The Power of Digital Pandemic Surveillance
: A Comparative Approach Towards Young Adult Compliance and Resistance in the PRC and Taiwan

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In both democratic and authoritarian regimes across the world, governments increasingly use digital technologies to monitor and alter the behaviour of residents within their borders. While the tools employed are similar across various political systems, the ways in which individuals comply and resist with government-sponsored surveillance depend on a myriad of factors. This interdisciplinary study looks at the different ways in which young adults inside China and Taiwan engaged with the widespread use of digital surveillance during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21. China and Taiwan have cultural similarities but different political characters; the PRC is a one-party state whereas Taiwan is a multiparty democracy. And yet, for both, the pandemic was very effectively managed, partly through the wide use and acceptance of surveillance technologies. The main research question is: how was compliance and resistance towards digital pandemic surveillance mediated between the state and young adults in the PRC and Taiwan during the COVID-19 pandemic? It offers an opportunity to ask, in a new context and a different way, how young adults in different political systems engage with these technologies and what role a common culture may play in influencing their compliance. This thesis uses a comparative case study and semi-structured interviews and speech acts from young adults and state officials to determine the causal factors enabling compliance to digital pandemic surveillance. The study describes surveillance activity in each case, uses thematic analysis to compare the empirical findings, and examines theoretical power of political culture, Foucault’s governmentality, and Isin and Ruppert’s sensory power. It argues that young adult compliance was primarily determined by social norms, which are derived from shared elements of traditional culture in each society. Despite the sociocultural pressures influencing high rates of compliance, individual agency still acted as a gating factor and drove occasional resistance behaviour. Through interpretive process tracing, the study develops a causal mechanism to demonstrate the mediating factors for compliance and resistance behaviour.

Subject Terms: China, Chinese, Taiwan, Taiwanese, People’s Republic of China, PRC, Chinese Communist Party, CCP, Republic of China, ROC, state, surveillance, digital, pandemic, authoritarian, democracy, power, compliance, resistance, Foucault, domestic, political culture, norms, sociocultural, governmentality, sensory.

Date of Award1 Apr 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorKonstantinos Tsimonis (Supervisor) & Kerry Brown (Supervisor)

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