We Have Been Harmonized | Kai Strittmatter

Summary of: We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State
By: Kai Strittmatter


Welcome to the fascinating yet disturbing world of ‘We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State’ by Kai Strittmatter, where you will witness the power of artificial intelligence and big data being harnessed by China to exert enormous control over its citizens. Dive into the intricate details of a nation that not only gathers but meticulously analyzes data of its citizens to maintain control through social engineering and surveillance measures. By exploring this book summary, you will gain a deeper understanding of China’s facial recognition systems, algorithms dictating citizens’ lives, and how surveillance technology is being tested in the province of Xinjiang to monitor and manipulate citizens’ behavior.

China’s AI Dictatorship

China has made significant strides towards becoming a world leader in AI, with government support and lack of constraints posing a severe threat to privacy and individual rights. With an increasing number of cameras and facial recognition software, China’s regime sees AI as a crucial tool for “social construction,” which translates to social control. Companies developing AI in China have become giants, thanks to government support. The Chinese police force’s camera network, Skynet, can identify any citizen among the country’s 1.4 billion people under seconds. Megvii Face++ and SenseTime have developed algorithms to fuse information from networks of surveillance cameras. The government is developing a national “police cloud” to share gathered data with police forces across the country. Citizens voluntarily offer massive data through their use of apps such as WeChat, which the state experimented with in 2017 as a digital identification form.

China’s Surveillance Experiment

The Chinese government is using the province of Xinjiang as a laboratory to perfect surveillance technology. The Muslim Uighurs are the main target, and they are subjected to constant video surveillance, facial recognition checks, and biometric information. Citizens must even install an app that scans their phone for suspicious activity and report any it finds. Xinjiang’s experiment is now being expanded into a nationwide Social Credit System. Citizens score points based on their behavior, and a low score has dire consequences, such as being unable to obtain government jobs, fly, or travel on high-speed trains. The system also employs public shaming, with low scorers’ faces displayed publicly. The Chinese Communist Party believes the system inspires social trustworthiness but stirs controversy worldwide.

China’s Weaponization of Lies

In China, the internet was once a thriving platform for political discussions, but the passing of a new law in 2013 changed everything. Anyone who shared information that “upset social order” could face prison sentences. As a result, platforms like Weibo transformed from a lively place for political discourse to a wasteland of commerce, gossip, and propaganda. China’s autocrats, including President Xi Jinping, weaponize lies such as fake news and “alternative facts” to overawe and confuse rather than deceive. Lies create fanatics and conformists while fostering cynicism and feelings of complicity and shame among those who choose to accept them. The rule of law in China means “rule by law,” translating to a mass of laws that no one can get through a day without violating at least one of them, giving the state leverage when it wants to target an individual. Staged confessions serve as propaganda and intimidation. The Party not only curates the narrative of current events but also of history. The state worked to erase the memory of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 and Mao’s Great Leap Forward, where an estimated 36 to 45 million Chinese died.

Living in Harmony

China’s government uses the term “harmony” to censor and control its citizens, influencing everything from social media to hip-hop. The phrase “hexie” is a euphemism for obedience, subjugation, and order. China’s repression tactics are part of its efforts to maintain stability and create a harmonious society, where ordinary people know better than to complain or cause any trouble.

Xi Jinping’s Centralization

Xi Jinping has reversed Deng Xiaoping’s reforms by reinvigorating centralized political control in China, emphasizing that centralization can bring about prosperity. By revitalizing and reunifying the CCP, transferring control of various sectors to Party committees, and taking command over the media, Xi has been granted lifelong, absolute power through “Xi Jinping Thought” added to China’s constitution.

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