China's Data Strategies: Institutionalisation, Activation and Layering

Event date
18 February 2022
Event time
13:30 - 14:30
Oxford week
HT 5
Law Board Room - St Cross Building
Mr Zhenbin Zuo

This event will be in a hybrid form, with online access through Microsoft Teams. For the relevant draft paper or online registration, please email


China’ s data strategies are forming an important part of the country’s plan to boost its economy. But how to understand China’s data strategies from a perspective of law and economics? Drawing on institutionalist theories, doctrinal analysis and findings from qualitative interviews, Mr Zhenbin Zuo proposed three key concepts to capture China’s data strategies: institutionalisation, activation and layering. 

‘Institutionalisation’ describes the state’s adoption of formal institutions to co-produce the economy by inducing informal knowledge exchange with private actors. This strategy addresses data harms/risks and stabilises common knowledge in the epistemic communities of data governance,which can potentially lead to a (soft) ‘Beijing Effect’. Evidence appeared intensively in China in summer 2021, including the cyber/data security review after DiDi’s initial public offering (IPO) at the New York Stock Exchange, the completion of China’s data protection regime by passing the Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) featuring ‘gatekeeper’ and managerial liabilities, and antitrust practices that restrain data power and facilitate interoperability.

‘Activation’ is the process of the state creating flexible legal and policy spaces to allow for practical experimentation for data transaction, sharing and use. Evidence of such activation strategy is drawn from the struggle between Ant Group and the Central Bank over personal credit information, the competing approaches to data property between Shenzhen and Beijing, and the case of ‘Party manages data’ in Tianjin. 

‘Layering’ is the process of building long-term data habitat/ecosystems with in-depth understanding of the institutional contexts in order to achieve valuable public data applications. Evidence include practices in Smart Court and social/financial credit systems, complemented by other secondary sources from Huawei, Alibaba and research institutes. 

In conclusion, China’s data strategies—institutionalisation, activation and layering—help the state co-produce the digital economy, contest data property, and co-evolve with emerging technologies under path-dependency. 


Mr Zhenbin Zuo is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge. He also holds LLM from Harvard Law School, LLM from Peking University, and Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Business Administration from Renmin University of China. His academic interests include law and economics, law and technology and public law.

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