Smart Governance

Smart Governance

| CMP Staff

Image by Jay Phagan available at under CC license.

“Smart governance,” or zhizhi (智治), encompasses many of the new approaches to social and political control in China in the Xi Jinping era that leverage the use of surveillance technology and big data. The idea encompasses the Chinese Communist Party’s conviction that by relying on new technologies, it can effectively and efficiently identify risks and warning signs at the local level, applying timely responses for political and social risk management. The concept is closely tied to the notion of “smart cities” in China as well as so-called “gridded management” (网格化管理).

Since 2019, the concept of the “Five Governances,” or wuzhi (五治), have been touted in social and political governance at the local level in China, part of a general trend under Xi Jinping since the 18th National Congress of the CCP in November 2012, to promote what has been called the “modernization of national governance” (国家治理现代化). The fifth of these “governances,” “smart governance,” is a new and important formulation encompassing a broad range of technological solutions to social and political control being applied by the Chinese Communist Party.

The “Five Governances” include “politics” (政治), “rule by law” (法治), “moral governance” (德治), “self-governance” (自治) and “smart governance” (智治). One of the key promoters of the “Five Governances” and of “smart governance” has been Chen Yixin (陈一新), director of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party, which oversees law enforcement authorities nationwide. Discussing the concepts in early 2020, he said: “[We must] lead with strong politics, exercise protections through rule by law, govern morals, [encourage] self-governance and [employ] smart governance.”

At a training session for local-level politics and law officials in 2019, Chen Yixin said: “We must place the process of smart governance development in an even more important position, elevating it as an important means of control – [we must] promote ‘smart governance’ in city-level social control systems, operational mechanisms, and in the restructuring of intelligent work processes, accelerating the modernization of social governance [control] at the city level.”

Chen Yixin expressed the conviction that by relying on current technology, the Party can effectively and efficiently identify risks and warning signs at the local level, applying timely responses for risk management. The work, he said, would focus on “priority districts and places” (重点区域部位), and on “critical industry sectors” (重点行业领域) – essentially a reference to the “gridded community management system.” This process would rely, said Chen, on such key infrastructure as the Sharp Eyes Project (雪亮工程), literally “Dazzling Snow,” which envisions comprehensive digital video surveillance linked to a national network. Chen Yixin also referred to “smart governance” and big data as offering microscopes (显微镜), X-ray specs (透视镜) and telescopes (望远镜) for public security, which he said could “promote the scientificization of policies on stability at the city level.” The reference to “X-ray specs” should bring home metaphorically the extent to which the Party hopes it can make all aspects of life and business in China transparent to itself for the sake of control. A search of the Chinese term for “X-ray specs” in Google Images turns up results (at left) that can only suggest the complete nakedness of the citizen in the face of these applied technologies.

A search for “X-ray specs” in Google images reveals the term as a popular meme in Chinese for exposure of the private.

This is the new state of affairs and long-term objective in China’s push to achieve precision and efficiency in its not-so-new objective of “stability maintenance,” or weiwen (维稳), the broader policy imperative since the 1990s that encompasses policing, the surveillance of society and protest management.

During an inspection visit to Zhejiang province on March 31, 2020, General Secretary Xi Jinping visited the Hangzhou Brain Operation Command Center (杭州市大脑运营指挥中心) where he inspected various digital surveillance and management systems. Xi said during the visit: “The transition from digitalization to intelligence (智能化) to wisdom (智慧化) is the path that must be taken in promoting the modernization of urban governance systems and governance capacity.” In this context, “wisdom” referred essentially to the effective application of AI and other tools to achieve the governance capacity sought by the leadership.

CMP Staff

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