Jonathan Hassid

My research interests primarily center on the politics of consent and dissent in China and other authoritarian systems, and the role that the media play in buttressing or challenging those who hold the levers of power.

Book Manuscript

My book manuscript concentrates on how, when and why journalists decide to resist the demands and censorship of the Chinese party/state. In starting to answer these questions, I point to the utility of separating what I term “pushback” from overt resistance. Pushback differs from resistance in that journalists and others who push back are attempting to move right up to the edge of what is acceptable without crossing the line. A journalist who covers a sensitive story in China and then carefully watches for an appropriate time to publish it – an action that minimizes the chances of getting in trouble – is engaging in pushback.My dissertation concentrates on how, when and why journalists decide to resist the demands and censorship of the Chinese party/state. In starting to answer these questions, I point to the usefulness of separating what I term “pushback” from overt resistance. Pushback differs from resistance in that journalists and others who push back are attempting to move right up to the edge of what is acceptable without crossing the line. A journalist who covers a sensitive story in China and then carefully watches for an appropriate time to publish it – an action that minimizes the chances of getting in trouble – is engaging in pushback.

Contrary to the conclusions of some scholars, I argue that pushback and similar behavior are primarily caused not by economic factors like competition but by a specific professional orientation that I call “advocacy journalism.” Advocate journalists are those who espouse a specific viewpoint in their writings, eschewing the Western notion that professional journalists should not take sides. Often, these advocate journalists claim to represent “weak groups” (ruoshi qunti) in society and to speak on their behalf. In doing so, such journalists believe they are moving China’s development forward and doing their patriotic duty, even where this duty might conflict with the demands of the Communist Party. Pushback can sometimes turn into overt resistance (such as a media strike), when journalists have their everyday lives disrupted (what Snow, et al call a “disruption of the quotidian”), when they have a clear target to blame, and when they have the ability to make a moral claim to being right.

These dissertation findings not only suggest a new category on the continuum between quiescence and resistance, but also point toward the importance of journalists and intellectuals in slowly changing China’s political and social climate.These findings not only suggest a new category on the continuum between quiescence and resistance, but also point toward the importance of journalists and intellectuals in slowly changing China’s political and social climate.

Other Projects

Beyond the book, I have recently completed on a project with Rachel E. Stern entitled “Amplifying Silence: Uncertainty and Control Parables in Contemporary China.” This paper (forthcoming in Comparative Political Studies) investigates how consent among “public professionals” like lawyers and journalists is manufactured in China and other authoritarian states. We contend that deep-rooted uncertainty about the boundaries of permissible action magnifies the effect of political crackdowns. Unsure of the limits of state tolerance, lawyers, journalists, and other public professionals frequently self-censor, effectively controlling themselves. In particular, stories about repression, which we call “control parables,” harden limits on activism by assigning meaning to seemingly random repercussions. The rules for daily behavior, in short, are not handed down by top leaders but jointly written (and re-written) by Chinese public professionals and their government overseers.

I am also interested in the effect of the Internet on Chinese political life. Although Bill Clinton famously asserted that China’s efforts to control the Internet were like “trying to nail Jell-O to the wall,” China has defied predictions that it would be unable to control Internet public opinion. I am interested in systematically examining online Chinese opinion and identifying those “netizens” who are especially influential. Using a mixed-methods approach similar to my dissertation, I will determine how and why opinion and news spreads through the Chinese polity, create a profile of “hidden” Chinese public opinion makers, and perhaps offer predictions about the extent to which the Internet is changing Chinese political life. A recent publication along these lines in the Journal of Communication examines how and why Chinese bloggers seem at times to increase -- and at other times to reduce -- social and political pressure. I argue that when the mainstream media set the agenda, bloggers act as a "safety valve," but when they get ahead of the mainstream media, bloggers' online compaints can serve as a "pressure cooker" that increases social tension.