Convenient Criticism

Local Media and Governance in Urban China

By Dan Chen

Subjects: Political Communication, Asian Studies, Chinese Studies, Mass Media, Urban Sociology
Paperback : 9781438480305, 229 pages, July 2021
Hardcover : 9781438480299, 229 pages, October 2020

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations


1. Convenient Criticism

2. Tangled Maneuvers

3. Political Edge

4. Keen Partner

5. Criticism and Correction


Appendix A: Ethnographic Observation and Interviews
Appendix B: Content Analysis and Variables
Works Cited

Explains why and how local critical reporting can exist in China despite the kinds of media control that are the hallmarks of authoritarian rule.


Why and how does critical reporting persist at the local level in China despite state media control, a hallmark of authoritarian rule? Synthesizing ethnographic observation, interviews, survey and content analysis data, Convenient Criticism reveals evolving dynamics in local governance and the state-media relationship. Local critical reporting, though limited in scope, occurs because local leaders, motivated by political career advancement, use media criticism strategically to increase bureaucratic control, address citizen grievances, and improve governance. This new approach to governance enables the shaping of public opinion while, at the same time, disciplining subordinate bureaucrats. In this way, the party-state not only monopolizes propaganda but also expropriates criticism, which expands the notion of media control from the suppression of journalism to its manipulation. One positive consequence of these practices has been to invigorate television journalists' unique brand of advocacy journalism.

Dan Chen is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Richmond.


"This book's major contribution is twofold: first, its diverse and rich dataset and, second, its examination of the dynamics of local media control and governance … this book delivers what it promises and will be of interest to those interested in learning more about the development and the politics of governance, media, journalism and criticism in China." — Europe-Asia Studies

"This is an exciting project on an interesting and highly relevant topic. By studying how local leaders in China are using television news programs to discipline street-level cadres and to improve governance for the purpose of career advancement, Chen contributes to our understanding of local state-media relations. Her eloquent analysis shows that, under certain circumstances, controlled critical reporting can be convenient for local leaders, citizens, and media professionals, as well as the authoritarian regime." — Rongbin Han, author of Contesting Cyberspace in China: Online Expression and Authoritarian Resilience