Unnoticed Chinese stereo surveillance “reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s”

Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province resident Yang Fan (a pseudonym) recently encountered a little trouble. The “grid officer” in his neighborhood came to his door and asked him to register the resident population of his house in his cell phone “WeChat” or “Alipay”.

The form asks for personal identification information, information about the neighborhood or village where he lives, and information about the house where he lives. In exchange, residents can receive “online reporting” as well as “government services” and “convenience services”.

Yang Fan didn’t know if he would get in trouble if he didn’t fill out the form, but he decided not to do so now. He had previously resisted the “health code” during the epidemic, fearing privacy leaks, and now he is just as worried.

He said, “It’s definitely nothing normally, but once there’s a little bit of everything, all your information is under control. It makes people very uncomfortable.”

However, for the convenience of travel, Yang Fan eventually had to fill out the “health code. Perhaps he will eventually compromise for some reason, as the emergency control model he experienced during the epidemic is likely to become part of his life in the future.

Zhejiang, a leader in “digital governance” (digital monitoring) technology, proposed a community management plan for “Party building-led overall smart governance” as early as late last year. On July 11, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council announced the “Opinions on Strengthening the Modernization of Grassroots Governance System and Capacity for Governance”, hoping to “promote the governance of townships (streets) and urban and rural communities in a coordinated manner”. Analysts say that the CCP intends to “solidify” and “institutionalize” the emergency-style surveillance model of network surveillance and mass movements for social control during the epidemic in a document before the 20th National Congress in 2022.

The “anti-epidemic” management model will be solidified and normalized

The document specifically proposes to “seriously summarize the experience of preventing and controlling the new pneumonia epidemic, make up for the shortcomings of community prevention and control, and effectively consolidate community prevention and control positions.”

China’s most grassroots organizations – the townships and streets – played an important role in the prevention and control of the New Crown epidemic in China. During the outbreak, large numbers of government officials, community workers, street cadres, volunteers, and Party members were mobilized in cities and villages across the country to help check residents’ temperatures, record their movements, oversee quarantines, and, more importantly, keep out foreign populations that might be carrying the virus. The Western media could not help but marvel at the re-emergence in China of a Mao-era mass movement not seen for decades.

Parallel to the mass movement is China’s so-called grid-based community management model, which has been widely promoted in recent years. The grid-based system subdivides urban and rural community jurisdictions into a number of network cells, and implements dynamic and all-encompassing monitoring of each grid to ensure firm control over large populations. Grid-based management was first practiced in 2004 in the Dongcheng District of Beijing in urban management and has since been extended to a wider range of urban and rural areas in China.

During the epidemic, the Communist Party imposed strict grid-based management in both urban and rural areas. A report in the People’s Daily last September described community control methods during the epidemic this way: “Grassroots cadres, sinking cadres, community workers, grid members, and volunteers organized the masses to participate in prevention and control in an in-depth and meticulous manner, through online and offline, telephone and weibo, door-to-door inquiries, posting notices, etc., and carried out grid-based management, precise investigation and carpet mapping. ‘Point-to-point’ to do a good job of epidemic monitoring, early warning, information reporting and other work in accordance with the law.”

Wu Qiang is an independent commentator on current affairs in China and a former lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Tsinghua University’s School of Social Sciences. A large part of Wu Qiang’s academic research focuses on social movements and social control in China. He told VOA that the Chinese Communist Party believes it controlled itself well during the epidemic, and now it needs to fix that.

After the outbreak of the new crown epidemic early last year, the authorities actually relied on this grid governance to keep 70 percent of the urbanized population firmly under control,” he said. If China owes much of its success in preventing the epidemic to the success of such a so-called ‘grid-based’ governance, then it is now, through (the introduction of) documents and systems that delegate authority to the streets, actually self-affirming the ‘creative merit’ of grid-based communities and governance. and governance experience, and then, at the government level, solidify, strengthen and support it. …… reinforces the existing governance model by supporting the street level. We can think of it as the state of emergency following the new crown epidemic now being thoroughly institutionalized and solidified through this document.”

As China urbanizes, privatizes housing and sees an influx of rural populations, the Communist Party’s traditional system of social surveillance based on units and household registration is weakening and declining. An article in the British magazine The Economist last June titled “CCP Fears Weaknesses in Grassroots Governance” said that mobilization efforts during the New Crown epidemic have strengthened the CCP’s resolve to monitor, while also teaching it how to do so.

The “Maple Bridge Experience,” solving problems on the spot and not turning conflicts over

In the “views on strengthening the modernization of grassroots governance system and governance capacity,” there is also this paragraph, “adhere to and develop a new era of ‘Maple Bridge experience’, strengthen the standardized construction of township (street) comprehensive governance center, play its integration of social governance resources, innovative social governance platform role.”

According to Wu Qiang, an independent Chinese commentator, China’s “anti-epidemic model” is also a specific application and reproduction of the “Maple Bridge experience. The “Maple Bridge Experience” refers to the experience of relying on the masses (rather than the government) to adhere to the mass line and mobilize the masses to supervise and reform the so-called “four types of elements (landlords, rich peasants, counter-revolutionaries, and bad elements)” in 1963 in Maple Bridge District, Zhuji County, Ningbo Prefecture, Zhejiang Province. ” of experience.

The “Maple Bridge Experience” was Mao Zedong’s philosophy of governance, and these words were almost extinct during the Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin eras, but after Xi Jinping came to power, he brought up the “Maple Bridge Experience” more than once as a good method of grassroots social governance.

Qian Gang, director of the China Media Studies Program at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong, wrote in 2013, shortly after Xi Jinping proposed the “Maple Bridge Experience,” that Xi Jinping’s reintroduction of the “Maple Bridge Experience” was “a reckless disregard for historical facts, a reckless disregard for Logic, ignoring the public, especially those who have experienced the Mao era, were insulted and hurt by the pain of the skin, …… stimulate the sensitive nerves of hundreds of millions of people.”

The essence of the “Maple Bridge Experience”, according to Wu Qiang, is that “conflicts are not handed over” and “conflicts are resolved locally”. This is Xi’s strategy to avoid making himself the last line of defense against social conflicts.

Local governments now have a great responsibility to contain conflicts at their own level, rather than allowing them to expand to the next administrative level, turning him (Xi Jinping) into the last line of defense,” he said. He is very annoyed that everything has to be finalized in his place. What this system prevents is that small conflicts evolve into big conflicts, big conflicts evolve into crises, and crises become big disasters, which he personally directs and controls.”

According to Wu, through this document, Xi Jinping has given certain powers to grassroots governments, while allowing them to consolidate the concept of “guarding the land with responsibility”.

In the early days of the new epidemic, Zhou Xianwang, mayor of Wuhan, Hubei province, confessed that the local government was not authorized to disclose the epidemic, in what was described as a bold attempt to dump the blame on Xi Jinping.

In China, neighborhood committees deal with important disputes usually related to property, including poor service from property management companies. Wu Qiang argues that a better solution would be to hold real elections in townships and streets through democratic reform, making township cadres and street directors accountable to residents.

China’s township and neighborhood committee elections were once used as an exploration of China’s grassroots democratic reforms, but in recent years, grassroots elections have been reduced to a formality. China wants to strengthen the “red” component of property management and achieve “party-controlled property”.

People are being monitored without knowing it, by a network of heaven, earth and people

The Chinese media in China referred to the mass route and network surveillance during the epidemic as the “SkyNet + EarthNet + HumanNet” model of three-dimensional community control. In the field of security control, the “sky network” is a nationwide security video surveillance system, the ground network refers to the ground patrol system, and the “human network” is the mass joint defense system and volunteers to form a security force.

Wu Qiang, an independent commentator, said the greatest danger to the public in the era of digital totalitarianism is to be monitored without knowing it. In China, he said, people are blacklisted for dissatisfaction and frustration in their lives, for petitions, for loans, for neighborhood disputes.

If you get on one of these lists, whether it’s a list of petitioners, or a list of people who have raised money, or other criminal offenses or family members with criminal offenses, or other problems, you’re quietly put on another list by the digital totalitarians,” he said. Walking down the street, the cameras do face recognition and then they mark you out with a red dot.”

Wu Qiang said such surveillance is unknown to the person being monitored, and people walking around the person being monitored are unaware of it. This unnoticed surveillance and control reminds Wu Qiang, who studied for his doctorate in political science in Germany, of Germany in the 1930s.

He said, “When Germany arrested dissidents in the 1930s, when they arrested the Social Democrats, they did it in the middle of the night, and they were also trying hard not to disturb the neighbors and the public. Such control was 100% achieved without the public being aware of it. Being unaware of any social control leaves more people in a state of control and oppression.”

He said that this unawareness of surveillance allows many Chinese people to now live in a false sense of blissful security and happiness. This is the same reason why many German citizens were unaware of the existence of concentration camps after Germany’s surrender in World War II.