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We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China's Surveillance State

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One of the world’s most respected investigative reporters reveals how George Orwell’s chilling vision of authoritarianism in 1984 has come true in modern China’s high-tech surveillance state. They are always watching. For nearly twenty years, politicians from President Bill Clinton to tech gurus including Google’s Eric Schmidt proclaimed that the internet could not be censor One of the world’s most respected investigative reporters reveals how George Orwell’s chilling vision of authoritarianism in 1984 has come true in modern China’s high-tech surveillance state. They are always watching. For nearly twenty years, politicians from President Bill Clinton to tech gurus including Google’s Eric Schmidt proclaimed that the internet could not be censored by any government, including China. As recently as 2013, Tim Berners-Lee, often credited as the inventor of the World Wide Web, declared that “piece by piece, website by website, China’s ‘great firewall’ would meet the same fate as the Berlin Wall.” Yet these predictions have been proved wrong. In We Have Been Harmonized, award-winning journalist Kai Strittmatter reveals how the internet and high tech have transformed the power of Chinese authoritarians, allowing them to create the most horrifying surveillance state in history. Advances in technology—facial recognition, GPS tracking, supercomputer databases, mobile phones, high-resolution security cameras—make it nearly impossible for a Chinese citizen to hide anything from authorities. Text messages and emails are instantly stripped of “problematic” words. The year 1989—when the world witnessed the student protests and tragic massacre at Tiananmen Square—has been banished from search results. Cameras scan for “appropriate” facial expressions as they track individuals’ movements. Each citizen is given a score for good behavior. Those who lose points can be banned from traveling, have their internet speed reduced, or even have their toilet paper limited.  All of this has happened with the help of Chinese tech companies, as well as the complicity of Western governments and corporations eager to gain access to China’s huge market. While these companies export their technology to authoritarian states around the globe, they are also reshaping American lives via app, smart phones, and computing. Strittmatter’s book is a terrifying portrait of an Orwellian nightmare unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed, and a dire warning about what could happen anywhere.


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One of the world’s most respected investigative reporters reveals how George Orwell’s chilling vision of authoritarianism in 1984 has come true in modern China’s high-tech surveillance state. They are always watching. For nearly twenty years, politicians from President Bill Clinton to tech gurus including Google’s Eric Schmidt proclaimed that the internet could not be censor One of the world’s most respected investigative reporters reveals how George Orwell’s chilling vision of authoritarianism in 1984 has come true in modern China’s high-tech surveillance state. They are always watching. For nearly twenty years, politicians from President Bill Clinton to tech gurus including Google’s Eric Schmidt proclaimed that the internet could not be censored by any government, including China. As recently as 2013, Tim Berners-Lee, often credited as the inventor of the World Wide Web, declared that “piece by piece, website by website, China’s ‘great firewall’ would meet the same fate as the Berlin Wall.” Yet these predictions have been proved wrong. In We Have Been Harmonized, award-winning journalist Kai Strittmatter reveals how the internet and high tech have transformed the power of Chinese authoritarians, allowing them to create the most horrifying surveillance state in history. Advances in technology—facial recognition, GPS tracking, supercomputer databases, mobile phones, high-resolution security cameras—make it nearly impossible for a Chinese citizen to hide anything from authorities. Text messages and emails are instantly stripped of “problematic” words. The year 1989—when the world witnessed the student protests and tragic massacre at Tiananmen Square—has been banished from search results. Cameras scan for “appropriate” facial expressions as they track individuals’ movements. Each citizen is given a score for good behavior. Those who lose points can be banned from traveling, have their internet speed reduced, or even have their toilet paper limited.  All of this has happened with the help of Chinese tech companies, as well as the complicity of Western governments and corporations eager to gain access to China’s huge market. While these companies export their technology to authoritarian states around the globe, they are also reshaping American lives via app, smart phones, and computing. Strittmatter’s book is a terrifying portrait of an Orwellian nightmare unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed, and a dire warning about what could happen anywhere.

30 review for We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China's Surveillance State

  1. 5 out of 5

    D.B. John

    Brilliant. A terrifying, urgent, well-written polemic. China is hatching into the next stage of its evolution: as the world’s most creative AI superpower, where data privacy is non-existent and the whole country is a dynamic test lab for unheard-of surveillance tech. China’s technology has already overtaken the West’s. But as the author points out, at the core of the Chinese state, at the heart of its modernity and breakneck growth, lies something very ancient: untrammelled, chaotic despotism. F Brilliant. A terrifying, urgent, well-written polemic. China is hatching into the next stage of its evolution: as the world’s most creative AI superpower, where data privacy is non-existent and the whole country is a dynamic test lab for unheard-of surveillance tech. China’s technology has already overtaken the West’s. But as the author points out, at the core of the Chinese state, at the heart of its modernity and breakneck growth, lies something very ancient: untrammelled, chaotic despotism. Fear is what polices the internet, phone conversations, and public spaces. Whether Big Brother is watching or not, ordinary Chinese are internalising the surveillance, censoring themselves, out of fear. The Communist Party once again dominates every facet of daily life with a force not seen since the Cultural Revolution. In true Party doublethink, ‘Democracy!’, ‘The Rule of Law!’ are slogans used to describe their exact opposites in reality – dictatorship and arbitrary terror. In fact these very concepts are made so self-contradictory, confusing and empty that young Chinese may be inoculated against the appeal of genuine democracy when they encounter it elsewhere in the world. Europe has been half asleep to this development and can’t afford to ignore it. With near-limitless resources and burning sense of victimhood, it is clear who China defines itself against: the West and its values, at the very time when the EU is splintering and electing those who divide it. Ultimately, the author hints, Xi Jinping's airless regime may be self defeating. To sustain such dynamic prosperity and China's lead in new technology it needs to free its best minds for creativity, innovation, experimentation, unorthodox thinking – the very impulses and energies the regime works so hard to stifle and crush.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    “It doesn’t matter whether it is the government, the military, the people or the schools; east, west, north, south or the center, the Party rules everything.” —Xi Jinping in 2017 ‘What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one’-Neil Postman “Beneath this leaden silence, a rancid brew of pain, guilt and bitterness is fermenting, sending poisonous bubbles rising to the surface of “It doesn’t matter whether it is the government, the military, the people or the schools; east, west, north, south or the center, the Party rules everything.” —Xi Jinping in 2017 ‘What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one’-Neil Postman “Beneath this leaden silence, a rancid brew of pain, guilt and bitterness is fermenting, sending poisonous bubbles rising to the surface of today’s China. One of the most toxic of these is a kind of nostalgia without memory, and thus without truth. A nostalgia dreaming the monster of the past into a thing of beauty, and wanting it back.” Earlier this week while on a promotional tour of Japan, the general manager of the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets sent a tweet from his private account. “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong”. Not, “Boycott China!”. Not “get out into the streets and oppose this horribly oppressive regime!” Fight for freedom….. Something as innocuous and seemingly deeply American as simply stating you support freedom should be innocuous enough. Sadly such are not the times we live in. Minutes later the owner of the team swiftly denounced his employees comments and the NBA itself issued a milquetoast non political statement on its American twitter page while apologizing for the “offensive” tweet and “hurting the feelings of China” on its official Chinese page. Condemnation and retribution from China was equally swift. Games planned for years advance in China were cancelled, threats were made, and it was abundantly clear that any further statements would be met with further economic retribution. What happened here? Did China, famous for “harmonizing” social debate within its borders, just accomplish the same thing in the self styled home of democracy? Kai Strittmatter’s book “We Have Been Harmonized” argues that this is, far from being an isolated case, the way a resurgent China under Xi Jinping projects its economic and political muscle. Before China was able to make companies and governments around the world grovel at its feet however, it needed to subdue its own peoples thoughts. It has done so with spectacular success through a variety of methods. Mainly through censorship of the internet (with technology provided by Google to specifically to filter “unwanted” content) where people are allowed the freedom to search for celebrities or chat with friends but are unable to find any results for a search of “June 4, 1989” (the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre). Not that many people are inclined to search for it anyway in that China has effectively and ruthlessly erased inconvenient history: “When the American journalist Louisa Lim was doing research for her book The People’s Republic of Amnesia, she showed a hundred Beijing students the famous photo of ‘Tank Man’: the man in the black trousers and white shirt, standing in the way of the approaching convoy of tanks with nothing but a plastic bag in his hand, and bringing them to a halt just an arm’s length away from his slender frame. It is one of the iconic images of the twentieth century. But only 15 of the 100 students recognized, to their extreme dismay, that the image was of China. Beijing. The Street of Eternal Peace that leads to Tiananmen Square. The other 85? They shrugged and guessed Kosovo or South Korea.” It is not a matter of the Chinese being incurious about their history as much as being unaware that such a history even exists: “The civil rights activist Hu Jia tells the story of 17 January 2005, the day Zhao Ziyang died. Zhao was the liberal head of the Communist Party from 1987 to 1989, and Prime Minister prior to that. It was Zhao who tried to make some concessions to the students on Tiananmen Square, before being toppled by the hardliners around the eminence grise Deng Xiaoping. Hu Jia knew his family and went to offer his condolences. When he got home, his wife Zeng Jingyang asked where he had been. He explained. She gave him a quizzical look: ‘At whose house? Zhao Ziyang? Who’s that?. ‘That was a bit of a shock for me’ says Hu Jia. ‘She was born in 1983, and she’s a clever, critical woman who studied at the People’s University, one of the elite universities in Beijing. And she had never in her life heard of Zhao Ziyang, who was, at least nominally, the most powerful man in the country for several years. At that moment I understood the power the Party has over our brains’.” You remember what the Party, which is effectively the government, says you remember. You aspire to what the government says you should aspire to. Mainly a ruthless brand of consumption where everyone in a desperate rush get and stay ahead lies, steals, and cheats each other. Strittmiller paints a portrait of a society where there is no community outside of the Party and therefore no trust of anyone but the Party: “If everyone in China today mistrusts everyone else; if everyone automatically assumes that everyone else is out to cheat and trick them, that attitude is rooted in a time when husbands betrayed their wives and children got their parents sent to labour camps, or even to the scaffold. The young people of that time, both perpetrators and victims, are now in power. They’re leading the Party, the state, the big Chinese businesses.” One would think that such a society wouldn’t need massive surveillance but China has chosen to do exactly this. With the assistance of US and European tech firms and AI engineers, China has set up hundreds of thousands of cameras around the country. These cameras can spot your face in a crowd and give instant details about your age, where you live, personal life, and other details that make us human. Not used only for preventing crimes in progress or arresting criminals, these cameras are being used to predict future crimes. Are you in debt? Just lost your job? Distraught over losing your boyfriend/girlfriend? The cameras know and will most likely bring heightened surveillance of you. If this isn’t chilling enough, starting in 2020 China will unveil its “Social Credit System”. It will compile every minute detail of your life and constantly score you during the course of your day on how good a citizen you are. Did you help that little old lady across the street? 10 points! Let your dog pee on the neighbors lawn? minus 20 points! All these points have serious life consequences. Get too far into the red and you may lose your passport, be banned from traveling on trains, be unable to get a loan, or have your child attend the school of your choice. This depressing and dystopian future however is not something China is content to keep within its borders. It actively shops its surveillance technology to other autocratic nations for use on its own people. China has sent technical advisors around the world to brief governments on implementing their own “Social Credit System”. China has even used the US university system to further its own worldview through exchange students who, whether afraid of repercussions when they return to China (Chinese embassies around the world actively encourage students to keep tabs on each other and report unpatriotic behavior) or genuinely believing so, have forced changes in course curriculum that mention Tibet or Tiananmen Square. With the money these students bring in, combined with “Confucius centers” financed by the Chinese government that operate on University campuses, Chinese money is a siren’s song to a system that is desperately in need of it. This is the China the world is dealing with. Behind all the wealth, the global infrastructure projects, and the talk of globalization, its a globalization on China’s terms. As far back as Richard Nixon, It was once hoped that economic engagement with China would erode their system from within. Surely capitalism would force China to be more like us. In 2019 however, it seems increasingly clear that the opposite has happened. China is increasingly changing our system of government. Changing our discourse. Changing our lives.

  3. 4 out of 5

    David

    A well-researched account of China's transformation, but one that lacks any sense of impartiality. It's easy for intelligent, well-educated and well-informed persons to find faults in a state, esp if their own political values are dissonant with that of the state their critiquing. But this critique lacks any sort of even-handedness and China's literary giants from the Confucian and legalistic traditions are merely quoted to contextualise CCP rule. Thus the author inadvertantly implies that China' A well-researched account of China's transformation, but one that lacks any sense of impartiality. It's easy for intelligent, well-educated and well-informed persons to find faults in a state, esp if their own political values are dissonant with that of the state their critiquing. But this critique lacks any sort of even-handedness and China's literary giants from the Confucian and legalistic traditions are merely quoted to contextualise CCP rule. Thus the author inadvertantly implies that China's current system is a natural development from Chinese culture spanning millennia - which is ironically the CCP line too. Given the title, it would have been nice if the author had explored the Confucian notion of social harmony - a core principle in Chinese culture and one that has been appropriated by the CCP in a very specific way to denigrate, censor and even criminalise dissent. Similarly a brief overview of China's legalistic philosophical tradition could have provided a similar cultural backdrop to show how this too has been adopted and exploited for social control. Still, this comprehensive anecdote-heavy critique is interesting and a reminder that the world needs to follow China's development closely.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Fuck

  5. 4 out of 5

    Henning

    "The perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary." - Michel Foucault Yikes. I don't know how to put all this into a review but I try to come up with a brief overview. "We do not have to fear China but ourselves" is the ending sentence by the Author. To me it is a bit harder now to really believe this since this book clearly shows how the Chinese Communist Party slowly and carefully and well-conceived taking over and influence not only the eastern but almost every "The perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary." - Michel Foucault Yikes. I don't know how to put all this into a review but I try to come up with a brief overview. "We do not have to fear China but ourselves" is the ending sentence by the Author. To me it is a bit harder now to really believe this since this book clearly shows how the Chinese Communist Party slowly and carefully and well-conceived taking over and influence not only the eastern but almost every part of the western world. Orwell once feared those who banned books. Huxley feared that one day there would be no reason to ban books because there was no one left who wants to read them. That is exactly the mindset the CCP wants their kids to grow into. They’re not only lead by oppression but also by changing the vocabulary very radical which very much reminds me of the „Newspeak“ in Orwells „1984“. Propaganda is everywhere and with all the opportunities that comes along with new technology it’s getting alarming effective. Mao once said that political power comes through barrels. Xi Jinping who is secretary general since 2012 (and will remain so since China abolished the term limit in 2018) added the written word to it. The censorship in todays technological world of WeChat and Weibo is getting more and more effective and can be used to create the „new human“, as the CCP officially term it. In the eyes of Xi Jinping the new human is someone who is trustful and honest all the time, whatever that means to him and his ideology. How do they measure it? They accumulating a lot of data through millions of cameras in public areas and through online activities of everyone and merging it into Big Data on which they build a type of rating system for people. This rating will effect all sorts of things like the possibility to travel or to use certain payment methods. Just to show some numbers here: until 2018 China installed around 350 million surveillance cameras which are all packed with the ability to use artificial intelligence for tracking and detection. Without privacy policies China can work extremely fast on evolving artificial intelligence which will lead to a great advantage over the western world in many different parts. Besides that people are not so fussy about this topic not to say that they don't even care about privacy at all. The infiltration of the western world is one of the biggest goals of Xi Jinping and the CCP. They are using all sorts of techniques to influence not only businesses but also ordinary citizens. In the US alone opened almost 100 Confucius departments with the official intention to educate western people in Chinese culture and art. Those departments can be found in many western countries. Besides that the Chinese market is a big part of western businesses which often leads to them being a type of slave to the CCP. I don’t want to say too much because it’s getting too complex really quickly with Kai Strittmatter mentioned a couple more frightful things. This book is also giving some insights in the current state of the technological progress in many different topics and highlights the fact that their citizens are way more interested in trying new things.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Geevee

    Review to follow. Interesting insight into modern China.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    A sharp, scathing and scary polemic against the Chinese Communist Party that makes for a worrying read. 1984 has arrived in China and the CCP's totalitarian model is being exported worldwide with the acquiescence and, in some cases, approval of Western democracies and multinational corporations. A sharp, scathing and scary polemic against the Chinese Communist Party that makes for a worrying read. 1984 has arrived in China and the CCP's totalitarian model is being exported worldwide with the acquiescence and, in some cases, approval of Western democracies and multinational corporations.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kemp

    I really wanted to read this book after seeing a few reviews. My expectations were high. Unfortunately, it fell short. Not that it isn’t interesting or that that the topic isn’t important and relevant today. In fact, the book ends strong. Its an above average book but not as great as I wanted it to be. I use WeChat. I write to colleagues in China using it. I’ve traveled to China, seen the numerous cameras, and know I'm watched. So, when I heard about this book, I put a hold on it from my library I really wanted to read this book after seeing a few reviews. My expectations were high. Unfortunately, it fell short. Not that it isn’t interesting or that that the topic isn’t important and relevant today. In fact, the book ends strong. Its an above average book but not as great as I wanted it to be. I use WeChat. I write to colleagues in China using it. I’ve traveled to China, seen the numerous cameras, and know I'm watched. So, when I heard about this book, I put a hold on it from my library and dove in once the book arrived. It does address the surveillances in China. It does cite two examples of the Chinese government arresting or meeting with people as a result of their WeChat messages. It does cover the development and use of AI along with Big Data to track people. It provides some insight and examples in to the discrimination and internment of the Uighurs but there are better articles on this topic from the New York Times. All this happens in the second half of the book along with examples of Chinese companies developing and expanding these capabilities. The author lays out the dominance China is striving for across the world stage and connecting the viability of that plan with AI, Big Data, and surveillance. The beginning is just too long. Way too long. Just read one of the first six chapters if you have any familiarity with China. No need to wade through them all. The meat of the book begins with the AI chapter, “The Eye”. That’s when it gets interesting. That’s the section I wanted to read – I just wish I knew going in that I could have skipped a third of the book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kunal Thakker

    Really informative book about China's human rights abuses and its looming threat to the West. Really well written and easy to read. Only point of confusion is the author's hostility to Donald Trump? He's the only significant Western leader to actually stand up to China in decades and so I would have assumed someone as alarmed about China as this author is would have seen this presidency as a step forward? I kept an open mind and genuinely wanted a critique of Trump's policies because maybe I was Really informative book about China's human rights abuses and its looming threat to the West. Really well written and easy to read. Only point of confusion is the author's hostility to Donald Trump? He's the only significant Western leader to actually stand up to China in decades and so I would have assumed someone as alarmed about China as this author is would have seen this presidency as a step forward? I kept an open mind and genuinely wanted a critique of Trump's policies because maybe I was missing something here but he never even explored them in the book. I think this book is great to learn about the ideology of China but the reason I give it four stars, as opposed to five, is because author needs to do some more research on the ideological debates within the West itself. I think we should be more worried about the growing popularity of a radical left that admires Mao and shares an anti-Western agenda with today's China rather than the populist movements that seek to defend Western ideals.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marilyn

    Yikes and double yikes.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Pallante

    Having spent nearly 5 years living and working in Shanghai, I can say that this book paints a pretty precise picture of the totalitarianism dressed in digital garb that is pervasive throughout the country. With the aim of creating the most perfect surveillance state, the new China will be an outwardly colorful mix of George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, where people devote themselves to commerce and pleasure and in so doing submit to surveillance of their own accord. Like some Having spent nearly 5 years living and working in Shanghai, I can say that this book paints a pretty precise picture of the totalitarianism dressed in digital garb that is pervasive throughout the country. With the aim of creating the most perfect surveillance state, the new China will be an outwardly colorful mix of George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, where people devote themselves to commerce and pleasure and in so doing submit to surveillance of their own accord. Like something out of Black Mirror, the book covers China's "Social Credit System" and how omnipresent algorithms create economically productive, socially harmonized and politically compliant subjects who ultimately censor and sanction themselves. There are many other topics (AI, facial recognition, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, human rights, Covid19, propaganda, big data, trade, privacy rights, etc.) that go into depth about how the new China has come to be and the influence that Xi Jinping and the CCP have over not just Chinese citizens, but the world. Definitely worth the read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Greta G

    We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China's Surveillance State https://www.theguardian.com/books/201... We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China's Surveillance State https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    A hard-hitting book on the authoritarian system focused mostly on the rapid propaganda and surveillance measures taken under the President and Paramount Leader of the CCP, Xi Jinping since 2013. I haven't lived in or visited China or Taiwan since 2013 so this book actually contained a good deal of information about changes and polices that I was unaware of. I found Strittmatter's somewhat anecdotal approach enjoyable and well-written. The main thrust of this work is something to the effect of Kr A hard-hitting book on the authoritarian system focused mostly on the rapid propaganda and surveillance measures taken under the President and Paramount Leader of the CCP, Xi Jinping since 2013. I haven't lived in or visited China or Taiwan since 2013 so this book actually contained a good deal of information about changes and polices that I was unaware of. I found Strittmatter's somewhat anecdotal approach enjoyable and well-written. The main thrust of this work is something to the effect of Krrrh. "Come in, democracies of the world. Do you read me? Sure, you have your own domestic issues, but are you aware of what's going on over here? Consider that democracy is the exception in the history of humankind... Don't take it as a given." In circumstances like these it can feel hard to criticize a government without appearing to criticize the associated people and culture, but I think Strittmatter rightly goes out of his way to focus his negativity on the party and those who are fortifying its authoritarian control, not on the citizens. There is no need to conflate all Chinese people with CCP policy (even if the party WOULD like to be so inextricably enmeshed). I find myself zone out, staring out the window wondering if China might somehow still find some peaceful backdoor to reach an egalitarian society over the next couple decades. Ironically, it is the same question I ask about the US these days. Our fragile democracy that is not yielding equality or satisfaction for much of the population. I can also admit that there's a part of me that worries my allegiance to democracy is just a function of propaganda too—and moreover, to simplify the experiment of modern society-building down to a battle between democracy and authoritarianism is to paint with far too broad of strokes. That is not the only question in the web of our complex worlds, but it's one worth considering and this book gives us a bit of fodder as we do. Fun from John Oliver: https://youtu.be/OubM8bD9kck --notes-- --From the introduction Time for the west to let go of the wishful thinking that an open economy and increasing prosperity will automatically bring political liberalization to China. Strittmatter is not condemning of Chinese people, but of the Chinese political leadership. Early on he comments that if you visit China you meet "people whose drive, energy, and courage is twice as impressive for the fact that it exists under a system like China's." "We have good reasons to believe that democracy is better and more humane than China's system, but people often seem to forget one important thing: although all those citizens of western democracies may be living in the best of all times and the best of all places, such a life—free of violence and despotism and fear—is far from being the ordinary state of affairs in the long history of humankind. It was, and still is, a rather unlikely exception." --On words and propaganda under CCP "To call a deer a horse" zhiluweima "If you do see the truth, it will do you no good. In fact it's dangerous." Best of all is to embrace the lie... That's what the fanatics do, but they will only ever be a very small group... The next best thing is to deliberately avoid learning the truth, to live a life of benumbed ignorance. And if you do happen on the truth, keep quiet and pretend you haven't.""Ignorance is the new common sense." "The name is only a guest in reality" -Zhuangzi "For this reason, the free press is the autocrat's natural enemy... Research and fact-checking equate to ideological subversion as it says in the extraordinary "Document #9." Hexie shehui "In the past decade 'harmony' has been one of the party's favorite words. The harmony between orders and obedience. Harmony is when ordinary people don't make a fuss." Strittmatter comments that technically, China does have constitution, a parliament, and there are elections. Chinese people, however, experience each of these as farce. In this way they might be inoculated when they come into contact with other people outside China they won't become infected with dangerous subversive words. "This perverted language makes the population immune and mute." Kongzi shuo "He who would create order in the state must do one thing: correct the names." --On Terror under CCP In the Constitution Article 35, there are rights given for freedom of speech, press, assembly, demonstration... but Article 1 (the only one that matters in reality) states, 'The People's Republic of China is a socialist state under the People's democratic dictatorship,' and 'Sabotage by any organization or individual is prohibited.' When Xi Jinping became president he cracked down on a rights activist Xu Zhiyong https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xu_Zhiyong in China demanding that the rights described in the constitution be respected. Show trials, house arrests, and sentences followed. The government then declared December 4, 2014 to be Constitution Day (a group monitoring censorship in China found that the most censored word in China on the Constitution day was... "constitution"). "Law in China was nothing but the codification of the directives of the party." -Dean of Law faculty at Beijing's Xinghua university In judicial circles so judges started openly declaring that political interference in important documents had to stop. But by 2017, even some of the top judges calling for judicial separation from the party saw the writing on the wall. One came out saying, "China's judges and legal minds must draw their swords against harmful influences such as the separation of powers or the independence of the judiciary." Chinese Supreme Court Weibo account posted (China's equivalent of Twitter) "Of course there is judicial independence in China, but only under the leadership of the CCP." --On propaganda "It would be a mistake to believe that this propaganda, which to outsiders often comes across as crude, vacuous, and absurd, doesn't work. Much propaganda is crude and vacuous and it works surprisingly well." "Warm and full" -- The communist's party's stated aim that every Chinese citizen should be able to eat his fill and dress in warm clothes. This was the highest human right and all other human rights would have to wait in line until that had been achieved. The system builds parameters for your thought when you're very young. "Once you've swallowed and internalized what the party's fed you, you can't even ask certain questions. They lie outside your realm of experience and imagination." Party is now trying to reach young people Virtual pop-singing idol Luo Tianyi https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5I2yy... Hip hop and 'rapaganda' sponsored by the party lol https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eucw3... or 'harmonization' of rappers that have already become popular https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ki6r... Action films like Wolf Warrior 2 "giving the audience waves of nationalistic orgasms" advertised with a tagline, "Anyone who attacks China will be killed, no matter how far away he is." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkqGi... "The American Dream is just a cliche and western individualism and liberalism are simply not seductive to Chinese audiences." - Sixth Tone (a party-owned website with an intellectual, well-styled vibe). --On the Internet and the Great Firewall Eric Schmitt, Bill Clinton, Tim Berners-Lee all claimed web censors will not survive. Activist, Lu Xiaobo saw the internet as a way to democracy in China, and Ai Weiwei in 2012 too. Beijing doesn't fear the internet at all. "Let us climb aboard the express train of the internet." Alibaba reports higher revenue than Amazon and Ebay combined. Tencent overtook Facebook as highest valued social network company. Murong is a writer that rose up in as a writer through Weibo as a novelist, but has become an essayist about China and largely censored. "Why isn't China producing any greater writers? Because they are all castrated eunuchs, castrated by their own hand in over-hasty obedience before the surgeon can even raise the scalpel." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murong_... In the first 4 years of Weibo (founded in 2009), it became a realm of unprecedented freedom for the young generation. The censors at first didn't know how to keep up. Food scandals, pollution, police violence all were posted. There was an awakening. But with Xi Jinping at the helm starting in 2013, the CCP started cracking down on accounts. The big influencers online were all invited to a conference in the summer of 2013. Then a couple weeks later, the state arrested Charles Xue, one of the influencers. With tears in his eyes, in prison, he said he was very wrong to post what he did. Then, the Supreme court issued ruling that anyone who shared a rumor that was shared more than 500 times or received over 5000 clicks and thus "upset social order" would risk up to 3 years in prison. Those influencers then all fell silent. Weibo is still as commercially successful as ever. Still lots of users and posts, but no longer woke in the way it was for those 4 years. Fascinating banned online words -Winnie the Pooh (a common way to refer to Xi Jinping online) -"Bu tongyi" I don't agree -Animal farm -Mourn (each year around Tiananmen Square date) Content that promotes solidarity other than with the party... "50 cent troops" - Party cheerleaders that get paid to flood forums with positive or subject-changing posts The state has access to China's chat apps and can watch what you write. "We need to build a firewall in our brains." -The People's Daily "Censorship works... As long as social controls and intimidation go hand in hand with material rewards and people are encouraged into consumerism. As long as they have the feeling that they're enjoying more freedom than ever before." Asserts that most of the time, most people in China aren't bothered by the censorship. It's just during big moments like the spread of the Coronavirus (cadres in Wuhan keep citizens in the dark about the outbreak for several weeks and bring together tons of people for Guiness world record event) or the explosion of a toxic factory. "This is the deal the communist party has with the people: You submit to our dictatorship and we provide you with prosperity, protection, and security in return. It is China's unwritten social contract." "People are happy, they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get." -Aldous Huxley "They fail to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." - Aldous Huxley Stanford study on Beijing internet usage 2015-2017 VPN tunneling given out for free to students as well as free movie download site. They wanted to see if students would try to read foreign news sites blocked by China. Fewer than 1 in 40 accessed. This was a group at one of the most famous and formerly most liberal universities in China. "Censorship doesn't work because the regime makes it difficult... it fosters an environment in which citizens don't demand such information in the first place." Like the frog at the bottom of the well in the old fable. --On forgetting history Tiananmen Square Massacre is blocked in China. June 4th also blocked. I wasn't able to verify this, but Strittmatter claims that in China on Baidu Baike (sort of a wikipedia equivalent?) there are entries for 1988 and 1990, but no entry at all for the year 1989. Other proxies "when Spring becomes Summer" a "35 May" are also banned. The urban middle classes have been turned into the party's most loyal accomplices due to the boom and prosperity. The Great Leap Forward is mostly wiped out, and when mentioned by the party it speaks coyly of the "difficult years." "The hatred of Japan and the endless repetition of Japan's crimes against the Chinese people is one of the central themes of the party's nationalistic propaganda." AIDS villages in Henan province. Unscrupulous blood donation networks set up by party cadres run with such scant regard for medical protocols that eventually whole villages caught HIV and died together. --On Xi as a new Emperor Where Mao's citizens had a little red book, Xi has a little red App. "Study Xi Strong Country" became most downloaded app ahead of WeChat and TikTok. On the app you can read party press, watch classics, send red envelopes and most importantly they can collect points for every essay or video they watch of Xi. More time spent in the app gives more points. Alibaba programmed the app and included backdoor to track keystrokes and all files on the phone.. Xi is one of the "princelings," son of a revolutionary once close with Mao and Deng. He has been groomed for the task he's now fulfilling: the salvation of the CCP in a hostile global environment. --On Marxism by name and resurrecting Kongzi (Confucius) after Mao killed him Document #9 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documen... How to cope with western ideological beliefs... "Someone once told me that all China's problems stem from the fact that the capitalism that is being practiced is being preached as socialism. This paradox, which has existed for a long time and has remained unresolved to this day." In some provinces CCP leaders instruct all people to not celebrate Christmas, Halloween, Valentine's Day and especially April Fool's Day as they are western holidays. "Chinese culture is just a feast of human flesh prepared for the rich and the mighty." -Lu Xun, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lu_Xun (Lu Xun has also been coopted by the party!) Confucians taught that 'the ruler is the ruler, the subject is the subject. When everyone knows his place, harmony will reign.' The communists once burned Confucius. Now they're pulling his books out of the ashes. Lu Xun hated the Confucians. "5,000 years of Chinese history" is sort of a one-up of Egypt's 5,000-year history. Strittmatter points out that China only has about 3,000 years of recorded history. Since the founding of CCP in 1921 the party has been a nationalist party. "After the de facto death of communism in the 1980s, the communist party searched for new sources of legitimacy for their power and found two: one was the promise of material prosperity and the other was nationalism." Ran out of characters for all my notes so continue in this doc: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1O...

  14. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    WOW.......just wow!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    Yikes! A concerning look at how our data can be used.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Oliwia

    I think an essential part of understanding this book is separating CPC from the Chinese people. Just like Strittmatter mentioned, he is most grateful for China and its people. I myself think Chinese culture and history are both beautiful and entrancing. Consequently, I am pained by what is happening, more so - I am furious, I can't even find words to describe it. But it's not only the Chinese autocracy to blame (as many Westerners tend to think), we, as in our leaders, created an opportunity for I think an essential part of understanding this book is separating CPC from the Chinese people. Just like Strittmatter mentioned, he is most grateful for China and its people. I myself think Chinese culture and history are both beautiful and entrancing. Consequently, I am pained by what is happening, more so - I am furious, I can't even find words to describe it. But it's not only the Chinese autocracy to blame (as many Westerners tend to think), we, as in our leaders, created an opportunity for Xi to strengthen and become more relevant, to let his soft power blind our morals and the possibility of profit bind our hands. At the cost of what? Democracy and human rights, of course. I read many other reviews and some didn't seem to understand why the mentions of Donald Trump were needed - let me explain. His lack of competence provides insight into how CPC managed to gain so much power worldwide and be fearless while doing so. Not only Trump, of course, but also the lack of cooperation between the EU (largely because of the right-wing populists in many European countries like Poland or Hungary, not to mention Belarus). This all helped to weaken Democracy and use our examples as propaganda, to use us as examples of "failed Western beliefs", "failed democracies" I am disgusted by the horrible acts CPC committed (and will continue to commit). Uyghurs in concentration camps, human rights abuse, racism, brainwashing, indoctrination. I fear that if we continue to be weak and silent, CPC will just plant its roots even deeper.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Paulina Parzych

    A must read in 2020 for everyone. Big pack of knowledge about China

  18. 4 out of 5

    Élodie (shereadsinparis)

    A well-writeen explanation of the censorship system in place in China. The author desribes the system in place in the country, how it uses AI technologies, how the population is reacting, what are the psychological maoneuvres in place. It also describes how Beijing is gaining influence in the Western world. All in all, it is a pretty good overview of this "harmonisation". A well-writeen explanation of the censorship system in place in China. The author desribes the system in place in the country, how it uses AI technologies, how the population is reacting, what are the psychological maoneuvres in place. It also describes how Beijing is gaining influence in the Western world. All in all, it is a pretty good overview of this "harmonisation".

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ben Rogers

    Absolutely eye-opening book. Downright scary at times. Highly recommended for any political readers or readers who enjoy learning about the sociology of other cultures. I found it really fascinating. It was really an interesting read. 4.9/5

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kara of BookishBytes

    Kai Strittmatter's book is an eye-opening and disturbing exposition on the use of digital surveillance to achieve the Chinese government's totalitarian goals. His main premise is that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (or CCP) is buying the contentment of Chinese citizens through increasing capitalism and prosperity while the citizens are sacrificing their intellectual and political freedom. The CCP's surveillance is pervasive through control of internet usage, text/data mining in phone apps, lo Kai Strittmatter's book is an eye-opening and disturbing exposition on the use of digital surveillance to achieve the Chinese government's totalitarian goals. His main premise is that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (or CCP) is buying the contentment of Chinese citizens through increasing capitalism and prosperity while the citizens are sacrificing their intellectual and political freedom. The CCP's surveillance is pervasive through control of internet usage, text/data mining in phone apps, location tracking, facial recognition software, video camera surveillance, and even digital reporting on the actions of one's neighbors. And it all has a single goal: to preserve power for the entrenched members of the Chinese Communist Party. All of the surveillance gives the CCP targets for imprisonment and "patriotic education." In the worst instances--which are horrifyingly common among communities such as the Uyghurs and for human rights advocates in Hong Kong and China--people are disappeared and presumably murdered. Strittmatter even says Chinese citizens who want their children to go to a good college better carefully control their words and actions to not bring any negative attention to themselves. The CCP benefits from making "patriotic education" examples of certain journalists and advocates because that terrorizes the citizenry to the extent that they self-censor . . . and real debate over ideas can't be sustained. Reading this book is disturbing. All of us--not living in China--are the subjects of some digital surveillance in our lives. And we know, for example, that Google uses its knowledge of our activities to give us targeted ads and search results. That's spooky enough. What if all of digital lives were being actively monitored to make sure we were saying and doing "enough" of the "right things" and none of the "wrong things" (as determined by an autocratic all-seeing eye)? What if all of our digital data was mined and then used to intimidate us and threaten the wellbeing of our family members? Absolutely terrifying. I highly recommend it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

    Equal parts saddening and terrifying. Resistance if futile. Equal parts saddening and terrifying. Resistance if futile.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Valerie Allen

    Whoa.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Fantastic look at China - sobering without being alarmist. The author knows his stuff and presents a compelling mix of anecdotes and data. Highly recommend.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mark Reece

    This book sets out how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is attempting to renew itself, if that is the right phrase, by the use of AI, advanced surveillance techniques, and the manipulation of the Internet. The book also discusses related subjects such as the manipulation of language to achieve the same ends. The author previously lived in China and calls upon a wide range of sources, including personal experience and articles from party publications, amongst other things, to provide a compelling This book sets out how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is attempting to renew itself, if that is the right phrase, by the use of AI, advanced surveillance techniques, and the manipulation of the Internet. The book also discusses related subjects such as the manipulation of language to achieve the same ends. The author previously lived in China and calls upon a wide range of sources, including personal experience and articles from party publications, amongst other things, to provide a compelling picture of the attempt by the current Chinese leadership to create a 'new authoritarianism'. In addition to censorship, this includes various schemes to determine what makes a 'good citizen' by means of, for example, creating databases of points systems awarded for various types of behaviour that are not explicitly political- for example, points may be deducted for running across a road at the wrong time. The author gives an interesting discussion of the effects that an authoritarian state have on personal behaviour. In particular, he describes how the CCP actively undermines solidarity between citizens, which leads to a culture of cynicism, whereby people who are perceived to be selfless are disparaged. This gives the book a more rounded approach than if it had focused strictly on the high politics of the CCP. The author also points out how the CCP makes use of cultural relativist arguments to support its cause (the Chinese have a unique culture and interpret liberty differently from other people etc). Of course, this is self-interested and hypocritical- Marxism originally purported to be a universalist creed, and Chinese people have a wide range of views about how their country should be run. It is absurd to suggest that any government represents the views of its people wholesale. This should give pause for thought to advocates of relativism in other countries- the position that there is no criteria that can be used to judge between different viewpoints or political systems, seems well suited to authoritarianism. The tone is a little hectoring at times. The author is relentless in pointing out precisely why the various CCP policies are so harmful. This is a little annoying, and unnecessary- the research stands very well on its own merits. Also, I wonder whether the book focuses a little too heavily on the current leader- Xi Jinping. Authoritarian regimes often focus on a 'great leader' figure but are usually, in reality, highly factional. For example, Nazi Germany did not operate solely according to the dictates of Hitler, regardless of the image the Nazis tried to portray. The author describes the Chinese military as being purely an adjunct of the CCP, and therefore of Jinping. Not being knowledgeable about the Chinese state myself, I cannot say with any certainty that that description is flawed, but it certainly sounds like an over-simplification. Overall, this is an interesting book, that breaks together many themes in an impression display of erudition.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I think its actually 3.75 but I didn't feel right rating it a 3 stars. This book was a good ride! I was slightly hesitant at first because it started off feeling like it was him explaining his experience in living in China which I wasn't that down for but then he started weaving his experiences and people he met in with studies and facts about China's descent into the new system they are following and exporting across the globe. This book is a whole lot of "oh yeah gross yeah gross yeah not shoc I think its actually 3.75 but I didn't feel right rating it a 3 stars. This book was a good ride! I was slightly hesitant at first because it started off feeling like it was him explaining his experience in living in China which I wasn't that down for but then he started weaving his experiences and people he met in with studies and facts about China's descent into the new system they are following and exporting across the globe. This book is a whole lot of "oh yeah gross yeah gross yeah not shocked but also ew" and it's just depressing as hell that we don't focus a lot on China's expanding influence and how they use their power to ensure lack of dissent. It's also troubling how when you bring this up people go like 'oh yeah well every country is like that, China is just more outwardly like that' and that's just a bunch of straight up bogus that people are pedalling these days. The book explains Xi Jinpings process into creating the surveillance state and how they tamed the internet. A good gist to get from this book is that no matter what power technology promises, that power will go to those with more resources. This book promises some wild tid bits that have you thinking the author is exaggerating but then you google it and realise oh yeah no shit's fucked. China has a lot of Soviet style tendencies that people tend to ignore because it's not convenient for international relations. Goes into good detail about how China exerts its political power to countries that get more money from the EU or the US but yet follow China's orders. Czech republic is a good example of this. China promised to invest 3.5 billion Euros into Czech if they act as a proxy for Beijing (by not passing any joint declarations etc). China has only given Czech 362 million of that money but yet kowtows down to China promising not be 'subservient to the US and the EU' even though the EU gives Czech 5.7 billion Euros a year. There's a million more examples of this weird dissonance that I don't understand. It's like we've realised Orientalism is fucked so we've decided to go in the opposite way that anything they do is fine because who are we to say anything??? Meanwhile China is literally taking people's children away or making them go to work camps for being disobedient???? Strittmatter also raised a point I'd never thought of before in that Jinping has done a tremendous job at creating an apathetic population. They did this experiment at on the top university's in Beijing and gave students a VPN (and made sure they wouldn't have fears of safety) and the students that bothered using it only used it for social media and entertainment sites. It just goes to show how much surveillance is used to mould the mind to not to only instil fear, but to remove the curiosity to question the establishment in general. Yeah overall a good ride and learnt a lot about Chinese policies and practices.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ethan Wells

    “The autocrat’s aim,” writes Kai Strittmatter in We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State, “is to occupy and control the mind through language” (22). Perhaps the chief merit of Strittmatter’s book is its enumeration of the substantial efforts undertaken by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to realize its autocratic - or rather, totalitarian - pretensions, not only by attempting to “harmonize" its population but by getting them to self-harmonize. While the CCP is more than will “The autocrat’s aim,” writes Kai Strittmatter in We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State, “is to occupy and control the mind through language” (22). Perhaps the chief merit of Strittmatter’s book is its enumeration of the substantial efforts undertaken by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to realize its autocratic - or rather, totalitarian - pretensions, not only by attempting to “harmonize" its population but by getting them to self-harmonize. While the CCP is more than willing to compel obedience - the June 4th, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre made that clear enough - it prefers for its subjects to self-police rather than be policed, to self-censor rather than be censored, to self-castrate, as one of the dissidents cited by Strittmatter puts it (67), rather than be castrated. “[T]o occupy and control the mind through language” thus means: to get the subject to turn on itself and do the Party’s work for it. Pace Thomas Hobbes, it is, in short, not enough to compel outward obedience; the Party demands acquiescence at the level of private belief as well. It wants, in short, to get in its subjects’ heads. The ideal subject of totalitarianism is the self-conscious one - provided, that is, it’s the right self-consciousness. The CCP is deploying the full might of its technological savvy in its attempts to bring this “New Man” (215) into the light of day. Cameras are everywhere, and facial recognition software pervasive; in principle, the CCP is rapidly approaching the point where it will be able to track, in real time, all 1.4 billion of its subjects. The huge amounts of data being collected are sorted automatically by algorithms that “score” each Chinese - scores that open doors, or, as the case may be, close them with all the definity of a prison sentence (which may become increasingly redundant). This is achieved thanks in part to the well-remunerated contributions of Big Tech - Apple, IBM, Google, Microsoft, etc. - “Western” companies more than willing to turn a blind eye to how their technological innovations are actually being deployed against the Chinese people, even when these innovations are increasingly used to facilitate what is perhaps the most organized genocidal project of the 21st century, the “disappearing” of Xinjiang’s Uighur population through mass incarceration in “re-education camps” as well as through mass sterilization campaigns - all of which points, sooner or later, towards mass graves. And while the Uighurs are the first to find themselves on this dreadful track, they will most certainly not be the last, especially if their fate continues to be met with a collective shrug of the world’s shoulders. Strittmatter is right enough, then, to note that “[w]e are witnessing the return of totalitarianism in digital form” (234); both his awe and his anxiety before what the CCP is trying to achieve, and the enormous violence it is willing to unleash in order to do so, are eminently understandable. What constitutes the limits of his book, however, is his failure to linger over his crucial insight: namely, that “[t]he autocrat’s aim is to occupy and control the mind through language.” The dream of the CCP, or, for that matter, of any totalitarian pretender, is to compel acquiescence to whatever it says is the truth. It wants to be the sole arbiter of the difference between fiction and reality. To his credit, Strittmatter recognizes that this broaches an enormously fraught problem. “The whole business of truth - recognizing it and communicating it through language - is,” he writes, “philosophically difficult” (19). Having said that, however, he does his best to forget it. At no point does he actually discuss any philosophical difficulties, even as the picture he paints of the CCP and the “New Man” it dreams of forming through a certain Bildung (“education,” “formation” - a crucial term in the German philosophical tradition whose prevalence there renders laughable Strittmatter’s suggestion that “shaping people through education [in order to] serve state order” (49) is somehow peculiar to the Chinese) increasingly comes to resemble the German Idealism from which it, in fact, emerged. For however much China may wish to draw a line under its relation to the West, its professed ideology remains unabashedly Marxist - and that Marxism, even if disfigured to the point of near- unrecognizability, nonetheless harkens back to German Idealism in general, and Hegel and Marx in particular. It is, in short, with Hegel and Marx that the self-consciousness proper to China’s “New Man” finds its most rigorous precursors. Drawing a line under these texts, however, turns out to be just one more way of perpetuating them. In any case, what’s lamentable is not, ultimately, that Strittmatter doesn’t linger at all over this philosophical tradition - no one, after all, can be familiar with everything, though Strittmatter’s penchant for erudite, if at times pedantic (it’s a bit much to call Lu Xun “the greatest writer China ha[s] ever had” (153) in its 5000 year history), references, as well as the fact that German is his native language, does lead one to expect better of him. It is rather that, having allowed the “relationship” between language and truth to emerge as “philosophically difficult,” he then makes it go away without realizing that it is precisely this “relationship” that proves to be not only a determining factor in generating totalitarianism but, more importantly for my purposes, an inexhaustible resource for resisting it. More curious still, he makes it go away by quoting - selectively - from the following passage of Herta Müller’s Nobel lecture: “The sound of the words,” writes Müller, “along with the truth this sound invents, resides at the interface, where the deceit of the materials and that of the gestures come together. In writing, it is not a matter of trusting, but rather of the honesty of the deceit” (partially quoted by Strittmatter, p.19). Truth needs language in order to see the light of day - to be invented - but language is inherently deceptive, such that language-as-gesture, and language-as-truth, are at once fundamentally incompatible with each other and inextricably intertwined. No truth, in short, without language, but language always says something other than the truth. And, however disconcerting this may be, it does suggest that the totalitarian desire to compel acquiescence to whatever it says is the truth is thwarted as it originates. For if the very act of inventing truth disfigures it, then the Party will never be able simply to impose a fiction of its own invention as reality. It will instead always end up imposing something other than this fiction - thereby engendering a re-imposition that, rather than correcting the failure of the first, repeats it in displaced form, over and over again, albeit with the potential for greater and greater violence. All of which is to suggest that the “totalitarian” is not only unable ultimately “to occupy and control the mind through language,” it is not even the ultimate referent of its “own” positing, whose alterity cannot help but point not only to something other than, in this instance, the Party, but indeed, to a future in which the CCP has no part. The Party is, in short, not even in control of its own language - or, for that matter, mind. To claim to have conducted anal cavity searches of 10,000 pigeons, as the CCP claims to have done prior to the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic (33) is, after all, not exactly indicative of a sound mind - regardless of whether the claim is true or not. Strittmatter misses all of this because he precipitously makes what is, for Müller, the deceit of writing into the deceit of the subject. “Müller’s ‘deceit,’” he writes, “is well-intentioned; it participates in a free exchange with others’ experiences, in full knowledge of the imprecision inherent in its claims” (19 - my emphasis). This is almost exactly wrong; it’s precisely such “full knowledge” that Müller’s text is saying is a mirage, even if it is a mirage from which we are all destined, sooner or later, to try to drink. And it is because Strittmatter gets this so wrong that, again and again, he mistakes, as signs of the CCP’s success in realizing its totalitarian aspirations, what are in fact signs of its failure. “The Party is so good at erasing history,” he writes, that it sometimes trips itself up. In 2007, a civil rights activist in Chengdu named Chen Yunfei succeeded in placing a small ad in the paper as a ‘tribute to the strong mothers of the victims of June 4.’ When the young editor asked what that June 4 date signified, she replied: ‘A mining accident.’ Afterward, he and two colleagues were fired - although their ignorance was merely evidence of how successful the efforts of state censorship [of the Tiananmen Square massacre] had been (127). What Strittmatter fails fully to appreciate, however, is that this means that every editor in China has to know what June 4th signifies in order to avoid being fired - or worse. One can almost imagine Party-run schools devoted to the sole task of teaching editors all the news not fit to print. Similarly, when the Party, through its media organs, announces that “[i]t is absolutely forbidden to incite political unrest with the misleading question ‘Is the Party above the law or the law above the Party?’” (343, n.27), it poses the very question it wants to silence. In the very attempt to disarm its subjects, it thus provides them, ironically enough, with crucial resources for resisting it. More generally, when Strittmatter writes that “[t]he Party prescribes historical amnesia to the people over and over again; otherwise it would have to face up to its crimes” (120), he completely overlooks that, if the Party has to “prescribe” this amnesia “over and over again,” it cannot help but endlessly remark (re-scribe, if you want) the very thing it wants forgotten. The result of the CCP’s mandate, for example, that Baidu Baike, the Chinese equivalent of Wikipedia, make no reference to 1989 is not simply that “[a]n entire year has been erased from history” (110), as Strittmatter laments; it is also that 1989, unlike all the other years for which Baidu Baike has entries, has been set apart as a blank that itself demands to be read - and all the more so if the sinologist Simon Leys is correct when he claims, in a passage cited approvingly by Strittmatter, that what the Party-watcher - or rather, reader - is tasked with is precisely “the art of interpreting non-existent inscriptions written in invisible ink on a blank page” (cited by Strittmatter, 130). This is, pace what Strittmatter seems to think, not just a real task; it's the most urgent one. Each of these examples testifies at once to the Party’s enormous power and its utter impotence. It has the power to efface the “facts,” if you want, of the Tiananmen Square massacre from Baidu Baike, but not to efface the signs of this effacement, signs that effectively mark it with a big X that says “dig here.” It can prevent its subjects from asking aloud about the relation between the Party and the law, but only by posing the question for them to silently ponder - as many do, according to Strittmatter, on social media, albeit often from burner accounts designed to trip up the Party’s attempt to trace particular posts back to the proper names found on its citizen scorecard. The Party’s strength is, in short, inseparable from its weakness - something that Strittmatter strikingly underscores at one point halfway through his book without any apparent awareness of what he has done. He is describing a dance production he saw in Beijing. In the dance’s final scene, the dancers approach a tank, only to be gunned down. “Lin Hwai-min [the choreographer] had created the scene,” writes Strittmatter, as a homage to the victims of the dictator Chiang Kai-shek (...) and his White Terror; for him it was an homage to the victims of the massacre that took place in Taiwan on February 28, 1947. But how many of the audience in Beijing knew that? And how was it possible, at this moment, in this place, just 200 meters as the crow flies from Tiananmen Square, not to see the images as an allegory of June 4, 1989 (127-28)? What so shocks Strittmatter is that his fellow audience members seem not to see in this scene a representation of what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989 when protesters confronted tanks, eventually to be gunned down. Without pausing to wonder how he knows what his fellow audience members see or don’t see, he interprets what he takes to be their blindness as more proof of the Party’s power: the Tiananmen Square massacre can be openly mimed in public with, it seems, few recognizing what is being staged right before their eyes, so completely has this massacre been wiped from the collective memory of the Chinese people. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Strittmatter that Lin Hwai-min was thumbing his nose at the censors and merely said that the scene was an homage to a massacre committed by the hated Chiang Kai-shek during the White Terror in Taiwan, where Kai-shek had retreated after being driven out of mainland China during the civil war that culminated in the CCP’s ascendancy and the very founding of the People’s Republic of China - nevermind just how over-the-top this explanation seems to be, how carefully designed to win CCP approval. Be that as it may, my point, ultimately, is this: it is because there is no necessary connection between the allegory (the dance) and what it is an allegory of (the Taiwanese massacre? the massacre at Tiananmen Square? But why stop here? What prevents one from seeing this dance as an allegory of all the massacres throughout the brutal history of humanity that those in Taiwan and Tiananmen repeat and anticipate?) that the CCP has an opening to try to impose on its subjects whatever it says is the truth. But it is also because there is no necessary connection between the allegory and what it is an allegory of that this imposition can never make itself necessary enough to preclude the possibility of someone like Strittmatter seeing, in Beijing, the very seat of the CCP’s power, a subversive dance memorializing not just what the CCP wants forgotten, but ultimately the CCP’s failure to impose itself upon the world. This is, finally, a dance danced on the grave of the CCP - for those who have eyes to read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    R. Reddebrek

    The author is a liberal journalist, so at times the text uses terms like Marxist and communist in a sloppy way and occasionally leans into rose tinted musings on "western values". But aside from that the book is an important and easy to read and understand look at the CPCs modern surveillance and influence practices within the PRC and abroad. Much of this work is built on older and nearly forgotten policies of the CPC and the new technologies of algorithm databases, AI research and policies the C The author is a liberal journalist, so at times the text uses terms like Marxist and communist in a sloppy way and occasionally leans into rose tinted musings on "western values". But aside from that the book is an important and easy to read and understand look at the CPCs modern surveillance and influence practices within the PRC and abroad. Much of this work is built on older and nearly forgotten policies of the CPC and the new technologies of algorithm databases, AI research and policies the Chinese state has deliberately kept opaque. So its surprising how well they're explained here. Its also very extensive, it documents everything from Xi Jinping's party and constitutional reforms, trade pacts, media consolidations, the early pilot schemes for the social credit systems, the rise of "smart cities" the brief period of opening up in the mid 2000s and pushes for limited reforms, the CPCs support of nationalism and online social media surveillance etc. It cites numerous reports and interviews with Chinese journalists, party officials, American tech companies, PR firms, sinologists and black listed celebrities and human rights lawyers.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Teresa Lukey

    Wow! What an interesting read and highly recommended. In today’s world I think it’s easy to dismiss communist ideas as conspiracy theory. I’ll admit that I can often fit in that naive line of thinking, but I do know that we shouldn’t trust what a communist country tells us. This book really was a wake up call to me because communist ideas and requirements are infiltrating U.S. companies and our information is being sold to China. The ways that this regime manipulates it’s people, businesses and e Wow! What an interesting read and highly recommended. In today’s world I think it’s easy to dismiss communist ideas as conspiracy theory. I’ll admit that I can often fit in that naive line of thinking, but I do know that we shouldn’t trust what a communist country tells us. This book really was a wake up call to me because communist ideas and requirements are infiltrating U.S. companies and our information is being sold to China. The ways that this regime manipulates it’s people, businesses and even other countries is pretty alarming. Read it. Read it now!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sharolyn Stauffer

    If you want to know what life in China is like right now under authoritarian AI, then you should read this book. You should read this book anyway, to see how scary the reality is. Well researched by Strittmatter and convincing, this book makes you shiver with the control capable by governments. I knew China was a surveillance state, but I did not realize the complexity and totality of what is being done there. It also offers an excellent lesson on moral decline and consumerism. I highly recommen If you want to know what life in China is like right now under authoritarian AI, then you should read this book. You should read this book anyway, to see how scary the reality is. Well researched by Strittmatter and convincing, this book makes you shiver with the control capable by governments. I knew China was a surveillance state, but I did not realize the complexity and totality of what is being done there. It also offers an excellent lesson on moral decline and consumerism. I highly recommend.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    This digs into some of the surveillance practices used across China, and draws interesting comparisons across authoritarian regimes and how they maintain power. (And - given the recent release date - analyzes the extent to which these methods are in use in the US today.) Thought provoking and timely

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