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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In other words, a system that has robbed the nation of its social immune system—and which will ultimately always remain a risk to its people and to the world.

Mao Zedong, they say in China, vanquished the nation's enemies; Deng Xiaoping made the nation rich; and now Xi Jinping is making it strong, restoring it to its rightful position at the center of the world. With its "Made in China 2025" plan, the CCP wants to make China's economy a world leader in innovative technologies. And its "New Silk Road" project—the propaganda bureaucrats prefer the name Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—is not just a global infrastructure and investment project, it's also part of the plan for a new international order more in line with the Party's ideas. China's goals are breathtakingly ambitious, it's true, but this country has taken our breath away several times before. China has long been the world's largest trading nation. In ten or fifteen years it will be the largest national economy on earth. In what other ways will China change the face of the earth?

And, crucially: how do we deal with it? In view of the lemming mentality with which many citizens of Western democracies have followed the pipes of right-wing populists and new would-be autocrats; and in view of the naivete and the blinkered attitude of many Europeans, who regard the comfort of their old world as God-given, I had an idea a while ago. People should be thrown out into the big, uncomfortable world whether they like it or not. It should be mandatory for all Europeans to spend a year living outside their comfort zones. They could be sent to Turkey, where democracy is being dismantled at lightning speed. Or to Russia, where lies and cynicism have long been the modus operandi of the state and of daily life within it. In my dream, people would then suddenly start to recognize things that are happening around them right now. And they would be brutally confronted with the logical end-point of these things: tyranny.

Best of all would be to send them to China. In China, these Europeans would be lost for words at the ambition, the reckless pace of life, and the unshakable belief in the future, at the merciless competition of everyone with everyone else, and the untrammeled desire for wealth and power. The place would take their breath away, but perhaps also jolt them out of their lethargy and ignorance. It might give them the shock they need to stop allowing people in their own countries to divide them. In my fantasy, this experience provides them with courage, strength, and new ideas for the future in a humane, fair, and democratic Europe. As an added bonus they would eat incomparably better food in China than they do at home, and get to meet a whole range of wonderful, warm people, whose drive, energy, and courage is twice as impressive for the fact that it exists under a system like China's.

It's time for the democracies of the West to recognize China as the challenge that it is. A confident, increasingly authoritarian China that is changing the rules of the game every day. This is not the China that the optimists once dreamed of: a country that might go down the same route as South Korea or Taiwan and, having reached a similar stage of economic development, set out along the path to democracy. It is a Leninist dictatorship with a powerful economy and a clear vision for the future: this China wishes to reshape the world order according to its own ideas, to be a model for others, to export its norms and values. And make no mistake: these norms and values are not "Chinese"—they are the norms and values of a Leninist dictatorship. China is creating global networks, increasing its influence. And the liberal democracies are being confronted with this new China just when the West is showing signs of weakness, and the world order it has constructed over the past few decades is sliding into crisis.

Of course the world can and should continue to cooperate and do business with China. But we need to do this in the knowledge of China's internal workings and its possible intentions. The Chinese model—the neo-authoritarian appropriation of the internet and new technologies—is not only working brilliantly, it's spreading: countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Cambodia have long regarded Beijing as a role model, a trailblazer in the sophisticated manipulation of both the internet and its citizens. It was once said that capitalism would bring freedom to China. It didn't. Then it was said that the internet would subvert China's Party rule. At the moment, it looks very much as though China is subverting capitalism and the internet along with it.

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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