Excerpt from We Have Been Harmonized by Kai Strittmatter, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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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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  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 368 pages

    Oct 2021, 320 pages


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Print Excerpt

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 the heavens. China has a "helmsman" once more. Xi is the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, and he rules over a China that is stronger than it has been for centuries. An ambitious nation, readying itself to become even stronger—economically, politically, and militarily. The West's self-destruction has fallen into this nation's lap like a gift from the gods. With 21st-century information technology and its radical new possibilities for control and manipulation, the regime has instruments of power to which no previous autocracy has ever had access. Xi and his party are reinventing dictatorship for the information age, in deliberate competition with the systems of the West. And this has huge implications for the world's democracies.

Even within China, the CCP's plans are ambitious, but one shouldn't underestimate the hold that an autocrat has over his subjects' minds. The state has the ability to erase not just lives, but minds, in order to reformat them. The Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, and the years that followed, provided a powerful demonstration of this fact. The date June 4, 2019, saw the 30th anniversary of the day the Chinese democracy movement was brutally crushed, and the Party has good reason to celebrate. In hindsight, its act of violence was a success—a greater success than anyone could have imagined at the time. The blood-letting gave the Party new life, as well as an opportunity to show what its mind-control apparatus could do, long before the advent of the digital age. Inside China, the memory of the massacre has practically been wiped out; the state-ordered amnesia is complete. And he who controls the past—the CCP understands this just as well as George Orwell did—also controls the future.

This is a message from the future, if things don't go so well. At the moment, things really aren't going well. That's why I wrote this book. It was born on the night Donald Trump was elected president of the United States of America, and was finished in the months that saw Xi Jinping "chosen by history," in the words of the journal of the Central Party School in Beijing, Qiushi (Seeking Truth). History is often a sluggish tide on which we float without ever being aware that it's moving. But that isn't the case right now: we are living through a time when the current of history seems almost physically tangible. Something is happening, to us and to China, and the two sides can no longer be separated.

The new age is one in which facts have been abolished; the Western world is suddenly mired in "fake news" and manipulated by "alternative facts." For me, though, there is nothing new about it. It's a life I've been living for twenty years, as a correspondent in Turkey (from 2005 to 2012), but above all in China. I studied in China in the 1980s, then worked there as a journalist from 1997 to 2005, and again from 2012 to 2018.

Government by lies is no doubt as old as the institution of government itself, yet we in the West are shocked by the return of autocrats and would-be autocrats to our midst, and with them the return of the shameless lie as an instrument of control. We had settled into the comfortable belief that these techniques and the political systems associated with them were obsolete. Autocrats everywhere are scenting an opportunity and joining hands with the populist agitators in our own countries. A perfect storm is brewing, for Europe and for democracies everywhere.

Excerpted from We Have Been Harmonized by Kai Strittmatter. Copyright © 2020 by Kai Strittmatter. Excerpted by permission of Custom House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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