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

We have good reasons to believe that democracy is better and more humane than China's system. But people often seem to forget one important thing: that although citizens of Western democracies may be living in the best of all times and the best of all places, such a life, free of violence and despotism and fear, is far from being the ordinary state of affairs in the long history of humankind. It was—and still is—a rather unlikely exception. Throughout human history, the overwhelming majority of people have lived in tribes, clans, kingdoms, and nations where chicanery and tyranny, corruption and despotism, persecution and state terror were part of everyday life. A vague sense that "it'll be okay" is no longer enough. In the past it has very often not been okay, and things are not okay on a lot of fronts right now. We in Europe and the United States should remind ourselves every morning: "It wasn't always like this. And it won't necessarily stay this way." Another reason to look to China.

This book is for those who, for whatever reason, are unable to spend their prescribed year in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Chengdu, or Shenzhen. It is divided into three broad sections, though these sometimes overlap.

The first section explores the classic mechanisms of dictatorship: how it disconnects citizens from truth and reality, and how in the process it invents its own language. How it employs terror and repression when necessary, though propaganda and mind-control are its preferred methods, and why it must repeatedly inveigle its citizens into a collective amnesia. How it learned to love the internet: a first foretaste of the 21st century's possibilities.

The second section describes the reinvention of dictatorship in China. How the Party is creating a state the like of which has never been seen before, with the help of technologies designed to give the economy a turbo-boost and at the same time to dissect people's brains, exposing even their darkest corners. How China may soon overtake the USA in the areas of big data and artificial intelligence, and where it has already done so. Why the Party believes that, thanks to AI, it will soon "know in advance who is planning to do something bad"—as the Deputy Minister for Science and Technology puts it—even if the person in question may not know it yet. Especially then. How the Party uses a "system of social trustworthiness" to divide people into trustworthy and untrustworthy, and plans to ensure that soon "all people will behave according to the norms." How it is already denying those who have betrayed its trust access to planes and high-speed trains. How, since time immemorial, dictatorship has produced warped minds rather than honest people.

Finally, the third section asks whether all this will work, and if so, what it means for us. It outlines the increasing influence that China's Communist Party has in the world, and how it is profiting from the weakness of Western democracies. And it explains why, in the end, the future will come down to whether we can rediscover our strength in time.

The Word
How Autocrats Hijack Our Language

"Enlightened Chinese democracy puts the West in the shade."
Xinhua News Agency, October 17, 2017

I live in a free, democratic country governed by the rule of law. I live in China. Yes, that's what it says on the banners and posters lining the streets in my city: Freedom! Democracy! The rule of law! I read this on every street corner in Beijing, every day. These are the "core socialist values" that the Party has been invoking for years.

Anyone who has lived under emerging dictatorships—in Turkey, Russia, or China, for instance—will be only too familiar with deliberate, systematic, and shameless perversion of facts. Donald Trump shows how you can apply that technique successfully in Western democracies if you are unscrupulous enough. His method is taken straight from the autocrat's handbook, in which lies are first and foremost an instrument of power. Fake News? Alternative Facts? To billions of people on this earth, they're an everyday, lifelong experience. I've spent two decades in China and Turkey: nations where left can suddenly mean right, up suddenly morphs into down. I was there as an outsider, an observer, always with the luxury of distance and astonishment at each new outrage. It's a luxury that a subject born into such countries can scarcely afford if he wants to get through life unmolested.

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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