“Bureaucratic shiyuzheng”: Silence, affect, and the politics of voice in China

Jie Yang


In the Chinese bureaucracy, where political imperatives for maintaining harmony require people to restrain negative affects, officials often express anger and aggression through silence, apathy, and other flat affects. Other times, overly positive speech that conforms to dominant party ideologies overrides negative affects, flattening officials’ emotions and stifling their own voices. Drawing on ethnographic research in a city of Shandong province, this article studies both responses as “bureaucratic shiyuzheng.” I resist linking shiyuzheng primarily to biomedical explanations, or to the stress and depression triggered by anti-corruption campaigns, and instead treat this phenomenon as an embodied and affective practice that generates space for discourse, psychosocial imagination, and quiet critique. I demonstrate that bureaucratic shiyuzheng is the effect of double silencing, partly imposed by binding bureaucratic structures and the government’s increasing constraints on speech/voice, partly emerging from officials themselves, who seek self-preservation and optimization of resources. Rather than direct resistance to such silencing conditions, people cultivate shiyuzheng as an important mode of social critique.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/717956