovations in digital surveillance. By the late 2000s, China had developed a vibrant and segmented security industry: homegrown surveillance giants with the most advanced technology dominated public procurement contracts and export markets, while smaller and medium-size enterprises were creating intrusive monitoring applications that go well beyond what the state had originally envisioned. Because China’s surveillance state rests on strong public-private linkages, the assumed alliance between surveillance capitalists and a despotic state has generated external backlash from liberal democratic countries. Global supply chains involving sensitive technology have remained resilient, however.
The Chinese government’s rhetoric and policies have become increasingly assertive in recent years, leading some observers abroad to see China as a threat to democracy and the international order. However, less attention has been devoted to the attitudes that Chinese people themselves hold toward democracy. How does the Chinese public view democracy in light of transformations occurring in both the domestic and international environments? This article examines a novel data set of Chinese social media posts published between 2009 and 2021 in order to investigate changes in popular attitudes toward democracy. Results show that while China’s online sphere was once dominated by liberal voices, expressions of doubt about liberal democracy have become more pronounced since 2013. While tightened state control over online speech has been an important factor in this outcome, people’s exposure to unsatisfactory political realities in Western democracies has also played a significant role. Chinese people’s idealized expectations vis-à-vis the promises of liberal democracy have been challenged by perceptions that democratic regimes have delivered subpar performances and engage in “double standards” when dealing with China. This disillusionment with democracy has translated into popular support for the Chinese government, bringing about what the article identifies as the passive political legitimacy of the Chinese regime.

Journal of Contemporary China

This paper examines how China has been portrayed in international cinema throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Using the Internet Movie Database, the authors extract the plot synopses of 4,927 China-related films. The authors apply the word embedding technology and Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) topic model to explore the cinematic plots, as well as achieve the sentiment score and ascertain the socioeconomic factors of score change. The findings indicate that the image of China in international cinema has been associated with gross domestic product (GDP) and foreign direct investment. The image of China changed from the barbarian to the schemer, and finally to the civilized great power, giving the insight into cultural trends that traditional research methods cannot capture.
The rise of Chinese capabilities relative to those of the United States has received widespread attention. Some argue that a transition in relative capabilities has already occurred, others that it is unlikely within this century. This article presents a new multidimensional measure of relative national capabilities and forecasts using the International Futures model across 29 alternative scenarios. This article finds that Chinese capabilities surpass the United States in 26 scenarios before 2060, with the most frequent period of power transition being the early 2040s. This analysis offers an opportunity for leaders to reconcile national images with reality, potentially reducing the risk of conflict associated with great power transition.

China Quarterly

There are few women among China's local political leadership. Current scholarship on the topic co-locates women's political participation with the representation of other marginalized social groups. In particular, it is argued that female politicians are simply tokenistic representatives of the marginalized: female, intellectual, ethnic minority and non-Communist Party members. An examination of those women who have served in provincial leadership positions over the last two terms suggests that such a characterization is misleading. Rather, the evidence indicates that women have been appointed on the same grounds as male leaders in terms of age, education, CCP membership and experience. Gender disparities in the selection of provincial leaders are in fact considerably more nuanced and can be traced to the lack of institutionalized policies and processes as well as women's ongoing disadvantages in education, political networks and training.
The household registration (hukou) system has been widely recognized as a key contributory factor to social inequality and tensions in China yet it remains intact despite a series of institutional reforms. What explains the resilience of the system? In this study, we address this puzzle by drawing on policy documents, statistical data and interviews. We argue that the hukou system remains because it is used to protect the beneficiaries of welfare provision and to ensure pivotal groups continue to offer political support. We find that owing to the reforms, a formidable barrier has been erected between the guarded cities and other regions to protect healthcare and education resources from inbound migrant workers. Consequently, the institutional reforms of the hukou system serve as a political contrivance for the survival of the Chinese party-state regime. The findings contribute to emerging literature on China's political control by elaborating political elites’ subtle tactics through various institutions at central and local levels. We expect the new “Great Wall” established under Xi's administration to be an even stronger barrier than before for migrants during the current pandemic and in the future.

Asian Studies

Journal of Contemporary Asia

Critical Asian Studies

This article revisits the Ninth Panchen Lama’s (Choekyi Nyima, 1883–1937) controversial exile in China and Inner Mongolia between 1924 and 1937. As the most renowned political dissenter of the then-nascent Tibetan state and the second most important religious leader for Mongolian and Tibetan Buddhists, the Ninth Panchen Lama played a significant role in the early-twentieth-century Chinese, Tibetan, and Mongolian political and spiritual worlds. Academic scrutiny of the Ninth Panchen Lama’s association with China has facilitated the scholarly understanding of the “subimperialist” policy that the Chinese Nationalist government devised to replicate the Qing Empire’s success in managing Mongol and Tibetan territories. Assisted by newly released sources and a shifting focus away from Chinese statesmen to the Tibetan monk, this article reassesses the power that the Ninth Panchen Lama wielded on the Sino–Mongol–Tibetan frontiers and his collaboration with the Chinese Nationalist government. This article argues that despite possessing many cosmetic features of the Qing-style relationship centering on the mutually agreed reinterpretation of an established status quo within a hierarchal framework, the alliance between the Ninth Panchen Lama and the Chinese Nationalist government was a venturesome entente based upon shared objectives that were audacious, contentious, and bore little resemblance to Qing precedent.

International Affairs

Third World Quarterly


Cambridge Review of International Affairs

The article contrasts China’s interpretations of sovereignty within its so-called motherland in the South China Sea and far from China’s shores in the Arctic. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has maintained a pre-modern definition of Chinese boundaries in the South China Sea as territorial and ocean frontiers with blurred boundaries to other political authorities. Frontiers were without permanent settlements, but nomads and fishermen recurringly used them within a Chinese imperial system of reciprocal socioeconomic responsibilities. The South China Sea forms part of this frontier where the PRC argues that national Chinese legislation applies. By contrast, far from China’s shores in the Arctic, where China is not the political centre, the PRC seeks to globalise the region, depicting it as a frontier with blurred boundaries of political authority. China recognises the sovereignty of Arctic states, but simultaneously applies standard interpretations of international law to legalise the presence of extra-regional states.

Chinese Journal of International Politics

Australian Journal of International Affairs

Review of International Political Economy

Pacific Review

International Relations of the Asia-Pacific


Journal of Politics

Society & Culture

Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

Chinese Journal of Communication


China Economic Journal

Within two decades, China built a very large platform economy. From the beginning of 2021, however, the Chinese government started to implement a set of new policies, popularly known as ‘strong regulations’, in order to correct improper platform behavior and improve market efficiency. These policies caused some negative effects on short-term momentum of the platform economy, including lay-offs of employees, decline of investment, and shrinkage of market valuation. This paper attempts to address the following questions: why did the authorities initiate this new policy? what are its net impacts on the platform economy? and how can the regulators do better? While acknowledging the urgent need for proper regulations for China’s platform economy, this paper argues that the authorities should find a better balance between regulation and development, with innovative thinking in dealing with issues such exclusive agreement, differential pricing and monopoly.

Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies

China Economic Review

This study examines the long-term effects of childhood left-behind experience on human capital outcomes across two generations in China. Using data from the China Family Panel Studies (CFPS), we find evidence that adults with left-behind experience in early life have fewer schooling years, lower cognitive test scores, a lower Big Five personality traits index, but a higher internal locus of control. Meanwhile, they are more likely to report underweight, chronic diseases, depression, and lower levels of perceived health and happiness. Our findings of the negative consequences on personality traits and health outcomes are robust to a battery of specification and validity tests. These effects also differ markedly by adults' gender, birth cohort, hukou status, and the characteristics of left-behind experience (i.e., type, timing, and duration). Further, our results also suggest a potential intergenerational transmission mechanism in which human capital loss is induced by one's early-life exposure to parental absence. Specifically, one's childhood left-behind experience is also inversely associated with their offspring's outcomes such as Big Five noncognitive skills, birth weight, and height-for-age z-score. Although adults with left-behind experience are inclined to spend more time with offspring compared with their non-left-behind counterparts, they also tend to have significantly poorer household socioeconomic outcomes and less offspring educational investment.

Asia Pacific Business Review

Journal of Asian Economics

Economic and Political Studies

Journal of the Asia Pacific Economy

Journal of Development Economics

Using hand-collected data on yield over-reporting during China's Great Leap Forward (GLF) period, we find that GLF over-reporting in a chairperson's province of origin strongly predicts corporate financial misconduct today. Evidence from a variety of identification strategies establishes a causal relationship. We also extend our analyses to other aspects of corporate misconduct and local dishonest behaviors. We show that GLF over-reporting has shifted social norms toward a present-day tolerance for dishonesty. Our findings suggest that wrongdoings by local government officials in the past can lead to adverse effects on people's future behavior in the form of cheating.


International Journal of Human Rights

This article examines academic freedom in China amid the tensions within a marketised global political economy of knowledge production. Joining the global competition for hegemony in the ‘knowledge economy’, the Chinese authorities signalled an acceptance of the ‘rules of the game’, even though these have the potential to undermine domestic political control. Global (as opposed to national) rankings of universities were actually initiated in China, and Chinese universities are competing for status. Likewise, China has created space for marketised higher education institutions and increasingly collaborates with global commercial publishing platforms, while academics there are under growing pressure to publish in globally ranked journals. The dynamic authoritarianism pursued under Xi Jinping has exacerbated the tensions inherent in these differing imperatives. The Xi era has witnessed declines in university autonomy; growing content-related restrictions in teaching, research and publishing including extending these to global firms; and increased distrust of research collaborations with ‘foreigners’. We focus here on a central support for academic freedom: institutional and individual autonomy, showing how threats to autonomy in Chinese universities are related to two different types of authoritarianism: party control and managerialism. We also point to areas of tension between internationalisation of Chinese higher education and authoritarian impulses.

Compiled by Adam Ni | code by Katharina Ni