China’s All-Seeing Eye

In Rolling Stone, anti-globalization activist Naomi Klein has a lengthy article in which she looks at the new high-tech modes of being used by the Chinese government and the role played by American corporations:

American commentators like CNN’s Jack Cafferty dismiss the Chinese as “the same bunch of goons and thugs they’ve been for the last 50 years.” But nobody told the people of Shenzhen, who are busily putting on a 24-hour-a-day show called “America” — a pirated version of the original, only with flashier design, higher profits and less complaining. This has not happened by accident. China today, epitomized by Shenzhen’s transition from mud to megacity in 30 years, represents a new way to organize society. Sometimes called “market Stalinism,” it is a potent hybrid of the most powerful political tools of authoritarian communism — central planning, merciless repression, constant surveillance — harnessed to advance the goals of global capitalism.

…The security cameras are just one part of a much broader high-tech surveillance and censorship program known in China as “.” The end goal is to use the latest people-tracking technology — thoughtfully supplied by American giants like IBM, Honeywell and General Electric — to create an airtight consumer cocoon: a place where Visa cards, Adidas sneakers, China Mobile cellphones, McDonald’s Happy Meals, Tsingtao beer and UPS delivery (to name just a few of the official sponsors of the Beijing Olympics) can be enjoyed under the unblinking eye of the state, without the threat of democracy breaking out. With political unrest on the rise across China, the government hopes to use the surveillance shield to identify and counteract dissent before it explodes into a mass movement like the one that grabbed the world’s attention at Tiananmen Square.

Klein also has a related article in The Nation, written in the context of the Sichuan earthquake:

When China is busily building itself up, residents tend to stay quiet about what they all know: developers regularly flout safety codes, while local officials are bribed not to notice. But when China comes tumbling down–including at least eight schools–the truth has a way of escaping. “Look at all the buildings around. They were the same height, but why did the school fall down?” demanded a distraught relative in Juyuan. A mother in Dujiangyan told the Guardian, “Chinese officials are too corrupt and bad…. They have money for prostitutes and second wives but they don’t have money for our children.”

That the Olympic stadiums were built to withstand powerful quakes is suddenly of little comfort. When I was in China, it was hard to find anyone willing to criticize the Olympic spending spree. Now posts on mainstream web portals are calling the torch relay “wasteful” and its continuation in the midst of so much suffering “inhuman.”

May 17, 2008, 10:21 PM
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Categories: Politics, Sci-Tech