top of page
  • Minxin Pei

Piercing the Veil of Secrecy: The Surveillance Role of China’s MSS and MPS

Pei CLM Issue 79 March 2024
Download PDF • 352KB

Left: Ministry of Public Security; right: Ministry of State Security
Left: Ministry of Public Security; right: Ministry of State Security
China has two security services responsible for domestic surveillance. The “political security protection” bureau of the Ministry of Public Security and its local equivalents perform most of the duties of domestic political spying. The Ministry of State Security and its local outfits play a largely secondary role in domestic political spying, with a remit to target individuals suspected of external connections or being ethnic minorities. Not much is known about the organization, size, and operational tactics of these two secret police services due to the secrecy surrounding them. This analysis uses open-source materials to construct a basic profile of their organizational structure, missions, and activities.

One of the unfortunate outcomes of recent attention to China’s hi-tech surveillance apparatus is the widespread impression that the Chinese party-state relies mostly on fancy technologies, such as video-cameras, facial recognition, big data, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence, to track the movements and activities of ordinary Chinese people and to spy on suspected enemies. It is easy to understand why so much of the spotlight has been focused on China’s adoption of advanced surveillance technology. Journalists and researchers can readily find evidence of a techno-totalitarian dystopia. Surveillance cameras on Chinese streets and at other public venues are difficult to miss. Government procurement records of surveillance equipment are often available to resourceful internet sleuths. In a few instances, obliging local police officers even have allowed Western journalists to evaluate the potency of their spying gears.[1]

What most journalist accounts and research reports on the Chinese surveillance state miss is the role of the security bureaucracies – specifically the Ministry of State Security (MSS) and the domestic security units of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) – in domestic political spying. Although the use of surveillance technologies evidently has enhanced the Chinese party-state’s capabilities to maintain political repression, it is also clear that even the most advanced spying technologies have limited reach and coverage. Subjects under surveillance can take easy evasive measures, such as wearing masks and hoods, (as some did during the anti-lockdown protests in November 2022), turning off mobile phones or wrapping them in aluminum foil to make them harder to detect, and simply speaking in hushed voices or turning on the television to thwart listening devices.

Such gaps in the Chinese surveillance system can only be filled with manpower and labor and intensive organizational tactics. In practice, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) primarily depends on the MPS and the MSS to monitor known or suspected targets. As reliable information about the domestic secret police unit under the MPS and the activities of the MSS inside China is difficult to obtain, researchers have generally been unable to pierce the veil of secrecy surrounding these two security bureaucracies. This essay relies on data gleaned mainly from local yearbooks, police gazetteers, and policing textbooks to piece together the organization, division of labor, targets, and tactics of the domestic policing arm of the MPS and the local bureaus of the MSS.


The Guobao Units of the MPS

The department responsible for domestic political spying, section no. 1 or the no. 1 department, of the MPS and the Public Security Bureaus (PSBs), is the “political-security protection” (zhengzhi anquan baowei) unit, China’s domestic secret police. Before 2019, it bore the title of “domestic security protection” (guonei anquan baowei, often abbreviated as guobao). The 2019 name change likely signals the party’s new emphasis on regime security. As the original materials used for this study all refer to this unit as guobao, I use its English abbreviation, DSP, or domestic security protection, in this essay to avoid confusion.

Within the MPS, the DSP unit is the Ministry’s first bureau, a designation indicative of its status. The First Bureau is considered the most important and most powerful department in the MPS. Its director is usually promoted to the position of vice minister of the MPS. The DSP units within the provincial departments of public security are called DSP divisions (zongdui). Municipal DSP units are called regiments (zhidui). County or district DSP units are called battalions (dadui). Official sources provide few details about the size of the various local DSP units. In the early 1950s, there were 40,000 police officers (roughly 10 percent of the total police force) in MPS political protection units (the DSP’s predecessor).[2]  DSP units today are relatively small and probably account for less than 5 percent of the police force (more likely around 3 percent).[3]  For example, in Puyang, a mid-sized city in Henan province, the municipal DSP unit included forty officers in 1993, or only 2.4 percent of the police force.[4]  Other jurisdictions report small DSP units as well. The DSP unit in Shuimogou district, in Urumqi, consisted of twenty-four officers (5.7 percent of the total police force) in 2012.[5]  If we assume that the total number of DSP officers nationwide is about 3–5 percent of the police force, as based on limited local data, then the number of China’s domestic secret police should be 60,000–100,000, or one DSP agent for every 14,000–23,000 people. To put this number in perspective, the Stasi in East Germany (GDR) in 1989 had one full-time employee for every 165 people and there was one KGB officer for every 595 people in the former Soviet Union. Even if we assume that only half of the secret police in the former USSR or in the GDR engaged in domestic political spying, China’s domestic secret police is unusually small by international comparison.[6]

Given their small size, county and district DSP units have more limited operational capabilities. Their primary function appears to include directing and relying on community-based police officers to perform routine surveillance tasks. Their secondary function is to execute orders from the superior DSP units and the local party organizations. The MPS convenes national conferences on domestic security (probably once every three years) to issue directives, provide operational guidance, and facilitate the exchange of ideas among subnational DSP units. Between September 1998 and December 2008, the Ministry convened three conferences on domestic security.[7]  The government (most likely through the MPS) also holds specialized conferences on “political investigation work,” most likely to develop and exchange techniques used in surveillance and investigation of individuals and organizations deemed to be political threats.[8]

Investigation and Intelligence

According to an authoritative textbook on policing, the primary mission of the DSP units is to collect and analyze intelligence, detect and act against individuals and cases that endanger social and political stability as well as national security, target religious and ethnic groups, strengthen security in academic institutions and state-affiliated entities,  and recruit informants.[9] Based on summaries of the activities of the DSP units in local yearbooks, their most important and most frequent task is to investigate major political incidents, individuals, and organizations that pose potential threats to the CCP. Although an average county-level DSP unit has an insufficient workforce to conduct routine surveillance, it can undertake special investigations for which the community police officers are ill-equipped due to a lack of investigative skills and competing demands on their time. According to Chinese experts on policing, the targets of these special investigations include leaders and activists who organize and participate in uprisings, riots, and protests; hostile organizations and individuals from outside of China engaging in infiltration and sabotage; illegal organizations and publications; organizations and individuals engaging in ethnic, separatist, and illegal religious activities; leaders and activists in secret societies; individuals who collude with external forces; and organizations and individuals that engage in terrorism.[10]

Disclosures of DSP activities by local PSBs confirm that these units pursue most of the above targets in their special investigations. The public-security gazette of Zhuzhou, in Hunan province, provides a relatively detailed description of the investigations and operational accomplishments credited to its DSP unit in the 1990s. During the decade, the municipal DSP unit conducted investigations on university campuses that uncovered individuals suspected of participating in illegal organizations. Its investigations also targeted foreign teachers and members of NGOs. In 1994, with the aid of “technical means” and “inside informers,” the unit managed to track the activities of a student leader from the Tiananmen movement and to put pressure on his business activities to prevent him from “using business to fund politics.” In 1997, the unit shifted its focus to religious groups.[11]

Due to the CCP’s perennial fear of any organized opposition, DSP units place a priority on illegal or unregistered religious groups, cults, secret organizations, and unofficial political organizations. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the DSP unit of Shulan county, in Jilin province, spied on secret societies and religious groups and arrested their leaders.[12]  Foreign NGOs and religious groups are also priority targets of the DSP units. In 2016, the DSP unit of Hanyuan county, in Sichuan province, investigated several foreign NGOs. Wuhan’s DSP unit claims to have conducted operations in 2009 and 2013 to detect infiltration by external groups.[13]

DSP units also investigate a broad range of individuals deemed to be political threats. The DSP unit of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, in Yunnan province, reports that in 2010 it investigated more than one thousand Uighurs entering the prefecture and it uncovered several groups engaged in smuggling Uighurs out of the country. In Miyi, Sichuan province, the county’s DSP unit reports that in 2008 it conducted special investigations of dismissed private-school teachers, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) veterans, migrant workers protesting unpaid wages, and other blacklisted individuals who were potential troublemakers during the forthcoming “two sessions” and the Beijing Olympics.[14]

Another vital responsibility of the DSP units is the collection of information and intelligence about targeted individuals and groups. The purpose of gathering information about key targets is to establish a database on known and potential political threats. In 2002, the MPS issued the “Opinion on Conducting Basic Investigations of Those Who are Subjects of Domestic Security Protection Work.”  Although the document is not publicly available, it likely lists the types of targets and information local DSP units are required to collect and establishes the protocols for collection.[15] Disclosures in local yearbooks provide some examples of how such information is gathered. In 2005, Wuhan’s DSP unit carried out a set of investigations of foreign NGOs in the city.[16] A 2006 reference to specialized databases (such as those focusing on “evil cults and harmful qigong organization” or “anti-terrorism information management systems”) by the Beijing DSP unit suggests that such “basic investigations” yield essential information about the targets of surveillance.[17]

In addition to collecting basic information, DSP units also rely on informants who gather specific information about the activities of targeted individuals and groups and about public reactions to government policies and major social trends. The intelligence that a DSP unit collects through its informants is divided into three categories: enemy intelligence (diqing), political intelligence (zhengqing), and social intelligence (sheqing) (although in some localities political and social intelligence are combined into one category). Enemy intelligence consists of intelligence and information about various aspects and activities related to hostile groups, forces, and elements. Especially valued is intelligence about those groups that “seek to gain intelligence, instigate defections, engage in sabotage, endanger state security, subvert state power, undermine national unity, and fuel armed revolts and harassment.”  Enemy intelligence also includes information about collusion among hostile foreign and domestic forces; infiltration by hostile forces; secret contacts between foreign and domestic hostile forces; and activities endangering social stability. Information about major criminal activities (such as drug trafficking and organized crime) is also classified as enemy intelligence. Political intelligence refers to “information about political trends and developments within and outside Chinese borders that influence or may influence domestic social and political stability and national security. … Political intelligence can also refer to reactions by people of various social strata to party and government policies, laws, and major domestic and foreign events.” Although political and social intelligence is difficult to distinguish under some circumstances, the two textbooks we examined define social intelligence as information “about various destabilizing factors that exist within society or that are likely to influence social and political domestic stability.”  Also included in this category is “public opinion concerning major accidents, natural disasters, and strikes, especially reactions by ‘representative individuals,’ and notable social trends.”[18]

Despite the secrecy surrounding the recruitment and use of spies by local police in general, and by DSP units in particular, in open sources we can find frequent references to alleged successes of DSP units in using informants to collect intelligence and information. In 2005, the DSP unit of Sartu district, in Daqing, Heilongjiang province, recruited 225 secret service personnel (teqin) and 573 political security information liaison personnel (zhengbao xinxi lianluoyuan).[19]  Between 1998 and 2002, the DSP unit in Shulan, in Jilin province enlisted, on average, 163 informants per year, in addition to an unspecified number of spies. The information and intelligence provided by DSP spies help the police to quell social protests as well as to suppress dissident activities. The DSP unit in Miyi, Sichuan province, acknowledges that in 2008 its informants enabled the police to gain “timely information about Miyi Middle School teachers who were attempting to organize a strike via the Internet” and to obtain “extensive information about a plan to present a collective petition and an attempt to block construction at the site of a new commercial development.”[20] Information about the output of DSP spies and informants is readily available in local yearbooks. In general, a DSP unit in an average city or prefecture each year collects several hundred pieces of information and intelligence that are deemed relevant to regime security.[21]

Routine Operations

Due to the division of labor between DSP units and frontline police, the municipal and district DSP units supervise the police stations (paichusuo, PCSs) in the implementation of routine surveillance of targeted individuals and groups. This arrangement not only frees up the limited workforce of the DSP units for more important surveillance tasks but also effectively expands the reach of the secret police without increasing its size. In Panshi city, in Jilin province, the municipal DSP unit in 1991 designated which officers would be responsible for political-security protection in all PCSs. All police officers in the county PCSs were required to undergo DSP training, which presumably was provided by the DSP unit.[22]  In 2000, the Beijing PSB promulgated the “Protocols for Domestic Security Protection Work by Police Stations” that specify the tasks and evaluation criteria for police sub-stations that are responsible for DSP.[23]  The protocols require that the PCSs set up community information-collection networks, improve the collection of information about “key individuals” (KIs), and maintain “control” over such individuals. In 2016, the DSP unit of Yueyanglou district, in Yueyang, Hunan province, worked with the PCSs to step up surveillance of “key targets” and kept the DSP unit aware of all movements and activities by the targets.[24]

In addition to supervising the PCSs, local DSP units work with other government agencies to coordinate surveillance and other security operations. In 2005, Beijing’s DSP unit reported that it had collaborated with the city’s customs bureau, education committee, and tourism bureau to set up a regular coordination mechanism to “guard against infiltration by foreign religious groups.”  In Henan’s Neihuang county, the DSP unit worked with the county’s united front and religious affairs bureau to conduct “safety inspections” of religious sites during major holidays and other periods.[25]

Despite their relatively small size, local DSP units conduct direct surveillance of priority targets and participate in security operations, such as breaking up illegal religious gatherings, making arrests of political suspects, and suppressing collective protests. In 2012, the DSP unit in Weng’an county of Guizhou city, in Guiyang province, stepped up surveillance of KIs and PLA veterans.[26]  In 2003, the DSP unit in Panshi city, in Jilin province, carried out surveillance of illegal religious venues and of religious practitioners and it also implemented surveillance measures against members of Falun Gong.[27]  Additionally, DSP units are responsible for breaking up gatherings of illegal (mostly religious or cult) groups and for arresting individuals who are suspected of political crimes (including participation in “evil cults”). The wording used to describe these operations is often vague and broad, such as “smash” (fensui), “eliminate or ban” (qudi), or “strike” (daji). In practice, these phrases most likely refer to different acts of repression, such as breaking up meetings, confiscating materials, or arresting practitioners.

Based on the disclosures by local DSP units, it is evident that practitioners of Falun Gong and members of underground religious organizations are the primary targets of DSP units. The highlighted accomplishments of the DSP unit in Taijiang district of Fuzhou city, Fujian province, from 1991 to 2005 consist of surveillance and investigation of “illegal” religious and cult groups, the disbanding of their gatherings, confiscation of their materials, and arrests of their members. Similarly, the accomplishments of the DSP unit in Panshi city, Jilin province, from 1999 to 2003 include annual operations against illegal religious and cult groups.[28]

The high priority the party began to place on “stability maintenance” (weiwen) beginning in the late 1990s has added another operational role to local DSP units: preventing and quelling collective protests. Such operations usually entail the deployment of informants to infiltrate suspected protest groups and to gain valuable intelligence about their plans, and then to take actions to prevent collective protests (such as by arresting the protest leaders). Wuhan’s DSP unit reports that in 2013, it “effectively used intelligence to gain advance warnings about mass incidents, and it successfully handled more than 100 collective incidents.”[29] References to such operations carried out by DSP units elsewhere are usually brief (the most-often used verb is to “handle,” or chuli), but regardless, they indicate an important role for DSP units in helping local authorities suppress social unrest.[30]


The Ministry of State Security

The MSS is perhaps the most secretive of all Chinese security agencies. Official Chinese publications contain little information about either its organization or its activities. It was established in 1983 as the result of the merger of the CCP Central Investigation Department (CID) and the counter-intelligence department of the MPS. Because the primary missions of the MSS include covert overseas operations and domestic counterintelligence, its role in domestic surveillance has received little attention. But a close examination of yearbooks published by local authorities and universities, as well as interviews with exiled dissidents, reveals that the MSS plays an active, albeit more narrowly defined and largely secondary, role in domestic surveillance.

Shortly after the establishment of the MSS, local governments began to set up provincial, municipal, and county MSS departments or bureaus. In some jurisdictions, local state security organizations were established in the late 1980s. In other areas, however, local authorities took their time to extend the reach of the MSS. For example, the state security work station (as the outfit is called in some districts and counties) in Beijing’s Shijingshan district was not established until 2005.[31] Administratively, local agencies of the MSS report both to a superior MSS agency and to the city or county party organization and government [nominally to the CCP’s local political-legal committee (PLC)].[32]  In terms of personnel, the principal officers of the local SSBs (State Security Bureaus) are vetted and appointed jointly by the superior state security agency and the local party committee, as that in Xinyang city of Henan province, for example. Operationally, however, local state security agencies are guided primarily by their superiors within the state security apparatus.[33]

Although information about the organizational structure of the MSS is available, we know little about the internal organization of the local state security agencies.[34] Disclosures by the CCP committee of the municipal SSB of Xingtai, in Hebei province, in 2002 provide some clues about the main SSB departments or sections. The party committee reported in 2002 that the bureau consisted of one general party branch and five sub-branches. Since the party typically has one sub-branch in each operational department, it seems reasonable to assume that some of these five branches are likely situated inside specialized departments or sections. According to the SSB of Xingtai, its missions in the early 2000s included the following: “special case investigations,” “basic task research,” “development of clandestine forces,” “intelligence,” “breaking special cases,” and “information.”  Based on their functional specialization, these tasks may be performed by at least three separate departments or sections – “Investigation,” “Research,” and “Intelligence.”  It is clear that the SSBs recruit their own informants (“clandestine forces”).[35]

SSBs maintain close collaborative relations with local party committees (most likely through the party’s PLCs, which have political oversight over the SSBs). Local authorities provide intelligence and information to the SSBs, while the latter offer technical or operational support to the former in security-related matters. For example, Wuhan reported that in 1997 local “national security small groups” that had been set up inside government agencies, enterprises, and institutions provided unspecified “assistance” to the municipal SSB. By 1997, Wuhan city already had 370 “national security small groups” that reportedly “paid close attention to a range of factors that could affect social and political stability” and that assisted the municipal SSB. The PLC of Wuhan city’s Hanjiang district has disclosed that it has provided intelligence and information directly to the municipal SSB.[36]  In addition to direct participation in surveillance and security operations (as we detail below), the support provided by the local SSBs to local governments consists of intelligence, information, and technical guidance (such as training).[37]

MSS Surveillance Activities

Despite the stated counter-intelligence mission of the MSS, its local outfits, the SSBs, routinely perform a wide range of operations and are intimately involved in the activities of the surveillance state. As a security agency charged with counterintelligence, local SSBs mainly target foreign nationals and people from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao. The chief of Qufu’s SSB has disclosed that in the late 1990s his bureau “maintained a timely awareness of the situation of full-time foreign nationals” and individuals from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao. The SSB of Diqing, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in Yunnan province, has claimed that it required thirteen local hotels that provide lodging for foreigners to sign “security responsibility agreements” (presumably to facilitate the SSB’s monitoring of the whereabouts of the foreigners).[38]  Religious establishments in ethnic minority areas are also under surveillance by  local SSBs. The SSB of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in Yunnan province, has reported that in 2013 it “conducted operations to maintain surveillance of important monasteries, regions, and individuals.”[39]  A reference to targeting  “hostile forces in and outside our borders and national separatist elements” by the SSB of Liangshan, in Sichuan province, again confirms that local SSBs play an active role in the surveillance of domestic dissidents and ethnic minorities.[40]  Judging by the frequency of references to the MSS’s role in surveillance operations targeting ethnic minorities, the MSS apparently is the primary police agency responsible for spying on ethnic minorities, most likely because the Chinese government, convinced that external support is fueling unrest in ethnic minority areas, gives the MSS this responsibility due to its counter-intelligence capabilities.

Some of the surveillance operations by local SSBs are conducted through their networks of informants. Most references to such activities in local yearbooks are vague and general. For example, in summarizing its work during the 1996–1998 period, Qufu’s SSB states that it “strengthened the building of our intelligence and information network.” The SSB of Jimo district in Qingdao city province reports that in 1994 it conducted “multi-channel intelligence and information collection.”[41]  In some instances, local SSB outfits have provided more specific information about their surveillance operations. For example, Diqing’s SSB has reported that in 2013 it recruited an unspecified number of informants (called “people’s defense line liaison personnel,” or renmin fangxian lianluoyuan), some of whom were recruited when the SSB was conducting security reviews of local hotels catering to foreigners. The SSB of Jingdezhen, in Jiangxi province, claims that in 1999 it effectively promoted development of “information gathering” by assigning specific tasks, offering financial incentives, and conducting training courses. The Jingdezhen SSB has specifically mentioned that it provided information to the municipal party committee after the crackdown on Falun Gong and the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.[42]


Disclosures by the SSB in Yichang, in Jiangxi province, offer additional evidence that the intelligence and information collected by the local state security agencies is primarily consumed by local party committees, not superior state security outfits, indicating that the intelligence and information collected by these agencies is related more to domestic stability than it is to counter-intelligence. According to Yichang’s SSB, in 1998 it provided thirty-one pieces of information to its superior authorities. The provincial CCP committee used eight pieces, the provincial government used one, the municipal CCP committee used two, the provincial state security agency used eight, and the MSS used only one.[43]

In addition to collecting intelligence and information on sources of domestic instability, local SSBs directly participate in surveillance and security operations. Even though the domestic security unit of the local PSB usually performs most of these operations, during politically sensitive periods and ahead of major holidays, the resources and workforce of the local SSBs are mobilized for “stability-maintenance” operations. Typically, such operations entail more intense surveillance and the gathering of intelligence about potential troublemakers. Not surprisingly, brief summaries of the work by SSBs in local yearbooks frequently refer to such “stability-maintenance work.”  The SSB of Liupanshui, in Guizhou province, performed unspecified “security work” during six sensitive periods in 1999 (such as the tenth anniversary of June 4, the two sessions, and the fiftieth anniversary of the PRC). The SSB in Hengyang, in Hunan province, conducted similar security operations during the convening of the Sixteenth National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2002. As a large number of local SSB agencies have reported participation in such security operations during sensitive periods and on holidays, this appears to be a widespread and standard practice in the routine domestic security tasks performed by state security agencies.[44]

Interviews with prominent exiled dissidents confirm that the MSS is often called upon to perform priority domestic surveillance tasks at critical times when the party needs to mobilize all available security resources. One such occasion was during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Human rights lawyer Teng Biao had had no contact with MSS agents prior to that time. But in March 2008, he was kidnapped by MSS agents after he published an open letter and became the defense lawyer for a well-known activist.[45] The MSS was also mobilized when Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.  Hua Ze, an activist who was assisting Teng in collecting signatures for an open letter in support of Liu, was kidnapped, detained, and tortured by MSS agents.[46]

On paper, the DSP units of the MPS and the local SSBs of the MSS have discrete missions. In practice, however, their operations sometimes target the same individuals who have contacts with external organizations or engage in anti-regime activities. Interviewees’ encounters with DSP officers and MSS agents reveal several noteworthy operational details about the MSS. While DSP units typically initiate surveillance of high-value targets after they are identified, the MSS will take over their cases when they have foreign (including Taiwan) contacts. A civil society activist, who was initially under DSP watch, has reported that her case was taken over by the provincial SSB after she returned from a trip to Taiwan in 2011. The SSB assigned an agent to closely monitor her activities.[47] AIDS activist Wan Yanhai was initially under the watch of a DSP unit in Beijing, but shortly before the 1995 World Conference on Women, the MSS began to monitor his activities. He was detained by the MSS in 2002 for publicizing the plight of AIDS victims who had contracted the virus due to the unsafe blood plasma donation procedures in Henan province.[48]



The open-source materials utilized in this study provide a revealing, albeit limited, glimpse into the organization, division of labor, and surveillance activities of China’s two domestic secret police services. Our analysis enables us to gain useful insights into the targets of their surveillance and the tactics they use to perform these tasks. Among the most notable findings in this brief analysis is the CCP’s obsessive fear of cults and religious groups as potential sources of organized opposition, as they apparently receive an inordinate amount of attention from the secret police. The prominent surveillance role performed by the MSS in ethnic minority areas is equally significant as it suggests how the Chinese leadership perceives the source of instability in these regions. Although it is impossible to evaluate the overall effectiveness of these two secret police services, they appear to be up to their tasks in a relatively stable environment. But the small number of guobao could be cause for concern in a less stable environment in the future if poor economic performance fuels more protests and results in a significant increase in potential targets.



This essay is adapted from The Sentinel State: Surveillance and the Survival of Dictatorship in China (Harvard University Press, 2024)

About the Contributor

Minxin Pei, the editor of China Leadership Monitor, is the Tom and Margot Pritzker ’72 Professor of Government and George R. Roberts Fellow at Claremont McKenna College. He is also a non-resident senior fellow of the U.S. German Marshall Fund. His books include China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy (2006), China’s Crony Capitalism: The Dynamics of Regime Decay (2016), The Sentinel State: Surveillance and the Survival of Dictatorship in China (2024).


[1] Jon Russell, “China’s CCTV Surveillance Network Took Just Seven Minutes to Capture BBC Reporter,” .

[2] By comparison, there were about 110,000 police officers in the economic sector. “罗瑞卿在第六次全国公安会议上的总结,” June 17, 1957, in 公安会议文件汇编 (1949.10–1957.9) (洛杉矶: 中文出版物服务中心, 2014), 208.

[3] 新疆通志,vol. 20, 194; 新疆年鉴1986,30.

[4] 刘新民,“当前制约政保工作诸因素简析,” 河南公安学刊, 21 (1995):  44.

[5] 枣阳年鉴 2012–2013, 315; 水磨沟年鉴 2013, 180.

[6] Gary Bruce, The Firm: The Inside Story of the Stasi (New York : Oxford University Press, 2010), 11,13.

[7] 苏全霖,刘黎明,“论国内安全保卫工作法治化,” 山西警官高等专科学校学报, 24, no. 1 (2016): 44.

[8] 刘新民,“当前制约政保工作诸因素简析,” 河南公安学刊, 21 (1995): 42.

[9] 谷福生等编, 新时期公安派出所工作全书 (北京:中国人民公安大学出版社,2005), 542–543.

[10] 谷福生等编, 新时期公安派出所工作全书, 547–548.

[11] In 2000, the DSP unit carried out secret investigations of various qigong organizations. 株洲公安志, 74–78.

[12] 舒兰市志1986–2002, 305–306.

[13] 汉源年鉴 2017, 144; 武汉公安年鉴2010, 94; 武汉公安年鉴2014, 67.

[14] 西双版纳年鉴2011, 243; 米易年鉴 2009, 72.

[15] The document is titled “关于开展国内安全保卫工作对象基础调查的意见.” The so-called “basic investigation” refers to collecting essential personal information, including physical features, family background, residence, employment, and social connections. 北京公安年鉴 2003, 121.

[16] 武汉公安年鉴 2006, 76.

[17] 北京公安年鉴 2006 , 76–77.

[18] 谷福生等编, 新时期公安派出所工作全书, 543; 张先福 等编, 公安派出所窗口服务与执法执勤工作规范 (北京:群众出版社, 2006), 93–95.

[19] 大庆市萨尔图区志 (1986–2005)(哈尔滨:黑龙江人民出版社, 2010), 392.

[20] 舒兰市志1986–2002, 305–306; 米易年鉴 2009, 83.

[21] 磐石市志 1991–2003, 351–352; 西双版纳年鉴2011, 243; 米易年鉴, 2009, 83.

[22] 磐石市志 1991–2003, 351–352.

[23]  The Chinese title is “派出所国内安全保卫工作规范.” It is not publicly available.

[24] 北京公安年鉴2001, 122–123; 岳阳楼区年鉴2017, 175.

[25] 北京公安年鉴 2006, 77; 内黄年鉴2018, 205.

[26] 瓮安年鉴 2013, 123.

[27] 磐石市志 1991–2003, 351–352.

[28] 福州市台江区志 1991–2005, 432–433; 磐石市志 1991–2003, 351–352.

[29] 武汉公安年鉴2014, 67.

[30] 磐石市志 1991–2003, 351–352; 岳阳楼区年鉴2017, 175.

[31] 北京石景山年鉴2006 , 201.

[32] Since the minister of the MSS is a member of the Central Political-Legal Committee, directors of the local SSBs are likely members of the local political-legal committees.

[33] 信阳年鉴2000, 155–256;  陕西年鉴1994, 51.

[34] The organizational chart of the MSS can be found in Xuezhi Guo, China’s Security State: Philosophy, Evolution, and Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 365.

[35] Xingtai’s SSB has the following missions: special case investigations (专案侦查), basic task research (基础业务调研), development of secret forces (秘密力量创建), breaking special cases (专案攻坚), intelligence gathering (情报工作), and information work (信息工作); 中共邢台年鉴2003, 345–346.

[36] 武汉年鉴 1998, 90; 汉江年鉴 2019, 139.

[37] 信阳年鉴 2012, 226; 太仓年鉴 2000, 113.

[38] 迪庆年鉴 2014, 221–222.

[39] 迪庆 年鉴 2014, 221–222.

[40] 凉山年鉴2000, 111.

[41] 曲阜年鉴 1996–1998, 150; 即墨年鉴1994, 332.

[42] 迪庆年鉴 2014, 221–222; 景德镇年鉴 2000, 117.

[43] 宜昌年鉴1999, 167–168.

[44]六盘水年鉴 2000, 25; 衡阳年鉴 2003, 182; 大理年鉴 1999, 208; 迪庆年鉴 2015, 237.

[45] Interview with Teng Biao, January 2020.

[46] Interview with Hua Ze, August 2019; MSS agents were rude and tried to intimidate her with threats of sexual assault. See;

[47] Interview with an exiled scholar, March 2019.

[48] Interview with Wan Yanhai, May 2019.

Photo credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Recent articles:

bottom of page