19 January 2019
According to the Wall Street Journal, by 2020, Chinese authorities will have put up around 600 million security cameras in virtually every corner of the country. Photo: Reuters
According to the Wall Street Journal, by 2020, Chinese authorities will have put up around 600 million security cameras in virtually every corner of the country. Photo: Reuters

How China uses ‘Digital Leninism’ to secure communist rule

Sebastian Heilmann, a German academic, said recently that China has been promoting the digital economy in order to fix the mistakes of its former planned economic policies and secure communist rule by enhancing mass surveillance.

Heilmann calls Beijing’s new governing strategy “Digital Leninism”. He is spot on.

At some stage in the past, western powers were so naively confident that they could facilitate freedom of information in China, which would then trigger fundamental political and social changes across the nation, by helping Beijing to import cutting-edge information technologies from the free world.

Unfortunately, the course of developments in China in recent years has indicated the complete opposite: state-of-the-art IT technologies imported from the West have failed to facilitate “peaceful evolution” in the communist state.

Instead, these technologies have enabled Beijing to develop its own unique model of governance that is working completely in the Communist Party’s favor.

Worse still, the “China model” has become so successful that it has begun to influence the rest of the world.

In recent years, China has witnessed huge breakthroughs in the development of digital technologies such as electronic payment systems, big data, facial recognition and artificial intelligence, and has even surpassed the West in certain fields.

Nevertheless, while advancement in IT technologies did to a considerable extent bring more convenience to the mainland public in their everyday lives and boost the country’s productivity, it has also allowed Beijing to tighten its grip on its citizens.

The Chinese government has proven to be more efficient in monitoring and controlling the daily lives of the people than any other totalitarian regime in human history.

And such “totalitarian efficiency” has mainly manifested itself in two different facets: its utter ubiquity and its ability to manipulate the population both physically and mentally.

Since 2004, the Ministry of Public Security has been installing security cameras in all major cities and transport hubs across the nation.

According to the Wall Street Journal, by 2020, Chinese authorities will have put up around 600 million security cameras in virtually every corner of the country.

In the meantime, a tech company based in Shanghai is now working closely with the Ministry of Public Security to build a gigantic facial recognition database that can identify up to 1.4 billion different human faces.

Together, these new technologies and devices will allow mainland officialdom to know every move of its people and their whereabouts at any given time.

The Chinese government is also carrying out a highly complicated mass surveillance program known as “social credit history system”.

Once the system is up and running, mainland authorities would rate the “social credit history” of every individual citizen based on their everyday behavior, the content of their social media posts and their personal financial records, and then put them into four different grade categories ranging from A to D.

“Grade A” citizens would be given priority when it comes to school enrolment, job employment, application for low-income allowances and other forms of social welfare benefits.

Those in “Grade D” category would basically be considered second-class citizens.

Not only would they be banned from applying for government jobs, licenses, accreditation of qualifications, policy support and social benefits; they might also be subject to restrictions when taking the train or traveling by air.

Big Brother is making its presence felt in the cyberworld.

According to a recent announcement by Xiamen University in Fujian province, high school graduates who intend to enroll in the school must submit their grade certificates as well as their social media account numbers and passwords, so that the university can screen them for improper or subversive online comments.

The Communist Party is not only trying to keep track of people’s behavior but is also monitoring their thoughts.

According to a South China Morning Post report, several tech companies based in Hangzhou are now taking part in an intensive government-sponsored mass surveillance program.

These companies are jointly developing a high-tech device that can read brain waves, which would enable the authorities to hack into the minds of factory workers, soldiers and high-speed train operators in order to assess their mental and emotional condition.

If Lenin were still alive, he would definitely be impressed by the way China is using modern technologies to build a harmonious and stable new world. Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades could only have dreamt of it during their lifetime.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 5

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor

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