“This facial recognition software will detect stress on an employee’s face and report it forward. This enables their supervisor to act proactively to prevent further issues.” So boasts the sales pitch of a technology company.
Along with hundreds of millions of security cameras, various facial recognition software, AI, and big data, the Chinese Communist Party has also managed to get ordinary citizens not only to self-censor but also to spy on each other. Good behaviour is rewarded with credits, which can be used, for example, to acquire a new pair of official chopsticks. Antisocial behaviour, such as littering – not to speak of protesting – will cause one to lose credits when reported to the authorities by neighbours. The People’s Republic became ever more totalitarian during the pandemic, as it seized upon the opportunity to transform its surveillance machine into an even more complete tool of oppression and control. Big brother is watching, and so are the neighbours.
Jialing Zhang, a Chinese filmmaker based in the United States, tackles the subject of surveillance by focusing on one defiant journalist (who reads Orwell’s 1984 daily on their balcony to a surveillance camera across from them) and the families of two human rights lawyers. One of the lawyers is imprisoned in an unknown location, the other is free to be at home – which has turned into a kind of digital prison. Unidentifiable officials lurk in the staircase of the apartment complex and have taped over the door view camera.
Marko Ylitalo (translated by Herman Tikkanen)