The intensified and more public repression of civil society in China is part of a global shift toward deepened and technologically smarter dictatorship. This article uses the example of the ‘709’ government campaign against Chinese human rights lawyers to discuss this shift. It argues that the Party-State adopted more public and sophisticated forms of repression in reaction to smarter forms and techniques of human rights advocacy. In contrast to liberal legal advocacy, however, the Party-State’s authoritarian (or neo-totalitarian) propaganda is not bounded by rational argument. It can more fully exploit the potential of the political emotions it creates. Along with other forms of public repression, the crackdown indicates a rise of anti-liberal and anti-rationalist conceptions of law and governance and a return to the romanticisation of power.
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