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from the antagonizing-winnie-the-pooh dept

The Chinese government often seems like an unstoppable force of evil. Perhaps the word “seems” needs to be removed from the previous sentence. The government seems all too capable of keeping a few billion people in line, strongly suggesting it has obtained the oppression cheat codes.

But there are still signs of life. Residents of Hong Kong made the Chinese government work extra hard for every inch of ill-gotten gains. In the end, it took the replacement of pretty much the entire Hong Kong government to make it stick. But China has enough power to hot-swap leaders during intense upheaval, so it’s not entirely inconceivable it can bring an entire, sprawling nation to heel.

But credit where it’s due: some residents are fighting back despite the long odds. This excellent report for Yahoo by Amy Qin, John Liu, and Amy Chang Chien contains some good, somewhat heartening news about citizens still willing to take on the 800-lb. gorilla that controls their lives.

Chinese artists have staged performances to highlight the ubiquity of surveillance cameras. Privacy activists have filed lawsuits against the collection of facial recognition data. Ordinary citizens and establishment intellectuals alike have pushed back against the abuse of COVID tracking apps by authorities to curb protests. Internet users have shared tips on how to evade digital monitoring.

It’s not just art or protests that may be tolerated but otherwise ignored by the Chinese government. Chinese citizens have occasionally scored wins against the surveillance/censorship monolith that controls their lives.

Starting in late 2020, several Chinese cities began banning neighborhood committees from forcing residents to undergo biometric monitoring to enter their compounds. Around the same time, toilet paper dispensers using facial recognition were removed from public bathrooms in the southern Chinese city of Dongguan following public outrage.

In online forums like Zhihu, a Quora-like platform, Chinese users trade advice on how to evade surveillance (tips include wearing hats and masks and pointing flashlights at security cameras). More than 60% of Chinese people say facial recognition technology has been abused, according to a study of more than 20,000 Chinese jointly conducted in late 2020 by a Chinese think tank and a government task force. More than 80% expressed concern about whether and how facial recognition data would be stored.

Adding to the government’s woes is the fact that it shit the bed and then pretended no one could detect the odor. Earlier this month, a hacker apparently obtained millions of records (criminal and otherwise) collected by Shanghai police and offered them for sale. The Chinese government decided to pretend it wasn’t happening. Censorship targeting terms related to the Shanghai breach were implemented immediately. And government officials refused to fully acknowledge what had happened even when calling for measures to prevent it from happening again.

At a Cabinet meeting chaired by China’s premier, Li Keqiang, last week, officials made only a passing reference to the question of privacy, emphasizing the need to “defend information security” so that the public and businesses could “operate with peace of mind,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

But even with the pushback and the government beclowning itself, Chinese citizens are still very much under the government’s thumb. When the government wants to put citizens back in their places, it has plenty of options at its disposal. Behold this fuckery.

Protesters fighting to recover their savings from four rural banks in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou found that the mobile apps used to identify and isolate people who might be spreading COVID-19 had turned from green — meaning safe — to red, a designation that would prevent them from moving freely.

Communism means everyone can equally be the first against the wall (except for those more equal than others [and except for the country’s Muslim minority, which will be expected to be both those against the wall and the wall itself, so that the people’s bullets aren’t wasted by inept executioners]).

It’s good to know the Chinese government still hasn’t managed to achieve complete subservience. But Chinese citizens unhappy with their government misrepresentation have very few local allies and, sadly, even fewer powerful allies abroad. But if the Soviet Union could be toppled, there’s still hope yet for the Chinese public… even if it may end in a regression to the oppressive mean a couple of decades down the road.

Filed Under: art, china, facial recognition, hong kong, privacy, protests, surveillance

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