Ya-Wen Lei. The Contentious Public Sphere in China: Law, Media, and the Dilemma of Authoritarian Rule

Monday, April 27, 2015 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall

The Contentious Public Sphere in China:
Law, Media, and the Dilemma of Authoritarian Rule

Ya-Wen Lei

In this talk, I will discuss a puzzle: How has a nationwide contentious public sphere emerged and persisted in China, despite the absence of a relatively vibrant civil society and the presence of an interventionist authoritarian state? I argue that the Chinese state’s strategies to sustain its authoritarian rule—namely, its restructuring of legal and media institutions and its use of media to disseminate law—contributed to the overlap of the legal and media fields and inadvertently provided the social-cultural foundation for the contentious public sphere. In my talk, I will focus on a section of my book that addresses this puzzle. Specifically, I will present an empirical analysis of the rise of critical news reporting—a key feature of the contentious public sphere—in certain localities in China in the mid-2000s. Through a comparative study of six newspaper organization in Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai, I will specify the conditions that allowed critical news reports to emerge in certain localities and the role of the state in the process. This empirical analysis helps to illuminate the unintentional the role of the state in creating a nationwide public sphere.

Ya-Wen Lei is a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. She received her JSD from Yale Law School in 2011 and her PhD in sociology from the University of Michigan in 2013. She will begin her appointment as an assistant professor in Harvard’s Department of Sociology in July 2016. Ya-Wen’s dissertation won the 2014 American Sociological Association Dissertation Award. Her book manuscript titled “The Contentious Public Sphere in China: Law, Media and the Dilemma of Authoritarian Rule” is under contract with Princeton University Press.