China Cracks Down

China’s Xi Jinping is building on the covid surveillance state to tighten the Communist Party’s control on the Chinese people. The New York Times reports:

The wall in the police station was covered in sheets of paper, one for every building in the sprawling Beijing apartment complex. Each sheet was further broken down by unit, with names, phone numbers and other information on the residents.

Perhaps the most important detail, though, was how each unit was color-coded. Green meant trustworthy. Yellow, needing attention. Orange required “strict control.”

Xi’s system relies on the police, of course, but also, and maybe more importantly, on civilians spying on one another:

This is the kind of local governance that China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, wants: more visible, more invasive, always on the lookout for real or perceived threats. Officers patrol apartment buildings listening for feuding neighbors. Officials recruit retirees playing chess outdoors as extra eyes and ears. In the workplace, employers are required to appoint “safety consultants” who report regularly to the police.

Covid was a fascist bonanza, in China as elsewhere:

The Chinese Communist Party has long wielded perhaps the world’s most sweeping surveillance apparatus against activists and others who might possibly voice discontent. Then, during the coronavirus pandemic, the surveillance reached an unprecedented scale, tracking virtually every urban resident in the name of preventing infections.

Now, it is clear that Mr. Xi wants to make that expanded control permanent, and to push it even further.

The goal is no longer just to address specific threats, such as the virus or dissidents. It is to embed the party so deeply in daily life that no trouble, no matter how seemingly minor or apolitical, can even arise.

This is the dystopian vision of books like We and 1984, brought to life. The Russians would have done it if they could, but 1) they were not very competent, and 2) today’s technological tools of social control were not available to the USSR.

Mr. Xi, who invokes Fengqiao regularly in major speeches, has not called for a revival of struggle sessions, in which supposed offenders were sometimes beaten or tortured. But the idea is the same: harnessing ordinary people alongside the police to suppress any challenges to the party and uphold the party’s legitimacy.

One can hardly read this account without comparing it to where we are in the U.S. Obviously, we have a far more robust tradition of freedom. But, as in China, covid loosed a tendency toward fascism that surprised many of us. In my own state of Minnesota, our governor issued an order that required all Minnesotans to remain in their homes, except as allowed to go outdoors by the governor’s orders. Who, just a few years ago, could have imagined that an American politician would even dream of issuing such an order? And this in response to, essentially, the common cold, which like covid is a collection of coronaviruses.

Technology is a two-edged sword: it can liberate, and it certainly has done so. It also can be a tool of oppression and social control, as in China. Given the outrageous conduct we have seen from American officials in the last four years, including but not limited to the suppression of facts and the propagation of misinformation, it is hard to be complacent about what might happen here.

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