One of the fastest growing industries in China may also be one of the most Orwellian: the surveillance start ups. Controlling a population of 1.4 billion people may seem unfeasible, but a select group of companies and the Communist Party government are aiming to create a state of almost utter control. Utilizing a wide range of tools including cameras, shaming boards, facial recognition software, social scores, direct QR fines, and more, the government is reneging on its unspoken post Mao agreement to let people be.
President Xi Jinping is already in perfect position to become a modern day dictator and is ensuring China will remain Communist for the foreseeable future. To do so, he needs to find a way to instill fear of constantly being watched and judged into the massive Chinese population that includes a sizeable minority population. According to statistics found by the New York Times, China already has over 200 million surveillance cameras throughout the country to watch people’s everyday moves, using facial recognition software within these cameras to detect any one of the over 30 million designated criminals put on the system.
Many of these cameras aren’t just located in major cities like Shanghai or Guangzhou. Instead, the Han Chinese-dominated nation chooses to spy on its minority populations to the North and West, such as the Uighurs in Western China. The entire Xinjiang region has become a literal surveillance state due to the installation of almost every control method possible, from reeducation camps to iris scanners to over 500 police officers per 100,000 people, almost as much as in nearby Tibet.
The attempts at control may be more prevalent in Western China, but the heart of the recent surveillance movement is centered in a few office buildings in Shanghai and Beijing. Huge companies like Hikvision, Dahuatech, Sensetime, and Yitu are at the forefront of camera and A.I. technology in China, even developing and manufacturing surveillance cameras for the US Federal government until they were banned in 2018 by a Senate bill. These companies are worth upwards of $5 billion dollars and constitute a large part of the $100 billion dollar surveillance industry in China. The government often directly buys from these companies who utilize their own technology to demonstrate their power over their employees. The effects of the decisions made in these hotel and office rooms are directly affecting the Chinese people in even minute aspects of life such as crossing a road illegally.
Perhaps the most widely known and scary use of this surveillance technology by the Chinese government is the shaming and fining of jaywalkers. If you cross a road when there is no crossing signal, the government can and will take your information and pictures, post the incident and a portrait of you on a giant billboard next to the road, and fine you immediately without a court date to your QR code account through Chinese apps Alipay or WeChat. That’s just for simply jaywalking. More extreme cases include trial cities that are testing the Chinese social credit system developed directly by private companies that measure your actions to see if they are socially acceptable, giving or taking points based on camera images, debt statements, or even information from family or neighbors. By 2020, the government has demanded that the system be in use across the nation. Often times these programs are given to private companies that are almost essentially state-owned, such as Alibaba.
By allowing private companies to enrich themselves by developing excellent surveillance technology for Xi Jinping’s government, China has created a massive industry that will have one of the largest impacts on the daily lives of both Han Chinese and minorities like the Uighurs or Tibetans. This is the future dystopia on Earth, and it’s worth a lot of money.