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The Danger of Small Details: Autobiographical Surveillance in Cadre Dossier Files

Thursday Lecture Series

dateNovember 12, 2020 timeThursday, 12:45pm–2:00pm EST locationVirtual Event
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
Left and right handprint with Chinese script above

It was no secret that throughout the 1950s, the cadres were among the most closely surveilled groups of persons in the PRC. As both an instrument and a product of this surveillance, cadre personnel dossiers collected evidence and observation into a system of administrative records that at times approximated secret police files. But how did cadre dossiers from this period come to resemble the police archive? To better understand the means and ends of internal surveillance as practiced by party organs, this paper focuses on early cadre examinations (ganbu shencha) carried out from 1953-1957. While acknowledging historical continuities with Yan’an-era approaches to internal threat control, this study highlights the professionalization of the Public Security Bureau and the role of local police in background investigations and internal vetting. Through comparison of specific examples of cadre examination with published PSB manuals from the period, the documents utilized here detail how PSB investigators pursued evidence by means of field research, extensive interviews, and by poring over old dossier materials. The working methods of cadre examination reveal the crucial importance of local networks of officials and witnesses to the day-to-day business of police work, insofar as evidence in these examinations was secured by trust between bureaucratic agents. The frictions between evidence and authentication that commonly arose from cadre examinations invites a further rethinking of the information flows produced by internal surveillance, in addition to their broader effects upon Maoist administration.

Click here to register via Zoom. Please note that registering for this event will sign you up for the entire Thursday Lecture Series for the Fall 2020 semester.

Talks in this series will be followed by discussion, including a Q&A session with the audience.

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