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Xi Jinping’s Work Report at the 19th Party Congress in October 2017 invoked the Leninist idea of the “vanguard Party,” stating that, “to lead the people to a better life is the Party’s abiding goal.” Found in the introduction of a section on “Growing Better at Ensuring and Improving People’s Wellbeing and Strengthening and Developing New Approaches to Social Governance”, it helps to demonstrate how the concept “social governance” (社会治理) (the term used for “social management” 社会管理 under Xi) remains a manifestation of Marxism-Leninism.1 Social management would be easy to dismiss as turgid Communist jargon, but it has long been a critical concept describing an ideal-type governance system that serves the Party-state leadership’s power-securing objectives. Social management, therefore, is a process that “programs” China’s state security (国家安全).

At its core, social management is an expansion of the Maoist “Mass Line” ideological mobilization methodology.2 This methodology generates a feedback loop: it is a continuous process of shaping, managing and responding.3 The process is explicitly directed at securing and advancing the CCP’s power. Implementing this social management process requires the creation of a complex system of governance addressing many aspects of state control, yet one that is flexible enough to manage competing, changing and often conflicting challenges.

Social management is made less abstract through recent developments like increasing sophistication of surveillance technology and the design of China’s “Social Credit System.” Often discussed in isolation, these are connected features that represent attempts to automate the CCP’s broader social management strategy.

This application of technology to social management is rooted in discussions on social management and complex systems management originating in the late 1970s and early 1980s. More than an ideal discussed among key Party theorists, social management’s automation has been an explicit objective of the Party-state leadership for well over two decades. In 1995, for instance, Jiang Zemin called for: “…accelerat[ing] realizing the informatization, automation and intelligent-ization of economic and social management.”4 This planning reinforces the notion that the social management system has been structured as a complex system. In this sense, technology should be understood as a tool used to automate a Chinese model of authoritarianism, which is based on complex systems engineering.

To describe social management and how its automation is envisioned this paper introduces a new analytical framework called China’s “Autonomic Nervous System” (ANS). The ANS framework explains how the Party’s Leninist way of thinking, which has a natural resonance with complex systems management theories, is directly applied to the PRC’s political system design.