Abstract

Recent discussion concerning the Chinese government's autocratic practices has been orienting public attention toward the large scale of its surveillance apparatus. Observed from afar, the integration of digital and material infrastructures for discipline and control–whether in the form of factory/detention complexes in the Xinjiang region, face–recognition technology, or the Great Firewall–cannot help but convey the impression of a faceless authority acting upon statistics and data. Yet data and statistics refer to individuals and communities, whose interactions with the powers that be are negotiated daily on concrete grounds, such as over a cup of tea. The expressions hecha 喝茶 (drinking tea) and bei hecha 被喝茶 (being asked for tea) long ago acquired a chiefly political connotation and are now commonly used to imply being approached by the State Security Police for a forced interrogation. As the everydayness of the expression suggests, this type of state interventions in civil society attests, in Foucault's terms, state power's “capillary form of existence, the point where [it] reaches into the very grain of individuals.” This article makes use of an extraordinary corpus of online texts presenting firsthand accounts of bei hecha experiences to explore questions of everyday governance and governmentality in contemporary China. Adopting a text–based approach to matters conventionally pertaining to the realm of political science, it argues for an understanding of hecha ji texts (written recollections of tea–drinking sessions) as a distinctive form of writing that is functional to the construction of counter–public spheres of dissent in the tightening authoritarian environment of Xi Jinping's China today.

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