Publication details [#54008]

Li, Yi. 2010. Institutional language as power in contemporary China. Interaction between officials and visitors in government service offices. Journal of Language and Politics 9 (4) : 528–545.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
John Benjamins
Journal DOI


Against the backdrop of an increasingly divided society and the government’s determined pledge to build social cohesion in China, this paper examines how social institutions, through their discursive practices, participate in the construction of the still evolving social relations in contemporary China, using data collected from interactions between citizens and officials at two governmental agencies. It finds that discourse is an important way of reflecting and realizing the institutional power possessed by institutional officials and that institutional power is exercised and reinforced through a variety of discursive practices ranging from fixed procedures of questioning to speech acts of interrupting and blaming. Based on these findings, this paper argues that for government agencies to act as a force of social cohesion in contemporary China as they have always claimed, their linguistic forms of interaction with society, as well as the ideologies and practices associated with it, all need to be dramatically transformed.