Summary and book reviews of We Have Been Harmonized by Kai Strittmatter

We Have Been Harmonized

Life in China's Surveillance State

by Kai Strittmatter

We Have Been Harmonized by Kai  Strittmatter X
We Have Been Harmonized by Kai  Strittmatter
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  • Published:
    Sep 2020, 368 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

Hailed as a masterwork of reporting and analysis, and based on decades of research within China, We Have Been Harmonized, by award-winning correspondent Kai Strittmatter, offers a groundbreaking look at how the inter­net and high tech have allowed China to create the largest and most effective surveillance state in history.

China's new drive for repression is being underpinned by unpre­cedented advances in technology: facial and voice recognition, GPS tracking, supercomputer databases, intercepted cell phone conver­sations, the monitoring of app use, and millions of high-resolution security cameras make it nearly impossible for a Chinese citizen to hide anything from authorities. Commercial transactions, including food deliveries and online purchases, are fed into vast databases, along with everything from biometric information to social media activities to methods of birth control. Cameras (so advanced that they can locate a single person within a stadium crowd of 60,000) scan for faces and walking patterns to track each individual's move­ment. In some schools, children's facial expressions are monitored to make sure they are paying attention at the right times. In a new Social Credit System, each citizen is given a score for good behavior; for those who rate poorly, punishments include being banned from flying or taking high-speed trains, exclusion from certain jobs, and preventing their children from attending better schools. And it gets worse: advanced surveillance has led to the imprisonment of more than a million Chinese citizens in western China alone, many held in draconian "reeducation" camps.

This digital totalitarianism has been made possible not only with the help of Chinese private tech companies, but the complic­ity of Western governments and corporations eager to gain access to China's huge market. And while governments debate trade wars and tariffs, the Chinese Communist Party and its local partners are aggressively stepping up their efforts to export their surveillance technology abroad—including to the United States.

We Have Been Harmonized is a terrifying portrait of life under unprecedented government surveillance—and a dire warning about what could happen anywhere under the pretense of national security.

New China, New World
A Preface

The China we once knew no longer exists. The China that was with us for forty years--the China of "reform and opening up"--is making way for something new. It's time for us to start paying attention. Something is happening in China that the world has never seen before. A new country and a new regime are being born. And it's also time for us to take a look at ourselves. Are we ready? Because one thing is becoming increasingly clear: over the coming decades, the greatest challenge for our democracies and for Europe won't be Russia, it will be China. Within its borders, China is working to create the perfect surveillance state, and its engineers of the soul are again trying to craft the "new man" of whom Lenin, Stalin, and Mao once dreamed. And this China wants to shape the rest of the world in its own image.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has placed its leader, Xi Jinping, where no one has been since Mao Zedong. Right at the top. Nothing above him but ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

We Have Been Harmonized is intense. The chapters build on one another in a structured fashion, each furthering the case that the surveillance system in China is more advanced than what Orwell could have imagined. The book is systematic and comprehensive in its review, and does not come across as sensationalist or shrill. It offers up just the bare-bone facts, from a journalistic perspective. At times it reads a bit like a government white paper — emotionless. However, this gives the writing more legitimacy than many contemporary nonfiction books...continued

Full Review (819 words).

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Media Reviews

The Sunday Times (UK)
Terrifying...This chilling book reveals just how far China has already gone in monitoring and controlling its citizens digitally...China is attempting a shift unprecedented in global politics. It wants to combine the powers of a strong authoritarian regime with cutting-edge technology to create the most sophisticated surveillance state in history. Kai Strittmatter's deeply researched and compellingly argued book makes the case that this is significant not just for China but for the world...A warning call.

The Observer (UK)
A remarkable book...The most accessible and best-informed account we have had to date of China's transition from what scholars such as Rebecca MacKinnon used to call 'networked authoritarianism' to what is now a form of networked totalitarianism...The more one reads, the more pressing one conclusion becomes: almost everything we thought we knew about contemporary China is wrong. And this has happened because the lenses through which we viewed this emerging superpower were distorted by arrogance, naivety, complacency, commercial greed and wishful thinking.

London Review of Books (UK)
Kai Strittmatter was for many years the Beijing correspondent for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, and his excellent We Have Been Harmonised is an eye-opening account.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A highly relevant, frequently revelatory book...Strittmatter's accessible yet hard-hitting narrative will find an audience with policymakers and general readers alike. A frightening, vital wake-up call: The West ignores the rise of an Orwellian China at its peril.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Drawing on a wealth of experience in China, Strittmatter stuffs the book with telling details and incisive analysis. Even veteran China watchers will be impressed and enlightened.

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Beyond the Book

Gamification and AI: Go Directly to Jail, Do Not Pass Go

As American political scientist Joseph Nye postulated in the 1980s, there are two ways to control people in geopolitics: hard power (i.e., coercion via violence) or soft power (i.e., enticement via incentive). Successful geopolitical strategy is often about knowing when to use soft power instead of force.

In We Have Been Harmonized, author Kai Strittmatter explains how the Chinese Communist Party has realized the potential to harness both soft and hard power to create absolute control over all aspects of its nationalized society. The Party is using information technology to enhance its security-state apparatus. Beyond camera surveillance — tracking people by gait, voice and face — and internet censorship — no images of...

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