General —

Life Under Surveillance

How China is using technology as a means of control.

Most of us have heard of China’s One Child Policy designed to curb overpopulation. Many of us also know that the policy has now been reversed. China’s politburo most likely feared the social consequences of an ageing population. However, policymakers hoping to see a return to higher levels of fertility in Chinese women have so far been disappointed. Whereas one child was mandated for a previous generation, today’s women of childbearing age desire one offspring. 

China, currently the world’s most populous country, is failing to produce enough children to maintain its current levels, let alone grow. Officially the rate is 1.6 children per couple. One academic reckons it is really 1.18. Does it matter? Demographers tell us that a nation needs to produce 2.1 children per couple to maintain its population. Population decline is like jumping off a cliff: hard to stop once you’ve started. The average Chinese was twenty–one and a half years old in 1978. Today, he (and it’s slightly more likely to be a male given sex–selective abortion) is over thirty–eight. 


All this casts a shadow over China’s much proclaimed rising sun. Increasing manufacturing, share of world trade and global influence through the Belt and Road Initiative: all this success has come for sure. But can it be sustained? 

Some don’t want it to be sustained. Among them are those focussing on China’s human rights’ record. Recently the Xinjiang Papers, leaked digital government files, have revealed the appalling treatment of China’s Uighur Muslim minority held as captives in camps in the Western province of Xinjiang. The papers describe systematic human rights violations and mass surveillance of that Turkic ethnic group. 

Then there are those who reject China’s model of governance, made notorious by its social credit system. Essentially, the social credit system is an expansion of credit rating into the rest of life. Instead of merely affecting your financial credit worthiness, community misdemeanours can negatively affect your social credit score. Caught jaywalking on facial recognition camera? There goes your chance to fly next weekend for a break. Misbehaved on a bus? You might find that job opening isn’t open anymore – at least not to you. If that doesn’t concern you, then consider how journalists reporting on corruption in government have found themselves locked out of getting a loan, buying a house or taking certain trains. Absent an independent judiciary, the rule of law and effective privacy protections, there’s little you can do about it. 

Added to the familiar censorship of print and broadcast media is control of the Internet, and social media in particular though mechanisms such as the Great Firewall of China. There is no unfettered access for ordinary Chinese to alternative viewpoints behind this digital filter.

This is only a continuation of the way China’s rulers seek to shape the worldview of its citizens. The populace is educated from infancy under a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) approved curriculum and are watched over from cradle to grave like Tolkien’s unsleeping eye of Sauron. All for their good of course! 


Surveillance and control don’t stop at the church doors. China’s Christians are increasingly feeling the chill wind of a new Cult of Personality blowing from Beijing’s government. A new wave of church closures has been implemented. Under 18s are still officially barred from attending church. In a relatively new development, some house church members report being taken to mobile ‘transformation’ facilities to encourage them to renounce their faith – essential re–education camps for the 21st Century. One man describes how he was held in a windowless room for nearly 10 months, beaten, verbally abused and pressured to ‘admit his mistakes’. He also describes how, after feeling sleepy, he was forcibly injected to induce consciousness. Others have been forced to sign forms renouncing their faith. 

Yet still the people believe! Accurate numbers are notoriously difficult to come by, but most accept there are at least 100 million followers of Christ. 

Behind this persecution is a desire to ‘Sinicize’ religion. That is, authorities desire loyalty to the CCP and they see the Christian faith as a threat. Allegiance to Christ is seen as undermining fidelity to the ruling Communist Party. So what we have is the age–old issue: is Christ Lord or Caesar? Is Jesus King or President Xi Jingping? 

For all China’s seeming power there lies a weakness at the very heart. Not so with Christ’s everlasting kingdom. Where man has thrown off the wisdom of God’s truth, he will ultimately fall. Man proposes but God disposes. The Lord Jesus reigns from His throne. The gates of hell shall not withstand the advance of Christ’s coming kingdom in China.

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