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Main findings and conclusions

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has developed a form of authoritarianism that cannot be measured through traditional political scales like reform versus retrenchment. This version of authoritarianism involves both “hard” and “soft” authoritarian methods that constantly act together.

The CCP’s objective to manage and maintain power requires a process of pre-emptively ensuring what, under Xi Jinping, is described as “holistic state security.” State security is largely upheld by a process called “social management.”

Social management resembles a feedback loop: i.e. a cycle of shaping, managing and responding, both in society and within the Party itself. It is a version of Mao Zedong’s “Mass Line” way of organizing the Party and its relationship with society.

To describe the social management process, this paper introduces a new analytical framework called China’s “Autonomic Nervous System” (ANS). This approach explains China’s social management process through a complex systems engineering framework. This framework mirrors the CCP’s Leninist way of thinking.

The framework describes four key parts of social management, visualized through ANS’s “self-configuring,” “self-healing,” “self-optimizing” and “self-protecting” objectives. This paper illustrates how these objectives provide a visualization of the CCP’s social management strategy.

The most recent developments of the strategy are found in:

1. A centralized state security apparatus serves the objective of a “self-configuring” central system that can support the optimal operation of the sub-systems within it.

2. The “self-healing” objective is being realized through grid policing to preempt perceived threats to the CCP’s control.

3. Society’s responsibility to participate in its own management is being automated through the Social Credit System, helping the system to “self-optimize” its control.

4. A multi-layered system of national defense mobilization is meant to serve the “self-protecting” objective, both as it relates to emergency pre-emption and response. The CCP has clearly explained that it sees innovating social management as its blueprint for maintaining power. ANS, describing this innovation, demonstrates how advances, particularly through application of technology, can enable the CCP’s ideal form of authoritarianism, which integrates cooperation and coercion. China’s ANS demonstrates how this approach involves attempts to “automate” the social management process through technology designed and implemented based on the same complex systems engineering concepts.

Even if technology is successful in “automating” China’s social management process, technology alone cannot eliminate the problems it attempts to resolve. This means that the CCP’s political system will always depend on the functioning of traditional measures, including but not limited to propaganda and anti-corruption drives, to control power and loyalty to the Party if it is to succeed as envisioned.