Xi Jinping’s China is doubling down on its 70s nostalgia, reestablishing a Maoist system of social control that aims to have a policeman on every block and an informer in every social network. The Financial Times reports:
China is rolling out a nationwide system of social control known as “grid management” in a revival of state presence in residential life that had receded as society liberalised during recent decades.
From smog-blanketed towns on the North China Plain to the politically sensitive Tibetan capital of Lhasa, small police booths and networks of citizens have been set up block by block to reduce neighbourhood disputes, enforce sanitation, reduce crime — and keep an eye on anyone deemed a troublemaker.
The rollout coincides with a broader tightening of state control over civil society and crackdown on dissent under President Xi Jinping.
Xi began with a global anti-corruption purge aimed at corrupt officials (including several very high-ranking figures). Many of them likely were corrupt, but it was difficult to ignore that many of them were also political opponents of Xi, or at least figures with strong enough bases of power that they might try to resist his centralization of control
Xi has also used the levers of the state to silence and intimidate possible sources of dissent, including lawyers, human rights NGOs, Christians, and Hong Kong booksellers. There’s been a renewed emphasis on “patriotic education”, and a propaganda effort to establish Xi’s control over state media (which had been getting more and more independent in the easy times of China’s long boom).
Now, after a successful pilot program in restive Tibet, all of China will become reacquainted with their friendly neighborhood watch committee. Besides making it easier to root out “reactionaries,” one of the main uses for such central control will be to monitor and restrict inter-province migration. In the boom times, millions of impoverished migrants moved from the countryside to the city, living without residency papers and essentially remaining invisible to both government services and government control. Now that the Chinese economy is looking more fragile, the Communist Party wants to make sure that these disenfranchised migrants won’t make trouble if the economy can no longer provide them with a decent living in the cities. It’s yet another sign that China’s insiders fear for their country’s economic future.