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Named a Notable Work of Nonfiction of 2020 by the Washington Post
As heard on NPR's Fresh Air, We Have Been Harmonized, by award-winning correspondent Kai Strittmatter, offers a groundbreaking look, based on decades of research, at how China created the most terrifying surveillance state in history.
China’s new drive for repression is being underpinned by unprecedented advances in technology: facial and voice recognition, GPS tracking, supercomputer databases, intercepted cell phone conversations, the monitoring of app use, and millions of high-resolution security cameras make it nearly impossible for a Chinese citizen to hide anything from authorities. Commercial transactions, including food deliveries and online purchases, are fed into vast databases, along with everything from biometric information to social media activities to methods of birth control. Cameras (so advanced that they can locate a single person within a stadium crowd of 60,000) scan for faces and walking patterns to track each individual’s movement. In some schools, children’s facial expressions are monitored to make sure they are paying attention at the right times. In a new Social Credit System, each citizen is given a score for good behavior; for those who rate poorly, punishments include being banned from flying or taking high-speed trains, exclusion from certain jobs, and preventing their children from attending better schools. And it gets worse: advanced surveillance has led to the imprisonment of more than a million Chinese citizens in western China alone, many held in draconian “reeducation” camps.
This digital totalitarianism has been made possible not only with the help of Chinese private tech companies, but the complicity of Western governments and corporations eager to gain access to China’s huge market. And while governments debate trade wars and tariffs, the Chinese Communist Party and its local partners are aggressively stepping up their efforts to export their surveillance technology abroad—including to the United States.
We Have Been Harmonized is a terrifying portrait of life under unprecedented government surveillance—and a dire warning about what could happen anywhere under the pretense of national security.
“Terrifying. … A warning call." —The Sunday Times (UK), a “Best Book of the Year so Far”
Kai Strittmatter was for more than a decade the China correspondent for Germany’s national newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Fluent in Mandarin, he has studied China for more than 30 years, including extensive stints in Xi’an and Taipei. He is now a member of the advisory board at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin. Kai lives in Copenhagen where he works as a correspondent for the Scandinavian countries.