Surveillance State: Authors Josh Chin and Liza Lin on their new book on China’s tech-enhanced social controls


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This week on Sinica, Wall Street Journal reporters Josh Chin and Liza Lin join the program to discuss their new book Surveillance State: Inside China’s Quest to Launch a New Era of Social Control. From Urumqi to Uganda and from Hangzhou to the Bronx, the book explores every facet of technological surveillance, from the technocratic mindset that birthed it to its spread, with Beijing’s help, to many countries of the developing world. But it also examines the role that U.S. tech companies played in giving rise to it.

6:05 – The story of Tahir Hamut: a Uyghur poet living under Xinjiang’s surveillance state

12:50 – Will the Xinjiang model for surveillance be expanded to other parts of China?

16:37 – Is China actively pushing other countries to adopt its surveillance state practices?

23:26 – The case of Hangzhou: the benefits of the “smart city” model

27:17 – Is there a fundamental difference between the concept of “privacy” in China and the West?

30:55 – How Xu Bing’s film uses surveillance footage

35:39 – What accounts for Chinese society’s changing views on privacy?

40:12 – China’s tendency to apply an “engineering” mindset to fixing social problems

47:57 – Assessing US companies’ role in enabling Chinese surveillance

52:27 – Devising a policy that effectively bans hardware used for Xinjiang surveillance

1:01:03 – China’s new laws on digital data protection

1:05:05 – What the social credit system’s popular narrative gets wrong

1:10:40 – An example of Chinese propaganda fabricating the surveillance system’s success

1:14:29 – The future of privacy protection in China and the West

A full transcript of this podcast is available at


Liza: The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy

Josh: The Backstreets: A Novel from Xinjiang by Perhat Tursun (translated by Darren Byler), a short novel about life for Uyghurs in modern China; The Wok: Recipes and Techniques: by Kenji Lopez

Kaiser: After the Ivory Tower Falls: How College Broke the American Dream and Blew Up Our Politics and How to Fix It by Will Bunch