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Decentralizing Platform Governance: Innovations from China

Angela Zhang

Funding Scheme : General Research Fund

Project Number : 17614921

Project Title (in English and Chinese ) :

Decentralizing Platform Governance: Innovations from China


Principal Investigator (English) : Zhang, Huyue Angela

Co - Investigator(s) : Prof YANG, Alex

Exercise Year : 2021 / 22

Fund Approved : HK$ 656,825

Completion Date : 31-3-2024

Abstract as per original application (English/Chinese):

Our study will investigate the emerging phenomenon of self-governance in the digital economy, which has seen an ever-increasing number of online platforms relegating the authority to make rules and adjudicate disputes to platform participants. Today’s thriving online platforms face complex governance issues, giving them the appearance of sovereignty to a large extent. Platform operators have traditionally adopted a centralized model of governance: they propose transactional rules for participants, apply and enforce those rules, and mediate and adjudicate conflicts when they arise. In recent years, however, many large Chinese online platforms, including Taobao,, Didi, WeChat, and Zhihu, have quietly initiated experiments to decentralize their law-making and dispute resolution functions. We are interested in exploring these Chinese innovations within platform governance, the driving forces behind the adoption of the new mechanisms, and their associated merits and challenges, together with their legal and economic consequences. We plan to formulate game-theoretical models of the mechanism designs of these innovations and empirically evaluate their effectiveness. We also plan to conduct a comparative study of platform governance in the United States and China to explore how institutional factors can influence the governance of online platforms in different jurisdictions. Our project represents the first systematic effort to examine the various decentralized governance schemes that Chinese online platforms have introduced. It will contribute to several strands of existing literature, particularly research on platform governance, online dispute resolution, and law and technology. Our findings will offer practical insights for online platforms that desire to improve their governance structures to ease tension and resolve conflicts among their users. The research will also assist policymakers in evaluating the effects of different governance mechanism designs, helping them to make more informed decisions about whether, when, and how to regulate online platforms. We plan to write three articles systematically analyzing the phenomenon and consequences of decentralized platform governance and submit them to leading international peer-reviewed journals.


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