Surveillance in China

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Surveillance in China refers to the system of intense observation and monitoring of societal happenings throughout the country of China. The monitoring network is controlled and engineered mostly by government forces, however, recent speculations have presumed the role of private corporations providing their surveillance sources in collaboration with the Chinese government. In recent years, China has exhibited behavior many have framed as a shift to the practices of a dystopian society, including their development and adoption of algorithmic surveillance, a Social Credit System, and the strict China Internet Security Law (Mitchell, 2018). Most notably, China has more cameras installed per person than any other country on Earth, and the number of cameras is growing at a faster rate than the population. In 2018, China had more than 350 million cameras in place throughout the nation, which amounted to about one camera for every 4 Chinese citizens. This figure is expected to rise to more than 560 million cameras by the year 2021 [6] (Ricker, 2019).

Algorithmic Surveillance

China has integrated a facial recognition technology into its widespread network of surveillance cameras for the purposes of racial profiling. In recent years, China has exhibited harsh behavior in the form of torture, murder, and detainment of the Uighur people, a Muslim minority in the western region of the country. The facial recognition technology has been implemented to track and control the Uighurs through appearance analysis and recording, a pioneering move in the developing world of automated racism. This technology is primarily used by police departments in several cities throughout China, namely some wealthy cities in the eastern region, such as Hangzhou and Wenzhou [5] (Mozur, 2019).

CloudWalk is a Chinese start-up company that has marketed its surveillance system as a method of recognizing sensitive groups of people in the name of neighborhood safety. If the system detected an Uighur living in a neighborhood, and found other Uighurs to have moved into the neighborhood, it would alarm the local authorities of the occurrence. While the system is put in place to recognize Chinese citizens with distinct traits, several environmental factors contribute to the accuracy of the technology, including the lighting of the area and where the cameras are positioned [5] (Mozur, 2019).

Social Credit System

In 2014, China announced the establishment of a nationwide ranking system that sought to monitor the daily behavior and actions of the population and rank citizens on the basis of "social credit". The purpose of the system is to maintain trust between the population and the government. While the system is expected to be completed by 2020, millions of Chinese citizens are already being used to test the effectiveness of the program. Social scores can fluctuate based on behavior; good behaviors will drive it upwards, while violations, such as driving recklessly, smoking in public areas, or buying unnecessary amenities in excess, will drive the score downwards. The consequences of having a low score can severely limit the abilities of Chinese citizens. For example, people with low scores are currently restricted from purchasing domestic flights to travel throughout China. Low scores can also result in slashed Internet speeds, restricting people from enrollment in better schools or jobs, or public shaming as a "bad citizen". Higher scores can result in discounts on energy bills, better interest rates for bank loans, or having a boosted profile on dating websites. While many have criticized the system for its strict circumstances, others have praised it for its promotion of good behavior [3] (Ma, 2018).

Increased Camera Prevalence

China is being continuously flooded with camera surveillance units throughout the nation. While a 2018 count of the cameras came to 350 million, this number is set to increase to 560 million within 3 years, slowly increasing the ratio of cameras to people in the country [6] (Ricker, 2019). In a recent analysis of national surveillance, eight of the top ten most surveilled cities in the world were found in China. In addition to increasing in prevalence, cameras in the country have been improving in their ability to pinpoint people out of crowds of thousands. A camera recently invented at Fudan University is able to identify people using facial-recognition technology, and can name each person in a stadium of tens of thousands of people. The camera is said to have a resolution that is even more fine-tuned than the human eye. Several of the factories that develop cameras in China collaborate with facial recognition technologies and assign each face with an identification card, tracking the movements and happenings of the people for weeks [2] (Cuthbertson, 2019). As the prime source of many of the world's goods, China has also exported millions of surveillance cameras developed in the nation to other countries across the world, sparking concern regarding the safety of the data and potential of Chinese surveillance extending beyond the country's borders [1] (Cosgrove, 2019).


  1. Cosgrove, E. (2019 Dec. 6). One billion surveillance cameras will be watching around the world in 2021, a new study says. CNBC. Retrieved from
  2. Cuthbertson, A. (2019 Oct. 2). Surveillance camera that can spot someone from crowd of thousands. The Independent. Retrieved from
  3. Ma, Alexandra. (2018 Oct. 29). China has started ranking citizens with a creepy 'social credit' system — here's what you can do wrong, and the embarrassing, demeaning ways they can punish you. Business Insider. Retrieved from
  4. Mitchell, Anna. (2018 Feb. 2). China's Surveillance State Should Scare Everyone. The Atlantic. Retrieved from
  5. Mozur, Paul. (2019 Apr. 14). One Month, 500,000 Face Scans: How China Is Using A.I. to Profile a Minority. The New York Times. Retrieved from
  6. Ricker, Thomas. (2019 Dec. 9). The US, like China, has about one surveillance camera for every four people, says report. The Verge. Retrieved from