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Facing Reality

I’ve always been amazed by the speed at which new things move from non-existent to ubiquitous in China. When the word comes down from on high, things happen.

“Let there be a national freeway system.” Within a few years, there was a national freeway system.

“Let there be a high speed rail network.”  Within a few years, there was a high speed rail network.

“Let there be security cameras everywhere.” Within a few years, every inch of public space was covered by security cameras.

Sometimes the private sector is the driver. A company launches a new thing, and within a few years, it it’s hard to function without it. WeChat, anyone?

The newest thing that seems to be embedding itself into the fabric of Chinese society is facial recognition technology.

In Beijing and other cities it is being installed in the subway system to speed up security checks.

It’s being installed at school gates to check people coming and going, and in classrooms to monitor how well students are paying attention. It is used to track, and hopefully deter, petty offenses, such as jay-walking. In some cities, a dash across the street in the wrong place or the wrong time will result in your photo and personal information being displayed on a giant screen at an intersection. It is increasingly used to make payments. And soon, it will be required to obtain phone and internet access.

Yes, there is a convenience aspect to it, but at the end of the day it is all about security and social control, as this sobering video produced by The Economist last year shows.

Unfortunately, in recent months we have begun to hear about facial recognition technology being installed in Three-self churches. While it is most certainly disturbing, we shouldn’t be all that surprised.

If it is being rolled out in every other public space, why would we think churches and other religious institutions would be exempt?

It’s a brave, new world.

Image credit: ChinaSource
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Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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