Editor’s note: this article was submitted by Tienchi Martin-Liao, Independent Chinese PEN Center, to the Bled Conference on 17.-20.4. 2018. It needs actually updates. The electronic devices have been developed in a breathtaking speed. Today, not only the Social Credits System has control the daily life of the Chinese, the mass surveillance in the country is the reality and almost no one can escape from it. By 2020 around 626 millions of monitoring cameras are installed not only in the cities, but also in remote areas. The Covid-19 has “legitimated” the authority to implement the usage.
The new technology has changed our habit of reading, writing and living. Recently I heard a report on radio (Deutschlandfunk in Germany), the journalist asked some young students, how often they go to the library. One of the three said every couple of months, the second one said, maybe twice in a year, the third one said, he never goes to library, the Internet is enough for his research for materials and information. How shocking. Two or three decades ago, as teacher or student in the university, one goes to the library almost daily. Now, how many people take a book in the hand every day to read besides reading the newspaper. Not many I bet, including myself. The only exception is that I used to read in bed before sleeping. Yet the eyes are getting tried easily, so I switch to hear the recorded books since quite a long time.
So, if we are talking about reading, writing, publishing, a large part of these activities are implemented online. Most of our ICPC members are mainly bloggers, writers and journalists who publish their creative writing in Internet. China becomes a force with its digital technology in the last decade. According to the statistics Portal (https://www.statista.com/statistics/278417/number-of-internet-users-in-china/), there are 1 billion netizens in China in 2017, the tendency is upwards. Accordingly, the E-commerce transactions are estimated to be larger than in France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States combined. The mobile payment among China’s Internet users grew from 25 % in 2013 to 68% in 2016, even beggars in China are using I-pad by begging! In order to manage this huge volume of information and transaction, the government is making enormous capital investment in digital technologies such as big data, artificial intelligence and financial technology. Yet the government does not only want to control the world market or the consumers’ habit, only grab people’s pocket is not enough, it wants to control their mind. So the most targeted group nowadays are those who use their hand to write down their mind – the writers and journalists.
In the digital era, our daily life is digitalized, not only Nietzsche would shout again, should he is still alive, : ”God is dead.!” Everybody gets lost, and feel the same as Nietzsche. Alone the big companies, they can control our heart and mind, and of course our pocket. When the companies, such as Microsoft, Cisco, Google or Facebook, not to mention the domestic leviathan- Baidu, Tencent, Alibaba and Huawei etc. are collaborating with a totalitarian regime, then, “we are all dead,” that’s for sure.
The Chinese government plans to launch the so-called Social Credit System in the country to evaluate the “trustworthiness” of each citizen. The ambitious plan has started already, it scores the individual of its consuming habits, what kind of food, clothing, car and leisure activities it prefers. Does he/she pay the tax and the utilities bills properly? What type of friends one has? Has he/she expressed any dissatisfaction to the public policy or critics to the government? The authority sets up the standard, till now the Social Credit System is voluntary, but from 2020 it becomes mandatory. This score is like one’s shadow, it will follow you for the whole life. According to the score (350-950), it determines whether one can get a date or find a job, to receive a mortgage, to gain travel permission. The authority knows everything about you, where you are, with whom you are, how you are, with or without money, with or without a secret lover, when you are ill, or even when you are going to die.
The futuristic perspective of the Chinese is even more horrible then in Orwell’s “1984”, more miserable and hopeless as in A. Huxley’s “Brave New World”. However the Chinese government describes the “beautiful Chinese world” is a “society of sincerity”, where less fake goods, from baby food, medicine to luxurious cosmetics, handbags etc., will be on the market. With this illusion (or Fata Morgana) of healthy food, genuine and authentic products, a majority of Chinese are willing to give up the freedom and dignity to become a slave of a plastic card number to gain the material stuff. How cynical it is, what a tragedy, what a sham!
Even today, the surveillance system is already so expanded that the security authority controls quite comprehensive information about those unrelenting writers. Since 1998 the Ministry of Public Security has launched the Golden Shield Project, it is a nationwide network-security project, it is also called the Great Firewall of China, it is a censorship and surveillance project that blocks and filters politically inconvenient information from foreign countries. It took the authority many years to complete the system, it started to operate in 2003. Another five years past, before the Ministry finished the perfect monitoring system in 2008 when the Olympic was hosted in Beijing. Many of our ICPC members are visited or being subpoenaed (also ironically called “tea drinking” )regularly by security police. The officers have got a list of critical writings of the subpoenaed people, they are told, the authority got enough “evidence” of their anti-government activities. It depends on their behavior in the future, a step more could mean arrest and prison. The authority has build up the caged, walls, fences to recruit the independent and unpatriotic intellectuals, anytime when it feels that the state power has been challenged, it is time to get them in. The challenge means “harm national security, disclose state secrets, injure the interests of the state or society, undermine national unification, destroy the social order etc.” This was the accusation, which brought the poet Shi Tao to spend 10 years in prison and also the “crime” that Liu Xiaobo was said has committed so that he spent almost 9 years in jail and finally died.
How could a couple of dozens of writers to harm and endanger the society, to leak the states secret, to disturb the social harmony and order through their words? So many of our colleagues spent tens of years behind the bar or even lose their freedom forever and spend the whole life or die in prison. The courageous colleagues in China say that “the power” is a monster, it should kept in cage, instead the writers. They believe the power of the words, they insist that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. ” (John 1:1)
Yes, no fear of the Firewall, fear, pathetic fear belongs to the dictator and the totalitarian regime. We writers believe the words are free, the words and our thoughts have wings, we can overcome any border, any fence, any wall and any cage. Even in jail, the imprisoned colleagues are free human beings, their thoughts are free, their courage and ideas will be carried on by other writers all over the world.