Maria Repnikova, MediaPoliticsinChina:Improvising
Power Under Authoritarianism (New York, NY:
Cambridge University Press, 2017), 264p.
Published online: 23 January 2018
Journal of Chinese Political Science/Association of Chinese Political Studies 2018
Maria Repnikova’s book examines the politics of China’s media in the Hu-Wen era. In
it, she synthesizes insights from over a hundred interviews with journalists, editors,
media specialists, and party and state officials, and combines that with her extensive
reading of and on the Chinese media. Such a wealth of detail often results in works that
lose the reader as they enumerate endless contingencies, complexities, and subtleties.
Repnikova fortunately manages to embrace this richness while still coming to a
conclusion that is clear enough that it could conceivably be proven wrong (although
Specifically, she argues that despite the complex interactions in any given instance,
the party-state remains the dominant player in media politics, setting the rules of the
game. Journalists make their own choices within this framework but largely accept it as
fixed, engaging in Bimprovisation^ rather than Bresistance.^ This contrasts with the
idea of crusading journalists as a force of liberalization struggling with a state that is
totalitarian in aspiration even if not in practice.
So, if Chinese journalists are not pen-wielding freedom fighters, what are they? In
Repnikova’s telling, they appear as pragmatic participants in the party’s project,
accepting that their role is to help the party govern better, not to oppose it. In their
reporting, they avoid the red zones (topics like Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen) and
instead try to draw the party’s attention to social problems and to aid in central
oversight of local authorities. While they may be critical, their criticism is largely
restricted to local authorities and specific outcomes. To be sure, ambitious reporters at
some outlets may venture into grey zones, but they do so knowing that the negative
consequences will not be too extreme. Thus, even for these crusaders, the expected
reaction of central party-state is the crucial factor shaping their choices.
J OF CHIN POLIT SCI (2018) 23:135–136
* Peter Lorentzen
Department of Economics, Cowell Hall, 2130 Fulton Street, San Francisco, CA 94117-1080, USA