Digital China is a systems project. The main content of Digital China construction is to realize the digital transformation of government and improved digitalized capabilities for society based on secure New Type Infrastructure and a secure Data Governance Service System…

数字中国建设是一项系统工程. 数字中国建设的主要内容是在确保安全的新型基础设施和数据治理服务体系的基础上实现政府数字化转型、社会数字化能力提升

Liu Mixia, Associate Professor, Central Party School

The Central Party School journal Study Times published “The Construction of Digital China Requires Systems Thinking (数字中国建设需要系统思维)” on Page 3 of its June 4th, 2021 issue, part of a special section on the “Digital World.” The article was written by Central Party School Associate Professor Liu Mixia who is affiliated with the school’s National Academy of Governance and its Research Center on E-Government.

Two points I’d like to highlight at the start. First, the article reflects the degree to which the elements of Digital China strategy are now simply imbedded into broader Central Party School lesson plans and articles. Even five years ago, this sort of article would have included inserts and footnotes to explain each element of Digital China strategy as it was raised. Now, Party cadre know the strategy (or pretend they do). Highly complex and equally technical, even learning the strategy’s top level design is not as easy as it sounds which may partially explain why cadre “understanding” remains a Digital China imperative. Second, until recently I believed that “systemic thinking” was the best translation of “系统思维.” But as this essay and others have made clear over time, at least in the case of Digital China, “systems thinking” is a much better fit.

Professor Liu embeds many elements of Digital China strategy into her essay. Some of these elements are highlighted in the following excerpts from her article:

Systems Thinking: Professor Liu integrates the “ways” and “means” of Digital China into a broader educational piece for Party cadre on the requirement for systems (level) thinking to support strategy implementation. Party commentaries tied to this theme also stress systems thinking, or ensuring the integration of all components of society at all levels into the Digital China effort, to avoid a fractured, unequal, or incomplete end state. Interestingly, the article highlights Smart Nation planning, almost certainly a reference to Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative, as adopting a similar systems thinking approach.

Systems thinking for the construction of Digital China is to use a holistic approach to view Digital China as a system, attaching importance to the relationship between its parts and their impact on the whole, scientifically and efficiently planning system elements and operating mechanisms so that the government and society as a whole possess innovative thinking…


Many countries have adopted a systems thinking approach to policy development and service delivery, such as those adopting Smart Nation planning and a holistic approach to digital transformation, moving away from silos, and focusing on integrating public services.


Five-Sphere Integrated Plan: Professor Liu also references three of the five “ways” of Digital China (i.e. the Party’s Five-Sphere Integrated Plan 五位一体): Digital Economy, Digital Society, and Digital Government. Without success in each of these, the Party falls short of the system-wide digital transformation necessary for constructing Digital China and achieving a Smart Society. (It is useful to remember that the Party underwrites Digital China with Marxist theory which helps one understand contextually how a Smart Society might operate.)

The digital economy, digital society, and digital government are integral parts of Digital China. It is necessary to promote the construction of Digital China with systems thinking, and to promote the digital transformation of the economy, society and government. At the heart of a systems thinking approach to a national digital strategy is the integration of institutions, organizations, people, technology, data, and resources to support the much needed transformation inside and outside the public sector to generate public value.


Supporting Strategies: Professor Liu also references a number of Digital China “supporting (支撑)” strategies, an important part of Party strategy construction: Manufacturing Great Power, Quality Great Power, and Cyber Great Power. Each of these must be successful for Digital China to be successful but the opposite is not true. For instance, Cyber Great Power can be achieved without Digital China.

The Outline of “14th Five-Year Plan” placed “Accelerating Digital Development and Building Digital China” into a separate chapter and made system (level) arrangements (系统部署)for the construction of Digital China. Digital China with Manufacturing Great Power, Quality Great Power and Cyber Great Power have become key to promoting the optimization and enhancement (优化提升) of the economic system (经济体系).The digital economy, digital society and digital government are organic components (有机组成部) of Digital China. It is necessary to promote the construction of Digital China with systems thinking, and to promote the digital transformation of the economy, society and government.


Major Missions: Finally, Professor Liu highlights two of Digital China’s three Major (Technical) Missions (重大任务), the “means” of Digital China: New Type Infrastructure (新型基础设施) and a data governance subsystem supported by the higher order Data Element Resource System (数据要素资源体系).

The construction of Digital China [rests] on a secure base of New Type Infrastructure and on data as the foundational strategic resource. . . starting with multi-faceted and multi-level collaboration, form a secure services system from New Type Infrastructure with accurate definitions, clear boundaries, and a reasonable structure. Promote theoretical innovation and enhanced capabilities by constructing a data governance system using things like institutional mechanisms, technology frameworks, and application services.

数字中国建设是在新型基础设施的安全底座和以数据为基础的战略资源之上. . . 从多方面、多层次的协同入手,形成定义准确、边界清晰、结构合理的新型基础设施安全服务体系;从体制机制、技术框架、应用服务等方面构建数据治理体系,推动数据治理的理论创新和能力提升。