Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 03/2013

Microblogs in China: Bringing the State Back In

Nele Noesselt

February 2013

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


This paper reflects the adaptation and transformation of the Chinese party‐state’s governing strategy in the digital era. Through a discourse analysis of the current Chinese debate on the role of microblogs in China, it argues that China’s political elites have revised their social management strategy. They now tend to base their political decision‐making on strategic calculations that reflect online public opinion in order to increase the system’s efficiency and to generate a new kind of performance‐based legitimacy. This turn to a more responsive mode of governance has been driven by the findings of Internet surveys and reports provided by Chinese research institutes and advisory bodies. A close reading of these documents and reports helps to answer the question of why authoritarian states such as China do not prohibit the spread of new communication technologies, even though these are said to have triggered or at least facilitated the rebellions of the Arab Spring.