Xi Jinping Revives Decades-Old Playbook To Supercharge China’s Surveillance State

Chinese President Xi Jinping is seeking a more potent surveillance state in China and reviving a Mao-era program to achieve it, The New York Times reported Saturday.

The revamped approach, dubbed the “Fengqiao Experience for a new era” by Xi, further utilizes everyday citizens to pre-emptively ward off any perceived threats to the government and solidify the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) grip on China’s sprawling society, according to the NYT. “Fengqiao” is a reference to a town in China where Mao-era residents were encouraged by the party to “re-educate” their neighbors through public humiliation and insults.

Beijing is encouraging local governments to hire increasing amounts of workers to watch “assigned grids,” and in April the party issued guidance for managing those workers, the NYT reported. The guidance outlines potential rewards and punishments for monitors of the grids, and calls for doubling down ideological instruction.

The newly unveiled approach adds to China’s already-expansive surveillance state, which boasts 15 million citizens as government informants as well as numerous police officers and party workers, according to the NYT.

Xi has repeatedly praised the approach in speeches over the years.

“Though the situation and responsibilities we face have changed, the Fengqiao experience is not outdated,” Xi said in November 2003 following a visit to the town in Zhejiang Province, according to Chinese state media.

 

In the 1960s, then-Chinese dictator Mao Zedong’s regime urged residents of the town of Fengqiao to “re-educate” those who were viewed as enemies of his regime, including wealthy farmers and landlords instead of having them arrested, according to the NYT.

Chinese state media recently featured the Beijing suburb Zhangjiawan as an exemplar of the expanded surveillance sought by Xi, the NYT reported.

In one police station, an officer marked the units of an apartment building according to their trustworthiness, selecting one unit as a matter of concern simply because the residents changed often. The “Fengqiao” model also seeks to have CCP officials resolve disputes before they reach litigation, the NYT reported.

“We have 1.4 billion people, if everything, big or small, has to be decided by a lawsuit, our system wouldn’t be able to bear the burden,” Xi said in a 2021 speech, the South China Morning Post reported.

Chinese government surveillance reached a new height during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the NYT, with virtually every urban resident being tracked in the name of stopping the spread of the virus.


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