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China’s Online Xinfang Channel: Absorbing Grievances through Institutionalisation

Xiaowei Gui and Zhida Luo
p. 53-60

Abstract

Xinfang, as a major participation channel in China, sets social stability as its most important objective. The way it seeks to balance the participation-institutionalisation dynamic is thus key to understanding its function. Drawing on detailed interviews and archival sources, this study clarifies the practice and rationale of the new and important online xinfang channel which has not, to date, been amply examined. By integrating offline communication methods with the new online format, it achieves a subtler form of participation through field diversion, standardised settlement, and balanced evaluation, and thus partly corrects the offline xinfang channel’s heavy reliance on non-institutionalised tactics to maintain stability. However, as long as xinfang still operates at the intersection of law and politics, the question of how to balance citizens’ desire for participation and an appropriate level of institutionalisation remains a noteworthy issue, since stability is only achieved when these two elements are in equilibrium.

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Editor's notes

Manuscript submitted on 9 August 2020. Accepted on 25 March 2021.

Excerpt

Full text document will be published online on September 2022.

Outline

Field diversion from offline agencies to online platform
Transparent processing through standardised procedures
Lawful termination combining soft and hard measures
Performance evaluation balancing procedure and consequences
Discussion and conclusion: The institutional absorption of the xinfang system in the digital age

First lines

Xinfang” (信訪, literally “letters and visits”) can be described broadly as a method of “appealing to those at the top to clear up problems left unresolved by local authorities” (Li, Liu, and O'Brien 2012: 315). The practice has a long history in China and remains a popular channel for Chinese citizens to redress injustice (Cai 2004). However, the xinfang system seeks to achieve its function mainly through the intervention of Party leaders, rather than the authority of legal norms (Minzner 2006). Due to time and resource limitations, such intervention is often used selectively to settle more serious troublemaking situations rather than moderate appeals (Cai 2010). This may ultimately result in the escalation of citizen complaints and deeply entrap the system in a vicious circle: The more it is obsessed with social stability, the less it will have of it. Our elucidation of the “online xinfang channel” (wangshang xinfang xitong 網上信訪系統) is presented against this exact background. Relyin...

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References

Bibliographical reference

Xiaowei Gui and Zhida Luo, « China’s Online Xinfang Channel: Absorbing Grievances through Institutionalisation  », China Perspectives, 2021/3 | 2021, 53-60.

Electronic reference

Xiaowei Gui and Zhida Luo, « China’s Online Xinfang Channel: Absorbing Grievances through Institutionalisation  », China Perspectives [Online], 2021/3 | 2021, Online since 01 September 2022, connection on 17 January 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/chinaperspectives/12293 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/chinaperspectives.12293

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About the authors

Xiaowei Gui

Xiaowei Gui, first author and corresponding author of the article, is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, Wuhan University, China (guixiaowei@whu.edu.cn).

Zhida Luo

Zhida Luo, co-first author of the article, is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy (Zhuhai), Sun Yat-sen University, China (lozida1@gmail.com).

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