Segmented publics and the regulation of critical speech in China

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In contemporary China strict censorship coexists with significant freedom of expression and restrictions are enforced inconsistently. Yet certain principles underlie determinations of what is acceptable public speech, depending on the institutional location of the utterance, the identity of the speaker and the time of the event. What is allowed depends on the specific circumstances, but it results from patterns in the institutional practices of Chinese politics that involve constraining debate within “segmented publics”. This article analyses how formal and informal rules limit discussions of particular issues to specific segmented publics, and how varying degrees of debate are permitted within these institutional fields, based on the expertise of their members or, in the case of associations, their engagement in specific areas of policy implementation. Another dimension of variation relates to the personalised character of authority in the Chinese system of governance, which means that leaders set the tone for debate within institutional spheres they control. State control, however, is only part of the story: segmented publics are dynamic spaces where boundaries are permeable, often contested, and constantly in formation. The operation of segmented publics is explored here through case studies of activism in the legal field; on women’s rights in the associational field; at the grassroots in resident and villager committees; and in oppositional publics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-118
Number of pages19
JournalAsian Studies Review
Issue number1
Early online date18 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • China
  • segmented publics
  • censorship
  • freedom of expression
  • politics
  • law
  • grassroots organisations


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