It was a couple of years ago that I saw a creepy little video clip on Twitter. The video, taken secretly by British journalist James O’Malley on a Chinese train, gave me serious goosebumps.
“Dear passengers. People who travel without a ticket, or behave disorderly, or smoke in public areas, will be punished according to regulations,” the announcement says in the video. It is perfectly normal – if you don’t take into consideration what that punishment would be under Chinese law, of course – until here.
“And the behavior will be recorded in the individual credit information system. To avoid a negative record of personal credit, please follow the relevant regulations.”
This is precisely where I got the goosebumps. I know it is obvious, but still, let me explain.
I hate the divisive nature of politics, and I am very strict in my stance to keep politics out of my life; plus, I am not too keen at all to get into politics in my work either. I am a tech journalist and I want to remain this way. I don’t belong to any political party or ideology, but this does not necessarily mean I don’t favor one system of governance over another. Besides, no matter how hard I try, when the subject is China, it immediately becomes a must to explain the political side of things.
It is basically blasphemy not to use George Orwell’s masterpiece "1984" as a reference to dystopian, authoritarian regimes like the one China has. I know it’s a cliche, but it is a cliche that truly lives up to what it means. Big Brother is really at play here, as evidenced by the train video and face recognition cameras all over China.
It’s no wonder that China hates criticism considering its despotic one-party dictatorship. Calling the Chinese system “authoritarian,” within which Xi Jinping now has the right to be “President for life,” would be praise. They draw fire by the West with regards to their horrendous ethnic cleansing (proven time and time again) in East Turkestan – or Xinjiang province, as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) loves to call the Uyghur-dominant region – which has been recognized as “genocide” by many countries now.
Well, this is a country that banned Winnie the Pooh after President Xi was mocked online for his supposed resemblance to the character.
Nevertheless, another domain that China draws fire for is its truly Big Brother-esque surveillance.
Being a pioneer in high-tech nowadays, it would be naive to assume that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wouldn’t want to use it to spy on its own people. People living in East Turkestan are reportedly forced to install a spy app with extensive intrusion capable of identifying personal data in their phones. The app is known as “Jingwang Weishi,” and its name ironically translates to “cleansing the web” – aka cleansing anything deemed inappropriate under Orwellian regulations forced upon more than a billion people by the CCP.
Besides, that train announcement I mentioned earlier basically threatens people and urges them to behave, as the country has implemented a “Social Credit System.” Have you been too naughty lately, maybe a couple of traffic tickets and involvement in a drunken bar fight? Forget that plane ticket to Shanghai. When buying the ticket online, the system will reject you, and you won’t be able to travel until you increase your credit score.
The problem with the Socialist mindset (even though China can be called the second biggest hypocrite as a nation for calling itself “Socialist” despite its highly capitalistic system – after North Korea, of course, which formally calls itself the “Democratic” People’s Republic of Korea) is its tendency to assume that people need to and can be precisely functional and well-behaved human beings. That’s not how humans work. We behave sometimes and misbehave at other times; we have the intrinsic right to make mistakes and face the consequences as responsible human beings afterward. Nevertheless, taking basic freedoms away for misdemeanors, which would only result in fines in developed democracies, is not the humanistic way. That’s why every single Socialist regime has proved a failure in humanitarian development. They assumed that providing a house and basic food necessities to people would make them perfectly content and they would not crave more. That’s just gambling with human nature; we are ever-hungry and greedy creatures. Socialism is inherently authoritarian as proven by countless examples such as China, East Germany, Cuba, Soviet Russia, Vietnam, North Korea and many others. Even Yugoslavia was a dictatorship under Josip Broz Tito, who was called a “benevolent dictator” thanks to his efforts to develop the now-fractured Balkan country. China, which had to convert to capitalism to save itself from bankruptcy after Chairperson Mao’s disastrous “Great Leap Forward” – which resulted in the death of millions – kept its “socialist” epithet intact.
Maybe that’s why it remains a one-party dictatorship, even after converting to capitalism. It is not about how you rule your economy anyway; it is about how you rule your people. You can be a highly capitalistic country with no respect to human rights and freedoms; or a utopian Socialist country in which people will supposedly have a greater number of freedoms compared to the likes of North Korea and Cuba. Highly developed democracies in Scandinavia are also perfectly capitalistic but just take a look at where they stand today and how their people live. Also, consider how many homeless people there are in the United States, or how many Americans need medical care but can’t afford it due to exorbitant hospital prices. A healthy mix of the social welfare state and a free-market economy has proved to be the best system of governance created by humans so far.
And then, take another look at China: Why do all those cameras, plastered all over the streets of Urumqi, matter so much for the CCP? Because they use them to spy on Muslim Uyghur Turks that live in the region, who are obliged to install espionage apps on their phones, in addition to all other technological or conventional forms of oppression. These people suffer just because the Chinese government wants to keep its people in line so badly. Whenever confronted with criticism regarding China’s surveillance of its citizens, Eurasianists resort to "whataboutism" – a highly useful logical fallacy. They immediately mention the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence services, which I am sure are spying on everybody they deem a security threat or even ones they don’t. But one mistake does not legitimize another. So be it a Western NATO ally, Russia, China or Cuba – every single government on the globe must have some basic respect toward their people. It is only because I’m writing a column on China that I criticize it for its proven oppression and surveillance. I would use equal if not harsher words if the subject was U.S. or Western crimes in general that forced Edward Snowden to seek refuge in Russia, sent Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning to prison, even though she was later released after former U.S. President Barack Obama commuted her sentence and a favorable court ruling was issued.
Let’s get back to China after responding to pro-CCP folks’ whataboutism.
It turns out all that well-documented oppression is not enough for the CCP. It is now at a whole new level as a control freak government – banning Google, Twitter, YouTube and many U.S.-origin websites with the so-called “Great Firewall of China” is not enough either, it seems – moving to undertake the role of the strictest digital nanny to walk the Earth. Let’s take a look.
The CCP has recently ruled that children under the age of 18 should not immerse themselves too much in games. Many parents around the world must have applauded this move, I am sure. Of course, game addiction is a very real phenomenon that needs to be dealt with, that’s for sure, but where do we draw the line?
Is an hour of gameplay per day a sign of addiction? I don’t think so. After all that tiring homework, research, essays and academic effort, an hour of gaming might even push up a child’s productivity and success.
Nevertheless, the CCP begs to differ. China’s National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA), which also regulates matters involving video games, introduced the restriction recently.
From now on, every child in billion-strong China will have to limit their game time to one hour each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Oh, and public holidays will grant another game hour, too; how generous. I hope no public holiday coincides with Friday or weekends from now on; I don’t think the NPPA would be comfortable with its little comrades playing two “long” hours of “harmful” games, many of which China produces itself.
On the technical side of things: I believe that any restriction on the internet and computing is doomed to fail one way or another. U.S.-made social media outlets such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and others have been banned in China for years but ask an average Chinese if they have, say, an Instagram profile. The answer will most probably be a resounding “yes,” as millions of people in China are known to be using Virtual Private Network (VPN) services to bypass any annoying restriction imposed upon by the CCP. Are you running an authoritarian government and don’t want any issues stemming from the internet “threatening” your rule? Your only shot is to cut off the internet completely, just like North Korea has done. If you continue to make the internet available to the masses, no matter how many restrictions you try to bring on it, you are always doomed to fail. Sure, you will manage to keep a sizable population of your nation (only the ones that are digitally illiterate) from sensitive information; but that won’t last long. As long as humans and technology continue to interact, digital literacy will continue to increase in the population, and your restrictions will become more and more meaningless by the day.
That’s why this restriction is totally meaningless too. It won’t do anything but cause millions of children to see higher ping rates due to the use of a VPN, and that’s about it. When faced with a computer on which a multiplayer game and a VPN client are installed, there is literally nothing the Chinese government can do to deter someone from playing for as many hours as they want. For single-player games, nothing will change, and everything will run just fine.
China has produced some mammoth game developers in recent years. Banning children from playing games will only hurt itself first. Take a look at Tencent. The game giant, headquartered in China’s Shenzhen, is the largest video game vendor in the world and also one of the most extensive video game company investors.
As a matter of fact, what’s problematic about the Chinese move to ban kids from playing games too much is not its apparent intention to keep game addiction away from children. That’s a noble cause, in my opinion. The problem is China’s never-ending intrusion into its people’s lives, going as far as taking the place of a parent as perfectly demonstrated in this example.
If the CCP won’t correct its ways and give its hardworking people the much-needed freedom they all deserve, it will go down in history as a hard-line, strict and never-laughing parent. Or the strictest nanny in existence, if you will.