Note: this is a copy of an article which appeared in Global Times on 25th September 2021 — it’s an edit of a previous article called Brianwashed… Who’s Brainwashed?
Anywhere in the world, if you go online you accept “cookies.” You can’t do anything in government offices without being online first, having ID and accessing a system that sends you cookies. You can’t walk along any street, go shopping, catch public transport in the developed world without being observed by cameras. Get money from an ATM, use a bank card or phone to pay in a shop, someone can track and locate you.
Invalid and ill-informed interpretations accompany small kernels of truth in Western media. China, like all other countries, does have a credit rating system. If you are involved in legal proceedings, you may be “blacklisted,” meaning you can’t use planes, trains, you can’t travel internationally or domestically. But, for the most part the system is there to help people improve their lives, if you want your child to go to a better school you might offer your services as a volunteer to the community, the registration of these good deeds helps you achieve a goal you might not otherwise have been able to achieve. The system won’t prevent you getting married, going shopping, getting a passport or travelling.
Every Chinese person has an ID card, most Europeans countries also have one, it’s nothing strange. There’s a household registration system which has some critics, but try to think of a better way to handle 1.4 billion people. So, for most Chinese, it’s accepted as a minor inconvenience. The Anglosphere, British, Americans and Australians don’t have such a card. They see this as an “invasion of privacy” yet every adult has National Insurance, Social Security or Tax File Numbers. To open a bank account, proof of address and ID is needed. Most adults possess driving licenses showing their photo and address, they also need registration to vote. If they default on a loan, they go on a credit blacklist and stay there years after settlement. In terms of surveillance and government control of official data, there isn’t much difference between China and the West. Yet Western media constantly opines that Chinese people are oppressed while Westerners are not.
Wherever we live in the developed world, social media controls our lives, we pay bills, communicate, entertain and educate through it. These transactions create a data history and data is stored. China has strong laws about what can be done with data and where must be stored. In the West, the laws are different, data is collected, stored offshore and sold.
We read that China is oppressed by state control and the West is not but we’re reading it on the same Western media which is gathering your data and selling it for profit. These media platforms aren’t banned in China, they refuse to operate under China’s laws, China restricts their methods of generating huge income streams from your data. Western media not only misinform you; they make money doing so!
Ask any Chinese person about crime and they will tell you they feel safer: the number of stolen cars and gun deaths per 100,000 don’t even merit a statistical line because they are so low. China is in the bottom 10 countries in the world for murders with 0.6 per 100,000 people, compared to the US 5.35.
Ask Chinese people about the ubiquitous CCTV cameras, they’ll tell you they like them. Walk around any Chinese city and notice the absence of criminal damage and graffiti, trains are spotless and completely safe, walking the streets at night does not bring a sense of foreboding but a sense of safety and security. Chinese people feel safe, because they are safer.
What’s commonly accepted in China would be totally unacceptable to civil libertarians who fear a police state. These fears are well placed in regions where police budgets are higher than most countries’ military budgets. If a country spends $250 billion on police and prisons, there is every reason to fear them.
Western civil libertarians are afraid the “state” will capture their data, control their minds, subjugate them into classes, dominate the poor and weak while promoting the wealthy and strong. The perception of a “police state” being formed through a track and trace system is not ludicrous, it’s very real but it’s only a fear when the “police state” is something to be fearful of.
People are led to believe they have a say in their leadership, but offered limited choices, they are told they have freedom but are criticized, persecuted, punished or ostracized for expressing or acting on their freedoms. However, to encourage their electorate to believe they have these freedoms, politicians incentivize and use a compliant media to point toward China and manufacture stories to instill and amplify this fear.
They describe China as a “police state,” but it’s a very wrong description. Completely contrary to what Westerners believe and what’s portrayed by Western media, the police in China are very good. Western police, however, seem to be closer to paramilitary than they are to public servants, heavily armed, full-body armor, shooting and killings are common, but China doesn’t have any such issues. China does have a lot of police, as many factories, schools and universities have officers on the gates, and this is a widely accepted cultural norm, they are appreciated because they are there to help.
A “large” police presence does not mean a “heavy” police presence. Chinese police are courteous and polite, seldom using their authority. When they do, it’s because it’s warranted by the action of the person(s) they are dealing with. An interesting perspective is found when we learn and understand Chinese cultural values not only accept this police presence, but welcome it. A “police state” which really is a threat to Western society is not so in China. China’s system protects people and their data from corporate pirates and criminal activities. Not only are Chinese people not afraid of their police state, they prefer it to living in a country riddled with so-called “freedoms.”