Broadcasting Out-Group Repression to the In-Group: Evidence From China

Many autocrats govern with an in-group, whose support must be secured, and an out-group, which is subject to repression. How do autocrats exploit in-group/out-group dynamics to secure their survival? One strategy, we argue, is to broadcast out-group repression to the in-group as a signal of the regime’s capacity for violence. Empirically, we focus on China, where the government represses ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Drawing on 1 million articles from six propaganda newspapers, we show that the regime broadcasts out-group repression to urban elites on each anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when 10% of Beijing residents joined anti-regime protests. To understand its effects, we conducted a survey experiment balanced on the national census during the June 2020 Tiananmen anniversary. Using a list experiment to mitigate preference falsification, we show that CCP propaganda about Uyghurs during the Tiananmen anniversary discourages protests among politically engaged urban elites because they fear repression.