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The Communist Party’s autonomic approach to managing state security

In this China Monitor, Samantha Hoffman, independent consultant and MERICS Visiting Academic Fellow, investigates the use of new technologies to secure the Communist Party’s monopoly on power. Hoffman analyzes China’s “holistic concept of state security.”

The goal is a self-regulating system capable of pre-empting external as well as internal threats to the party-state. This happens through the process of "social management,“ which creates a feedback loop between the party and society, similar to Mao Zedong’s "mass line.“ Hoffman argues that in the modern application of this process, China’s leadership relies on approaches from complex systems engineering theory.

She describes "China’s Autonomic Nervous System“ as the ideal of a self-configuring, self-healing, self-optimizing and self-protecting system. For example, the self-optimizing objective is reached through the automation of every citizen’s accountability in the "Social Credit System.“ The integration of military and civilian resources down to the local level allows the mobilization of society in a crisis – fulfilling the self-protecting objective.

The result, Hoffman argues, is a new, flexible form of authoritarianism that cannot be rated as 'hard' or 'soft,' but rather relies on a mix of voluntary participation by citizens and coercive measures by the state. “China’s authoritarianism is designed so that in its ideal form both “soft” and “hard” elements constantly act together,” writes Hoffman.


Former Visiting Academic Fellow