Shanghai View: Living in a Police State

Posted: May 10, 2011 in Whose World Order?
Tags: , , ,

A somewhat inflammatory title for my latest for Whose World Order? – but oh well. Daily life feels pretty far from a police state to be honest. Addresses some points I have touched upon previously, and I am going into greater detail about in an upcoming longer piece.

Shanghai View: Living in a police state

Date: 10th May 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: , AppleIpadPla

Things are strange in China at the moment. This past week there was the announcement that the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) had told broadcasters not to show TV dramas related to spying, criminal cases, romance or time-travel during May, June and July. The reason is the upcoming 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the desire of the organs of state that the public is entertained appropriately. This came on the heels of an article published in the magazine of the Central Party School by Zhou Yongkang, the powerful politburo member in charge of State Security, in which he proposed the creation of a massive ID card database including all adult citizens on the mainland to ensure “perfection of citizen identification registration and management.” Orwellian sounding stuff indeed.

Of course, some objectivity needs to be maintained here – the ID card system has only been proposed, and many Chinese already have something similar (though this new version would contain more information). SARFT, on the other hand, was quite quick in clarifying that “we aimed not at forbidding but delaying the broadcast of TV shows relating to spies, crime and time-travel.” Their intention was solely to encourage channels “to play dozens of excellent shows on revolution and development of the Communist Party of China.” So that’s ok then – but I leave it to your vivid imaginations to imagine what would happen if any of this was proposed in Europe.

Additionally, on the eve of the big US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue happening in Washington, the New York Times ran a story detailing the growing number of problems that diplomats and journalists have been encountering in China. With regard to both groups, I can testify from a conference I attended last week, and from speaking to friends in Beijing, that things seem particularly glum at the moment. Many of those I spoke to talked of a prevailing tense wind in the air. In one visible demonstration of this, after crowds got unruly at the Apple store in Beijing while queuing frantically for the new iPad2, a foreign store owner came out and ended up getting into a fight with scalpers. Rather than even try to thrash out the case in court, the Apple store chose to quickly settle, giving the aggrieved party (a likely scalper, as even reported now in the state press) 20,000RMB to go away – that’s about £2,000. It is a testament to the company’s fear of generating a bad name for itself in China that it so quickly capitulated to make the story go away.

But not everything is bad and scary. On a more positive note, while researching this post, I came across the reassuring news that the “PLA denies rumours of massive cutbacks.” We were, of course, all very concerned that the People’s Liberation Army was shrinking.

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