China Setting up 'Grid' System to Monitor Ordinary People

uyghur-neighborhood-watch-nov-2017.jpg Residents on neighborhood watch look for suspicious activities in a village near Korla, in China's Xinjiang region, Nov. 2, 2017.
AP Photo

The ruling Chinese Communist Party is developing a new system of social control that will allow it even closer control over its citizens' lives, RFA has learned.

The system will carve up neighborhoods into a grid pattern with 15-20 households per square, and give each grid a dedicated monitor who will report back on residents' affairs to existing neighborhood committees.

Neighborhood committees in China have long been tasked with monitoring the activities of ordinary people in a certain area, but the new grid management system will allow the ruling party to manage the daily lives of ordinary people even more closely, as well as giving indicators of possible dissent at an early stage.

A copy of a directive sent out to neighborhood committees in recent weeks that was obtained by RFA set out the details of the new plan.

"The basic task of the grid monitor will be to gain a full understanding of the situation within the grid," the document explains.

They will need to fully understand the residents of their grid, including exactly who lives where, which organizations they belong to and the sort of lives they lead, it says.

They will be asked to mediate in family conflicts and other disputes and to carry out "psychological intervention" when required.

But grid monitors will also be expected to report back to neighborhood committees on "hidden dangers" in their grid, as well as all the aspects of residents' lives, political opinions and complaints, the document says.

Last November, official media reported that some neighborhoods in the eastern province of Zhejiang are already recruiting grid staff, offering a salary of 5,000 yuan (U.S. $792) per month.

A dangerous move

But freedom of speech activists say the move is a dangerous one, and will end up with unprecedented levels of government involvement in people's private lives and daily interactions.

"The divisions will be much smaller, and this will mean far more micromanaging [of people's lives]," Beijing-based political commentator Zha Jianguo told RFA.

"This way, they will be able to get hold of information more quickly and exert much stricter controls," he said.

According to China's Baidu, community grid workers are fully paid staff members who can be recruited from among government officials, community leaders, teachers, doctors, police officers, and other professionals.

They are designed to enable the authorities to "step up inspections" so as to identify and deal with social tensions at an early stage, while also resolving conflicts and disputes, the search engine and knowledge site said.

They are also designed to provide a window onto disadvantaged groups such as the elderly, disabled, left-behind children with parents in other cities, and "other special groups," it said.

An online activist who goes by the nickname "Western Fighting Monk" said the concept of "grid administrator" has existed for a long time in China, but was generally only found in large cities.

"I think we are likely seeing them far more among ordinary people, and so the neighborhood committees are starting to hire grid administrators," he said.

"[In imperial China], there used to be one administrator per 10 households, and the Communist Party's method of putting a party committee in all companies traces its roots back to that time," he said.

He added: "I think this shows that they are getting less and less able to control society; that's why they are doing this."

“They will be thwarted’

But online activist Xing Jian called on ordinary people to resist the move.

"The moment any ordinary citizen wants to speak out about something, this will be reported back immediately by these grid monitors, and they will be thwarted," Xing said.

He said the system represents an expansion of the existing "stability maintenance" system from targeting government critics, dissidents, rights lawyers, and activists, to everyone.

"It will mean that many more ordinary citizens come to fear the stability maintenance system," Xing said. "It will only increase the tension between officials and the people and will do nothing to make people feel secure."

"I think people will eventually rise up in opposition to them, if they are under this sort of long-term pressure from the stability maintenance regime," he said.

The expansion of the "stability maintenance" system comes as President Xi Jinping begins an unlimited term in office.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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