Will China dissolve if communism fails?
Dr. Kristin Shi-Kupfer heads the Politics, Society and Media research department at MERICS. She is an expert on digital transformation processes, civil society and religious policy in China.
Matthias Stepan heads the China Domestic Policy program at MERICS. His research focuses on governance in multilevel systems, the distribution of roles between state, party and society in policy-making in China, and the change in social security systems.
Prof. Dr. Shawn Shieh is the assistant director of China Labor Bulletin, a non-governmental organization for workers' rights in Hong Kong. Before that, he worked in Beijing from 2007 to 2014, where he headed the English-language editorial team of the China Development Brief, a bilingual media and research platform on China's civil society, which he founded. His work focuses on strengthening an independent NGO sector in China.
Between freedom and state controlAfter the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the communist leadership under Mao Zedong began to bring society into line and, particularly since the late 1950s, had people isolated, persecuted and killed as "class enemies" or "counter-revolutionaries".
After the Cultural Revolution in the late 1970s, the political control of the Chinese leadership, which was embroiled in power struggles, waned. In rural and urban areas, people gradually gained freedom in their private and social life: differences in class - be it to the workers, to the class of landowners or to the group of intellectuals - were no longer a political obstacle to marriage. The collective people's communes in the countryside were dissolved and families once again enjoyed familiar privacy around their own small plot of land. The strict uniform clothing in Mao style gave way to more colorful clothes, the range of goods became more extensive, different ways of life and values developed.
Ethnic minorities, who currently make up around eight percent of the population, have received certain special socio-economic rights such as exemptions from the one-child policy and extra points for university entrance exams. These special rights, however, were not extended to include political rights and in some cases increased discrimination.
More and more urban areas and larger metropolises developed: young people and intellectuals who had been sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution returned to the cities, restrictions on private markets and services were gradually lifted and universities reopened their doors.
However, calls for more democratic co-determination in the winter of 1978 were suppressed by the leadership in Beijing and showed their "red line": tolerance of private freedom with a clear rejection of self-organized political participation. This line is still valid today.
At present, new technologies and social media offer opportunities to network with like-minded people; there are also channels beyond the party-state media with which information can be checked and disseminated. However, the communist leadership under the incumbent party and state leader Xi Jinping has increasingly restricted the spaces for pluralistic debates on current issues. It also uses the new information and communication technology (ICT) for surveillance on the Internet and in public places and is again getting more involved in questions of public morality. In 2017, an increasingly long taboo list banned depictions of homosexuality, reincarnation or luxury in TV series and online videos, among other things.
The mechanisms of social control include:
- the social credit system with which Beijing wants to educate companies and individuals to be economically constructive and politically loyal in the interests of the party; this system of evaluation, reward and punishment should be in place by 2020.
- The residence registration system. It has existed since 1958, although conditions for acquiring urban residence have gradually been relaxed since the 1990s: it gives people with urban residence preferential access to government resources, including educational institutions and health care; It grants people with rural residence the right to lease a piece of land for 70 years.
- Self-government at village and city level. It exists on paper, but in fact these organs are closely integrated into the official party hierarchy.
- The "security volunteers": informal informants from the party state;
- financial incentives for reports of "troublemakers" and "foreign spies" via websites or hotlines.
Plus points for good behavior - the digital social control
The key point in the test phase that began in 2014 is the embedding of billions of pieces of information that advanced artificial intelligence is able to collect and evaluate in a comprehensive socio-technological concept. [...] The system will be all the more complete, the more consumption, financial traffic and communication are transferred to the network and the more perfect the possibilities of digital devices become to capture the remnants of life that are still analogue. [...]
The traffic police in the metropolis of Shenzhen use facial recognition software [from the start-up Yitu Technology] [...] on their surveillance cameras at intersections. So far, violators of the rules have been exposed there by showing their razor-sharp snapshot portraits together with their family name and part of their ID card number on large LED screens at the intersections; In the future, this could be solved more elegantly, in that every illegal road crossing automatically leads to a credit point deduction. [...]
The more and more precisely functioning mind-reading technology, which is already being tested by many Chinese companies for its suitability for increasing productivity, could also have great potential. As the "South China Morning Post" just reported, "Neuro Cap", a government-funded brain monitoring project at the University of Ningbo, equips assembly line workers in more than twelve factories with small helmets whose sensors have anti-effectiveness conditions such as depression, fear or anger be able to track down and report on them at an early stage. "That caused some discomfort and resistance in the beginning," one researcher is quoted as saying; but the workers had gradually got used to the machines. [...]
The commercial point system "zhima Xinyong [Sesame Credit]" operated by the Internet group Alibaba [...] can draw on the entire consumption and communication behavior of the three hundred million customers of the Internet department store; The payment behavior, the personality profile, as can be seen in purchasing preferences (many computer games? reckless! baby clothes? responsible!), and even social contacts are evaluated according to an unknown algorithm: those who deal with people with a low score are automatically lowered also one's own creditworthiness; Friendships with high point people, on the other hand, increase the trust that is placed in oneself. [...]
The group denies passing on data to the state or evaluating the content that users distribute in social networks. Technically, however, neither would be a problem if the government should decide to integrate commercial scoring into its own system in the future. [...]
The amazing thing is that in China itself, with the objects of measured claim, the project has so far hardly caused any excitement. [...]
The key could be that the points system is embedded in a more comprehensive strategy that no longer makes the rule of the Communist Party appear as interference from outside, but rather as a quasi-automatic self-organization of the various social subsystems. This could give authoritarianism a new shape in the medium term and thus become an as yet undreamt-of challenge for the liberal constitutional states of the West. [...]
Mark Siemons, "The total control", in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung from May 6, 2018, updated May 11, 2018 (FAZ.net)
© All rights reserved. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung GmbH, Frankfurt. Provided by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Archiv
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