Xi Jinping revives Mao-era surveillance program

by | May 27, 2024

Chinese President Xi Jinping is intensifying efforts to establish a more robust surveillance state in China by reviving a Mao-era program, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Xi has rebranded this initiative as the “Fengqiao Experience for a new era,” leveraging everyday citizens to pre-emptively address perceived threats and strengthen the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) control over society, according to the NYT. The term “Fengqiao” refers to a town in China where, during the Mao era, residents were encouraged by the party to “re-educate” their neighbors through public humiliation and insults.

Beijing is pushing local governments to hire more workers to monitor “assigned grids,” and in April, the party issued new guidelines for managing these workers. The guidelines detail potential rewards and punishments for grid monitors and emphasize increased ideological instruction.

The “Fengqiao” model also aims for CCP officials to resolve disputes before they reach the courts. “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, as reported by the South China Morning Post.

The newly unveiled approach adds to China’s already extensive surveillance state, which includes 15 million citizens acting as government informants, along with numerous police officers and party workers, according to The New York Times.

In the 1960s, Mao Zedong’s regime encouraged residents of Fengqiao to “re-educate” perceived enemies of the state, such as wealthy farmers and landlords, through public humiliation rather than arrest.

Chinese state media recently highlighted the Beijing suburb of Zhangjiawan as a model of the expanded surveillance system Xi envisions. At one police station, an officer labeled the units of an apartment building by their trustworthiness, flagging one unit as a concern merely because the residents frequently changed.

Government surveillance in China reached new levels during the COVID-19 pandemic, with virtually every urban resident being tracked to prevent the virus's spread’.


The New York Times

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