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Has China turned into a dystopian nightmare?

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  • 6 min read

Dystopia is a state where the population suffers extreme injustice under a totalitarian government. The forms of dystopia can vary. Writers like George Orwell (1984 and Animal Farm) and Ray Bradbury (Farehnheit 451) wrote quite compellingly on the issue.

Controlling the population is easy if you have the right mechanisms. Here controlling means taking control over the minds of the people, which means controlling the thought or thought policing. Careful implantation of a particular ideology to the population will bring them under your control. This is going on right now as we speak.

Let’s talk about China. With long and rich traditional history and booming tech industry in recent years, China has made its mark on the world. But there is a dark side too.

The Great Firewall of China

The great firewall is a set of rules and regulations combined with the tech to restrict the internet. It started in the 2000s with the Golden Shield Project, which is implemented by the Ministry of Public Security. The main aim of the firewall was to strike a balance between opening up to the western world and at the same time protecting the populations from the western ideologies.Has China turned into a dystopian nightmare with 24/7 surveillance? In other words, the aim was to implement a thought control over the population. This was essential as the internet can be a tool for democratisation, an idea loathed by the Communists.

The governments use various ways to block website access. The methods are — IP blocking, DNS hijacking as well as keyword inspection and filtering. Sensitive keywords such as ‘Dalai Lama’ or ‘democracy’ are not shown in the search. China banned Wikipedia in 2015 probably because of the information about the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, a reference to which is also prohibited by the government. Chinese citizens are banned from entering Animal Farm on their social media.

China has its indigenous search engine– Baidu. Baidu rivals Google in all aspects, particularly snooping. The apps running on Baidu code collect and leak data. In 2015, Xi Jinping, in the World Internet Conference, called for respecting each country’s plan to prepare its path of cyber development, which means that mass surveillance is a country’s internal matter. In other words, the world should keep their eyes shut and let China do the work.

Even the US companies are supporting Chinese censorship over the internet. Companies like Linkedin, Microsoft and Apple are eyeing on the lucrative Chinese market and are not shying to shake hands with the devil. The companies are doing everything the regime says–from removing political songs to filtering results on the search engine.What is shadowbanning and how to avoid it

So what are the implications of such a widespread control over the Internet? David Y. Yang experimented with 900 Chinese students. He gave unlimited internet access to the students. The results were eye-opening. Even with free access to the internet, the students were not interested in opening banned sites. Banning creates a mental ignorance amongst the population. The thought control is complete.

Book bans in China

The Great Firewall isn’t limited to the internet, the government also enforces their stringent policies for protecting interests of the higher echelons when it comes to tangible media as well. In 2015, five Hong Kong-based book publishers went missing, and it was later found that they have been in government custody for possession with intent to sell books deemed scandalous by the Communist party leaders. These books talked about the private lives and struggles of the incumbent.

Also read: What is ‘five eyes’ surveillance? How does it affect VPN service?

Mass Surveillance Cameras

The Chinese government has installed a network of cameras to track every bit of its population. Around 170-200 million cameras are already installed. Cameras can provide security but at the cost of privacy. The government has plans for integrating private as well as public cameras and create a superstructure of surveillance.

The facial recognition tech can be used for a much more sinister purpose rather than catching and fining jaywalkers. China publicly shames such persons. Moreover, police in some provinces even inform the employers about the jaywalking, thus shamming the culprit for their misdeed.

Face recognition

China’s Sky Net technology can identify the entire population with an accuracy rate of 99.8% in just a second. Sixteen provinces, cities and municipalities use this tech. Reasons given by the government are the Counter-terrorism efforts, catching suspects and finding missing people.

Furthermore, the government is targeting Uighurs using this tech. Uighurs are the minority Muslim population living in the Xinjiang region of the country. The government monitors them by tracking their movements, ID cards along with their electricity consumption and gas usage. The app also monitors the personal relationships of the Uighurs.

Check out the video below by VICE that details communal policing and surveillance by the Chinese government on this ethnic and religious minority.

YouTube video

The artificial intelligence market of China was around 1.76 billion dollars in 2018. The country is aiming to become a leader in global AI by 2030. China is further planning to develop the next generation of AI. This will increase surveillance activities.

China also launched a social credit system which combines an assortment of data ranging from finances and health records to social media interactions. Based on the data, scores will be given to the citizens. The idea is pious — to find out about the individuals and companies that are not complying with the non-compliance with the country’s law. A higher score means more benefits to the citizen — from discounts in energy bills to not standing in lines to meet the doctor. In other words, this system is extensive mass surveillance against the people.

Chinese companies are effective tools for surveillance and work on the orders of the party. Chinese companies send data back to China, which has the global community irking. US intelligence services advised its citizens to stop using Huawei phones.

In 2018, Xi Xinping became President (dictator?) for a lifetime and with that citizens expect the surveillance state to further increase its grip on the people. It will be interesting to note the perspective of world leaders on increasing mass surveillance by China.

Also read: What is ProtonMail and 6 reasons why you should use it

Kumar Hemant

Kumar Hemant

Deputy Editor at Candid.Technology. Hemant writes at the intersection of tech and culture and has a keen interest in science, social issues and international relations. You can contact him here: