Back in the 80s and 90s, a tall tale about China started to emerge in the West. It went like this: If capitalism takes root in China, democracy will soon follow.
The rise of the internet only seemed to confirm this story. “Liberty will be spread by cell phone and cable modem,” said Bill Clinton in 1992. Any attempt by the notoriously authoritarian Chinese government to crack down on the Internet will be like “trying to nail jello to the wall.”
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) heard these stories and got to work. They created “The Great Firewall of China” to restrict Chinese access to the outside world. They also harnessed the power of the internet to create the most sophisticated surveillance state the world has ever seen.
The CCP no longer fears the Internet. They’ve used it to create “an AI-powered techno-totalitarian state.”
How did this happen? What might it mean that the same surveillance technology is already used by private companies in our own countries? And how might China’s plans for the future affect democracies that interact with them? (Hint: it starts with Chinese smartphones.)
Read “Document Number Nine” by Jon Lanchester, a review of two recent books on the topic, to find out.