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Despite a burgeoning conversation about the centrality of information management to governments, scholars are only just beginning to address the role of legal information in sustaining authoritarian rule. This Essay presents a case study showing how legal information can be manipulated: through the deletion of previously published cases from China’s online public database of court decisions. Using our own dataset of all 42 million cases made public in China between January 1, 2014, and September 2, 2018, we examine the recent deletion of criminal cases from the China Judgements Online website. We find that the deletion of cases likely results from a range of overlapping, often ad hoc, concerns: the international and domestic images of Chinese courts, institutional relationships within the Chinese Party-State, worries about revealing negative social phenomena, and concerns about copycat crimes. Taken together, the decision(s) to remove hundreds of thousands of unconnected cases shape a narrative about the Chinese courts, Chinese society, and the Chinese Party-State. Our findings also provide insight into the interrelated mechanisms of censorship and transparency in an era in which data governance is increasingly central. We highlight how courts seek to curate a narrative that protects the courts from criticism and boosts their standing with the public and within the Party-State. Examining how Chinese courts manage the removal of cases suggests that how courts curate and manage information disclosure may also be central to their legitimacy and influence.


Comparative and Foreign Law | Courts | Law


This article originally appeared in 123 Colum. L. Rev. 2407 (2023). Reprinted by permission.