Authorities in China maintain a personal file, or dang’an, on every citizen, which starts while they are in school with report cards and continues into adulthood with, “religious affiliations, psychological problems and perceived political liabilities.” Citizens are rarely allowed to see inside their dang’an, but Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser had a rare chance to read hers, an experience that was recorded in the film The Dossier. Andrew Jacobs of the New York Times interviewed Woeser about her file:
Q: It’s hard for foreigners to imagine what it’s like to have a personal file that you can never see. What’s it like for ordinary Chinese?
A.: Many of us have no idea what’s inside our dang’an, but our lives can be changed by it. It’s a terrible thing, like an invisible monster stalking you. It’s a special feature of a totalitarian regime. My file was born when I was in high school, at 15, but at the time, I don’t think any of us thought of it as scary.
[…] Q:Anything else notable?
A: The biggest embarrassment was in my self-assessment at work when I wrote, “I love the Communist Party and whenever the party comes to mind, it always reminds me of its kindness to ethnic minorities. [Laughs] I will dedicate my knowledge to the Great Party.”
Clearly my personal sentiments have changed greatly. Seeing my dang’an helped me revisit my past and see how pathetic we were, these 15- and 16-year-olds, saying formulaic things about our love for the motherland, and not permitted to express ourselves. It was a process of turning us into machines, devoid of free spirit or individuality. That’s why I was fired from my job, because the Communist Party does not tolerate the truth. I didn’t want to be a machine, so I spoke the truth. Now that I’ve left the system, my soul is free, and I’m happy. [Source]