TU Wien Informatics

Transition From Labor-intensive to Tech-intensive Surveillance in China

  • 2021-11-16
  • Public Lecture
  • Social Responsibility

Minxin Pei talks about of the effectiveness of the Chinese surveillance state.

Transition From Labor-intensive to Tech-intensive Surveillance in China

  • This is an online-only event.
    See description for details.
  • Speaker: Minxin Pei, Claremont McKenna College, USA
  • Moderator: Susan J. Winter, University of Maryland, College of Information Studies, USA


In the post-Tiananmen period the Chinese government has devoted enormous resources to the construction of a surveillance state. The initial efforts were directed at building organizational networks and coordination mechanisms to monitor a large number of individuals deemed threats to the rule of the Communist Party and public safety. Due to the lack of technological resources, the surveillance state in the 1990s was labor-intensive but highly effective. The Chinese government developed sophisticated surveillance tactics to monitor individuals and public venues even without hi-tech equipment.

The transition to tech-intensive surveillance began at the end of the 1990s and accelerated in the 2010s due to the availability of new technologies and the generous funding from the state. Yet, despite the adoption of hi-tech tools, the Chinese surveillance state remains a labor-intensive and organization-intensive system. The unrivaled organizational capacity of the Communist Party, not new fancy technology, is the secret of the effectiveness of the Chinese surveillance state.

About Minxin Pei

Minxin Pei is the Tom and Margot Pritzker ‘72 Professor of Government, George R. Roberts Fellow, and the director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College. He is also a non-resident senior fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. He was the inaugural Library of Congress Chair on U.S.-China Relations in 2019. From 1999 to 2009 he was a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and was an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University from 1992 to 1998. He is the author of From Reform to Revolution: The Demise of Communism in China and the Soviet Union (1994); China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy (2006); China’s Crony Capitalism: The Dynamics of Regime Decay (2016).

About Susan J. Winter

Dr. Susan Winter, Associate Dean for Research, College of Information Studies, the University of Maryland. Dr. Winter studies the co-evolution of technology and work practices, and the organization of work. She has recently focused on ethical issues surrounding civic technologies and smart cities, the social and organizational challenges of data reuse, and collaboration among information workers and scientists acting within highly institutionalized sociotechnical systems. Her work has been supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation and by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. She was previously a Science Advisor in the Directorate for Social Behavioral and Economic Sciences, a Program Director, and Acting Deputy Director of the Office of Cyberinfrastructure at the National Science Foundation supporting distributed, interdisciplinary scientific collaboration for complex data-driven and computational science. She received her PhD from the University of Arizona, her MA from the Claremont Graduate University, and her BA from the University of California, Berkeley.

Online Event

We are looking forward to seeing you:

  • Participate via Zoom (meeting: 9638 9928 143, password 0dzqxqiy).
  • The talk will also be live streamed and recorded on our YouTube Channel.
  • For further announcements and information, please visit the DIGHUM Website, which also provides slides and recordings of all our past events.

The DIGHUM Lecture Series

Digital Humanism deals with the complex relationship between man and machine. It acknowledges the potential of Informatics and IT. At the same time, it points to related apparent threats such as privacy violations, ethical concerns with AI, automation, and loss of jobs, and the ongoing monopolization on the Web. The Corona crisis has shown these two faces of the accelerated digitalization—we are in a crucial moment in time.

For this reason, we started the DIGHUM Lecture Series, a new initiative with regular online events to discuss the different aspects of Digital Humanism. We will have a speaker on a specific topic (30 minutes) followed by a discussion of 30 minutes every second Tuesday of each month at 5:00 PM CEST. This crisis seriously affects our mobility, but it also offers the possibility to participate in events from all over the world—let’s take this chance to meet virtually.

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