Why is China rejecting inventions

Kai Strittmatter"The reinvention of dictatorship"

It was a triumph for China's head of state and party: In March, the National People's Congress, China's powerless parliament, elected him president for another five years. What's more, the MPs also approved a constitutional amendment that would allow Xi to remain in office until the end of his life. It was a triumph not only for Xi, but also for the Chinese Communist Party, which has ruled the country for nearly 70 years.

The CCP is the top leadership in the country, Xi affirmed after his re-election. It guarantees the resurgence of the Chinese nation. She has the ultimate leadership in all areas of social and political life.

Ten years earlier it had looked completely different: At that time the CP appeared to be in crisis mode: it was eaten away by corruption and full of self-doubt. Amazingly open, sometimes wild, debates raged on the Internet - about environmental destruction, greedy Communist Party cadres and the failure of the one-party system. But since then the picture has changed drastically: Under Xi, the party has recaptured lost ground, it is more powerful than ever, and around Xi it is practicing a downright leadership cult. For Kai Strittmatter, who has been a correspondent for the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Beijing for many years and an excellent expert on China, this is a two-way development.

"Xi Jinping creates a China that goes back to the 1950s, with a Leninism, with a repression that is stronger than it has been since the days of Mao Zedong. With censorship and propaganda that really relies on old methods like back then So with one leg he goes back to the 50s, but with the other he goes far into the future and goes to places that other autocrats and dictators may have dreamed of, but where no one has been. "

Digitization should make the political system crisis-proof

Those places are the internet, the digital world, and the old socialist dream of creating the new human. In return, China has plunged into digitization like no other country. The government is investing heavily in artificial intelligence and big data applications.

"On the one hand, she wants to catapult her economy into the future, but at the same time she wants to make her political system crisis-proof and she has the feeling that she has received a gift from God and something that has never existed before, which the Soviet Union has never been granted to make old repressive Leninism future-proof and crisis-proof. "

It is no longer just about repression, the monitoring of some dissidents or the blocking of unpleasant websites, but about censorship 4.0 and total digital control: The CP now dominates the Chinese Internet - where Google, Facebook and YouTube have been blocked for years political and social debates, she uses social media and apps to anchor her view of things in people's minds and hearts. And with success - the propaganda works. Strittmatter cites studies that show that even at elite Chinese universities, students are rarely interested in circumventing censorship and using other, independent sources of information. In China, writes Strittmatter, a new type of dictatorship is emerging:

"This new China is not supposed to be a huge barracks courtyard, characterized by asceticism and discipline, as it was with Mao, but rather a mixture of George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World', where people are committed to commerce and pleasure and so results all by itself from the surveillance. For the vast majority of subjects, the knowledge of the instruments of horror of power is always present as a possibility;

The Super-Schufa to monitor the citizens

The central component of this new China is to be the social credit system, which is currently being set up, a kind of super credit bureau for all areas of life. By linking the huge amounts of data that internet companies collect about their users with those of government agencies, police registers, for example, citizens are to be assessed and their behavior controlled. Omnipresent surveillance cameras, algorithms, face recognition and close-knit monitoring on the internet make this possible. Rule violations in everyday life could then be included in the evaluation as well as liking the "wrong" websites. Anyone who does not comply will lose points and thus access to everyday things such as flight or express train tickets or secure jobs.

"If the CP succeeds in what it plans to do with the digitization of the dictatorship and if it manages to implement total surveillance and control with the help of these new technologies, then I actually see quite black for Chinese society right now, because then I see the return of totalitarianism. "

Strittmatter substantiates his theses with many examples from his years as a correspondent. For example, he was in the model city of Rongcheng in eastern China, where the social credit system is already being tested. But he not only shows how Beijing works, but also how all autocratic systems control and manipulate their citizens, sow distrust, destroy the moral compass of the individual. China is not a special case in distant Asia, but a warning to all of us, according to Strittmatter's message. The digital dictatorship may be something new, but the underlying mechanisms are old: fear and submission are part of it, lies as a political tool, the occupation and distortion of terms.

Strittmatter's analysis of how dictatorship works in the digital age is therefore also an appeal not to set up ourselves too comfortably in Germany and Europe. Democratic freedoms cannot be taken for granted, argues Strittmatter. They always have to be conquered and defended anew. He puts this message to his readers eloquently, sometimes almost impatiently. His book is therefore absolutely worth reading not only for those interested in China.

Kai Strittmatter: "The reinvention of dictatorship. How China is building the digital surveillance state and thereby challenging us",
Piper-Verlag, 288 pages, 22 euros.