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

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 368 pages

    Oct 2021, 320 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

The mirror image of the liar's shamelessness is the shame of the person being lied to, at least while he remains aware of the nonsense that he himself is bolstering every day, in chorus with everyone else. The act of repeating obvious untruths binds him to the liar with a rope of complicity. In the end, the ruler's lies breed cynicism among the people being ruled, who make their peace with the powerlessness of their situation and ultimately cling to just one thing: the leader's power. At that point, the leader no longer has to account for anything, because there is no truth left outside his fabrications.

In a world where the distinction between truth and lies has been abolished, there are just facts and alternative. The dominant values are not morality and a sense of responsibility, but usefulness and profit. If you do see the truth, it will do you no good to tell it; in fact, it's dangerous. Best of all is to acknowledge the lie as true and embrace it passionately—that's what the fanatics do. But they will only ever be a very small group. The next best thing is deliberately to avoid learning the truth, to live a life of benumbed ignorance—and if you do happen upon the truth, keep quiet and pretend you haven't. These two groups represent the majority of the population. Anyone who speaks the truth is either stupid or suicidal. The smart people in such a world are not the clear-sighted and wise; the smart people are the cunning and shrewd. There's no room here for common sense, or rather, ignorance is the new common sense, necessary for survival or used to justify opportunistic advancement.

Similarly, in a community, people make an effort to come closer to what is true, to gain a shared understanding of a world that looks slightly different to every individual. But the autocrat who claims sunshine when it's raining outside deliberately takes the world off its hinges. He creates a world according to his will, a world where things often mean the opposite of what they used to, a world in which balance can only be maintained if everyone huddles tightly around the leader. And this leader often wants to create new men to go with his new world. From the outside, this world really does seem unhinged, in every sense of the word. Internally, though, it is structured in such a way that in the end, the last person to still believe that the earth turns around the sun will start wondering whether, after all, he's the madman. He will have to stop trusting his eyes, his ears, and his memory, and simply chew the cud of the information he's been force-fed.

The autocrat who wants to create his own truth needs to conquer the word. In China there is no repression; there is simply "stability maintenance" (weiwen) and a "harmonious society" (hexie shehui). In the past decade, harmony has been one of the Party's favorite words: the harmony between orders and obedience. Harmony is when ordinary people don't make a fuss.

Take, for example, the "harmonious demolition" of houses by the city authorities to make way for property developers. In my little side-street in the center of Beijing, the city authority gave just a week's notice before it bricked up the windows and doors of all the snack bars, restaurants, hairdressers, newstands, and vegetable sellers, some of whom had been earning their living there for twenty years. The aim was to drive out the operators, since hardly any of them came from Beijing. This campaign was overseen by a dozen uniformed police officers, who protected the bricklayers from the displeasure of the street's inhabitants, beneath large banners that proclaimed: "We are improving the quality of life for citizens."

When China's president defended globalization at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, he spoke of the increasing "opening-up" of China, while in fact his country was steadily sealing itself off. He invoked "global connectivity" while at that very moment China's censors were plugging the final gaps in the information blockade. What's more, he was applauded for it, because there is great confusion at the moment, all over the world. Some believe Xi, and some want to believe him. Some are blinded by his power. Some applaud because it is politically expedient, and serves their own interests to do so. China's power to twist words does not end at the country's borders.

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.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Moonrise Over New Jessup
    Moonrise Over New Jessup
    by Jamila Minnicks
    Jamila Minnicks' debut novel Moonrise Over New Jessup received the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially...
  • Book Jacket
    The Magician's Daughter
    by H.G. Parry
    "Magic isn't there to be hoarded like dragon's treasure. Magic is kind. It comes into ...
  • Book Jacket: The Great Displacement
    The Great Displacement
    by Jake Bittle
    On August 4, 2021, California's largest single wildfire to date torched through the small mountain ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Island of Missing Trees
    by Elif Shafak
    The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak tells a tale of generational trauma, explores identity ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Nurse's Secret
by Amanda Skenandore
A fascinating historical novel based on the little-known story of America's first nursing school.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The God of Endings
    by Jacqueline Holland

    A suspenseful debut that weaves a story of love, history and myth through the eyes of one immortal woman.

  • Book Jacket

    The Last Russian Doll
    by Kristen Loesch

    A haunting epic of betrayal, revenge, and redemption following three generations of Russian women.

Who Said...

Beware the man of one book

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

R Peter T P P

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.