The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology | Lund University

Social Intelligence (社情)

Stalin’s Soviet Union had its so-called “mood assessment reports” through which, courtesy of the police, the communist party authorities sought to gauge the mood in society at large and gain a sense of what ordinary people were wishing and hoping and thinking and praying. All but unknown to social historians studying modern China is the equivalent medium from the Mao era, the “social intelligence” (sheqing) reports produced by local police and regularly transmitted upward through the appropriate channels to decision-makers and others presumed to have a “need to know.” A form of regular quasi-sociological survey activity by way of which the mood in the streets was canvassed and recorded, the resulting “social intelligence” now complements beautifully the information found in other (and by comparison better known) sources such as issues of the New China News Agency’s Internal Reference.

A brief general discussion of sheqing can be found in my editor’s introduction to a set of reports in English translation (for the relevant Chinese language originals, consult the links below) published in Contemporary Chinese Thought in the spring of 2007. Since then, additional contextual information has come to light, including valuable descriptions of elementary processes and concepts in texts with titles such as ”How to Collect Social Intelligence” and ”Social Intelligence Investigation Work” (see the first set of links below).

Much of what ended up being reported had less to do with pure politics than with what we today might think of as simply law and order. One likely reason for this would have been the fact that it tended to be the branch of the local police tasked with responding to “ordinary crime” that also bore key responsibility for producing sheqing content. “Social intelligence,” according to one 1952 commentary, “also seeks to assess the reactions of the masses and various social strata and the thinking of employees, as well as discover instances of lawless behaviour".

Original first-tier reports were given very limited, local distribution and have proven prohibitively difficult to locate. In the winter of 2005, Beijing city Archive staff busy editing the 17-volume collection Selected Important Historical Documents from Beijing Municipality (1949–1965) confirmed, when asked, that copies do survive, but were unable to explain precisely where and how independent historians might go about gaining access to holdings. Far easier, they agreed, was locating copies of those still rare but rather more widely circulated internal serials in which sheqing content was reprinted, e.g. the Daily Work Report produced at the municipal bureaux (and corresponding) level of China’s public security apparatus. For now, all of the links below are to such first-tier reprints, a majority of them dating from the weeks and months in the spring of 1951 when residents of Beijing witnessed public executions of batches upon batches of alleged counter-revolutionaries by the authorities. 


On Methods of “Social Intelligence” Collection:

“Social Intelligence” Reports: