On Friday, a young doctor in Wuhan, China died from the 2019-nCoV coronavirus. His death underscores the heavy handed totalitarianism of Xi Jinping’s communist regime because it was inconvenient enough to the state that it had to be censored. Not a single thing happens under the watchful eye of the Chinese government without their total approval. The really scary part is that the citizens are starting to like it. “Individuals are likely to consider this to be reasonable even if they are not specifically informed.”
The doctor who died twice
Dr. Li Wenliang was an ophthalmologist at one of Wuhan, China’s main hospitals. When he noticed a local spike in a “SARS-like” respiratory virus, the 34-year-old wanted to remind his medical school classmates, “to be careful.” It got him arrested for spreading “rumors.” Now, his death is causing the government even more headaches.
The government backed down when they realized what they were facing and already had the spin cycle set for the media. As CNN writes, “Li could have been reframed as someone fighting the ‘pointless formalities and bureaucratism’ that state media has been inveighing against all week.” Instead, when he died he had to do it twice, since the first time hadn’t been approved. “A doctor had to die twice,” wrote one user on the popular social media app WeChat. “That is national humiliation.” Another user posted, “I knew you would post this in the middle of the night. You think we’ve all gone to sleep? No. We haven’t.”
Official state media outlets reported Dr. Li’s death late on Thursday night, quoting friends and doctors at Wuhan Central Hospital, “only to subsequently delete them without explanation.” Suddenly, the hospital claimed “efforts to resuscitate Li were underway,” then later issued a second statement that he had died. After social media erupted in anger, the censors didn’t know what to do. “Topics relating to censorship itself, usually absolutely verboten, trended for several hours before being deleted, rare evidence of indecision and confusion.”
Cameras and ultra-high tech are everywhere
Here in America, we have freedoms and protections that Chinese citizens don’t have but that doesn’t mean that the heavy-handed technology in use there today won’t be fully functioning here tomorrow. The things that are already in use are downright terrifying. The really scary part is that the citizens are learning to like the loss of privacy for a false sense of safety and security. One man living in Hangzhou province is a spooky example.
The man was away on a business trip to nearby Wenzhou, “which has had a spate of coronavirus cases despite being far from the epicenter of the outbreak.” When he arrived home, he had a phone message waiting for him from the local police, ordering him to “stay indoors for two weeks.” They knew he was potentially exposed because they tracked his car’s license plate. After 12 days of isolation, cabin fever set in and the man decided to take a walk. He got another call from the police, and also from his boss. He’d been spotted near Hangzhou’s West Lake. Authorities warned his company that he broke quarantine. “I was a bit shocked by the ability and efficiency of the mass surveillance network. They can basically trace our movements with the AI technology and big data at any time and any place.”
Today’s equipment “can scan the streets for people with even low-grade fevers, recognize their faces even if they are wearing masks and report them to the authorities.” If an infected person were to board a train, “the railway’s ‘real name’ system can provide a list of people sitting nearby.” Because every cell phone is tracked, “We will retrieve relevant information about the passenger, including the train number, carriage number and information on passengers who were close to the person, such as people sitting three rows of seats before and after the person,” Zhu Jiansheng of the China Academy of Railway Sciences explained. “We will extract the information and then provide it to relevant epidemic prevention departments.”
One company, Megvii, developed a new way to spot and identify people with fevers. Their “AI temperature measurement system” detects temperature with thermal cameras and uses body and facial data to identify individuals. It’s being tested in Beijing. SenseTime, a competitor, has a similar system to be used at building entrances. It can “identify people wearing masks and detect fevers with infrared cameras to an accuracy within 0.3ºC.”
Embracing Big Brother
Chinese citizens have been tracked by the world’s most sophisticated system of electronic surveillance for so long they forget it’s there. With the coronavirus bringing some of that technology to light, authorities have all sorts of justification for “sweeping methods of high tech social control.” There has been some anonymous complaints on social media but most accept it. “In the circumstances, individuals are likely to consider this to be reasonable even if they are not specifically informed about it,” notes attorney Carolyn Bigg.
If the authorities happen to pick you up for questioning, the phone company makes it easy for you. “China Mobile promoted this as a service this week, sending text messages to Beijing residents telling them they can check where they have been over the past 30 days.”