Commercial-state empire: A political economy perspective on social surveillance in contemporary China

Kevin Ziyu Liu


In order to demystify the complexities of the social media and surveillance systems in China, this article offers a case study of Tencent. It also discusses the historical context, political agendas, and cultural productions of the technological sublime that obscure the political-economic realities of China’s rapidly evolving internet industry. Tencent’s conglomeration is situated within the context of China’s social surveillance infrastructure as well as the historical development of science and technology. Tencent’s effort in content generation, comprehensive multi-platform connection strategy and ecosystem building encapsulates the construction of a commercial surveillance infrastructure that embodies a surveillance capitalism logic. In addition, this article examines the mutually constitutive relationships between the state and Tencent in the process of the latter’s conglomeration. In general, the technological sublime fabricated by various political and economic forces have hidden Tencent’s conglomeration, its entanglement with the state sector and the establishment of a commercial surveillance infrastructure. By demystifying this process, it is possible to depict contemporary China as a commercial-state surveillance complex, wherein the state and tech-giants like Tencent work hand-in-hand to engineer user behavior and public discourse.

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