China Tightens Surveillance on Citizens, Dissidents in Name of Urban Management

October 21, 2020 Updated: October 23, 2020

The Chinese regime has created an innocent-sounding government agency that actually conducts mass surveillance on citizens, and has a role in the persecution of religious groups.

The agency is called a “comprehensive management center” and officials who operate branches of it are known as “grid administrators.” The system has gained prominence in recent months as Chinese state-run media has touted its contributions in containing the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.

The Epoch Times has obtained multiple leaked government documents showing Beijing’s massive undertaking to set up such centers and fill the jobs, in addition to the massive budget allocated to these efforts. The ultimate goal is to impose a tight grip on society, the documents show.

Transition 

The earliest iteration of “grid administrators” occurred in the early 2000s. The Chinese regime pegged them as a “community-based civil control system,” with cities and towns divided into smaller subsections called “grids.”

Among the duties for a grid administrator is to be “a promoter of the Party’s line and policies,” according to a local government notice.

Shanghai was one of the first Chinese cities to incorporate the system. In 2003, the municipal government announced a 20-year development plan, in which it said the “grid management system” would be used to allocate the city’s resources, such as public services and public green areas.



关于印发《基层综治中心规范化建设标准》的通知 (Text)

In 2008, Shanghai officials touted the system’s success in overcoming urban problems, such as efficiently removing garbage in public areas, as one grid administrator would be in charge of patrolling about 10 grids, each the size of about 10,000 square meters (107,600 square feet).

It gained political importance in April 2015, when the General Office of the CCP’s Central Committee and the cabinet-like State Council issued a document on building a system that could “strengthen public security in society.” By integrating these grids and police offices, these new “comprehensive management centers” would monitor citizens.

When the Chinese regime rolled out Project Dazzling Snow in 2016 to blanket the countryside with advanced security cameras, these centers became command posts for conducting artificial-intelligence-enhanced surveillance. The urban equivalent of this project is called Skynet.

The two projects, along with the Golden Shield—a vast online monitoring and censorship infrastructure that includes the infamous “Great Firewall”—became Beijing’s Orwellian tools to turn the country into a high-tech surveillance state.

Surveillance

The grid system is a way for the Chinese regime to keep track of residents’ activities and ensure they don’t dissent against the Party.

In a leaked document dated May 15, 2016, the municipal government in Dalian city outlined steps for building up these management centers: they should extend their reach “deeper into families” and be able to “actively monitor social order” and assist local Party committees and government agencies.

Grid administrators should patrol major streets, buildings, and public places at least twice per day. They must always be aware of “public opinions” and “timely discover any security risks and unstable factors in their grids,” the document stated.

In another leaked document from Dalian, the municipal government said it would appropriate nearly 500 million yuan (about $73 million) to set up 32,000 new “public safety surveillance posts.”

The Epoch Times also obtained several leaked government documents showing the massive scale of this system.

In the city of Daqing, there was one city-level “comprehensive management center,” 10 county-level centers, 138 township-level centers, and 770 village-level centers. The city has a population of 2.7 million as of the end of 2019.

The 770 village centers were in charge of 6,690 grids and had 7,404 grid administrators, according to the leaked document.

Another leaked document showed that Mudanjiang, a city of about 2.6 million people as of the end of last year, was divided into 4,124 grids, with a total of 1,027 village-level centers and 4,282 grid administrators.

This year, the Chinese regime has been leaning on these centers and grid administrators to monitor citizens and enforce quarantine rules. On Feb. 3, the provincial government of Guangdong held a press conference to hail the local “comprehensive management centers” as vital to stopping the spread of the virus.

Persecution

But the centers and administrators secretly carry duties that grossly violate human rights.

For instance, in May 2019, a management center in Wuchang, a district in Wuhan city, was responsible for taking a local Falun Gong adherent named He Xiaoling to a brainwashing center, according to Minghui.org, a U.S.-based website that documents the CCP’s persecution of Falun Gong. Ten days earlier, she was arrested and detained by local police for her faith.

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is an ancient spiritual practice that incorporates meditative exercises. While the practice was enormously popular in China in the 1990s, adherents of the practice became targets of a nationwide persecution beginning in July 1999.

Most recently, in early September, Minghui reported that a grid administrator surnamed Yang harassed a Falun Gong adherent named Zhang Zhengyou at his home in Huili County in Sichuan Province.

Bitter Winter, an online magazine that covers religious persecution in China, reported in January 2019 that local authorities in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet region, were threatening Tibetan Buddhists to renounce their religion if they wanted to keep on receiving government subsistence benefits.

To ensure compliance, Bitter Winter stated that the city government appointed grid administrators to keep Tibetans under surveillance from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., citing unnamed sources.

Bitter Winter also published a report in September 2019 based on interviews with several unnamed administrators. One administrator in Shandong Province said his job included monitoring dissidents, people who were recently released from prison, and religious minorities, including those practicing Falun Gong.

Grid administrators were given special government-issued smartphones to report on what they had seen. In some areas of Fujian Province, grid administrators were rewarded for reporting on such dissidents, according to Bitter Winter. They would be given 1,000 yuan (about $140) for each religious dissident who was discovered and detained.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer