China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Secrecy is an essential element of state capacity, but it can also render the bureaucracy cumbersome, indecisive, and unaccountable. No secrecy is the same across time and space, nor is it unique to any particular regime type. Taking up twentieth-century China as a case study, this panel examines the information infrastructure of bureaucratic governance. From archival access to cadre surveillance, we reveal the techniques and technologies by which successive Chinese states control human and information resources. In particular, comparing China with other socialist regimes, we examine its dilemma of permanent revolution and bureaucratic state-building. At a time of deepening censorship in China, we not only theorize the making of ignorance with historical analysis, but also explore censorship as a site of knowledge generation through ethnographic and digital methods.
Our papers form two clear axes. By examining episodes of CCP archival appraisal, Lu traces the history of information security and examines patterns of declassification. Strauss, drawing on her decade-long fieldwork in both China and Taiwan, offers a cross-strait study of archival politics. Moving from the stacks to the bureaucracy at large, Chang examines how the party came to know about its rank through cadre examination, while Leese illuminates the great cleansing of personal dossiers at the end of the Cultural Revolution. Taken together, our panel reconsiders the nexus between knowledge and power, one that is critical for illuminating not only political trajectories of the Chinese state, but also the very sources we use to make sense of it.