The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Comparative Speaker Series- Sheena Greitens (Univ of Missouri)

Surveillance with Chinese Characteristics: The Development and Global Export of Chinese Policing Technology

Fri, October 11, 2019 | BAT 5.108

12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Comparative Speaker Series- Sheena Greitens (Univ of Missouri)

Abstract: Under Xi Jinping, China has pursued a surveillance state of immense scale and ambition.  This project finds that the CCP has invested heavily in intensified surveillance to enhance its capacity for preventive repression. Information gained from surveillance technology not only reveals the overall distribution of support for the regime within society, but matches individuals to specific locations on that distribution, identifying both the type and level of grievance they possess. It thereby facilitates strategy selection, allowing the regime to assign individuals to one of several differentiated demobilization strategies – concession, coercion, or pre-emptive punishment – in a process that maximizes the likelihood of successful demobilization while minimizing risks of backlash. 

 The talk draws on in-depth qualitative evidence from within China’s coercive apparatus to demonstrate that leaders prioritize prevention, see information as the critical component of preventive coercive capacity, and seek to employ surveillance and policing technologies to solve specific information problems that allow them to engage in differentiated demobilization of individual citizens. It concludes by examining new data on the adoption of Chinese surveillance and policing technologies worldwide. Existing policy literature has understated the scale and speed with which these technologies have been exported and adopted around the world; they are now employed in at least 80 countries worldwide, both democratic and autocratic, on every continent except Australia (and Antarctica). Understanding the motivations for and capabilities of Chinese surveillance and policing technology, therefore, has implications not only for how we understand China, but for understanding the ways in which China’s growing power has begun to reshape political life around the world. 

Bio: Sheena Chestnut Greitens is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Missouri, and co-director of the university’s Institute for Korean Studies.  She is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for East Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution and an associate in research at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University.  Dr. Greitens holds a Ph.D from Harvard University; an M.Phil from Oxford University, where she studied as a Marshall Scholar; and a B.A. from Stanford University.


Dr. Greitens’ research focuses on East Asia, security studies, and the politics of democracy and dictatorship.  Her work on China and North Korea has appeared in academic journals and edited volumes in English, Chinese, and Korean, and in major media outlets, and she has previously testified to Congress on security issues in the Asia-Pacific.  Her first book, Dictators and their Secret Police: Coercive Institutions and State Violence, was published in 2016 by Cambridge University Press; it received the 2017 Best Book Award from both the International Studies Association and the Comparative Democratization section of the American Political Science Association, as well as an honorable mention for the J. David Greenstone Award from APSA’s Politics and History section for the best book published in the previous two years.

Dr. Greitens is currently working on two major projects: one on the global resettlement of North Korean refugees and defectors, and one on the politics of domestic security in contemporary China.  

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