Why China Is Using a Boy Band to Promote Orwellian Surveillance

May 14, 2019 Updated: May 16, 2019

News Analysis

The Chinese regime released a music video to promote its Social Credit System, which monitors all activities of all people—including daily behavior, movement, online purchases, family, and friends—and assigns each person a “citizen score” that determines the level of freedom or repression to be enjoyed or endured.

The system is going to be implemented across all of China in 2020, and local governments have already begun setting it in motion.

In the music video, a handful of young Chinese celebrities give a glowing show of how they abide by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) social control system, and play up how behaving with “integrity” and “trustworthiness,” according to the surveillance system’s requirements, raises their scores and benefits them.

This video, in particular, is directed at Chinese youth. It was produced by China Youth Credit Action, a program supervised by the CCP’s Communist Youth League and tasked with promoting the Social Credit System. According to Australia’s ABC News, the video had more than 340 million views on China’s Weibo and was mentioned in 2 million comments. It features China’s popular boy band TFBoys and a handful of celebrities including Xu Weizhou and Wei Daxun.

While the video has a light and happy tone, and uses lofty-sounding phrases, it’s important to remember what it represents. The system it promotes is the same one being used in places like Xinjiang, where ethnic Uyghurs are being monitored and thrown into concentration camps for violating the CCP’s laws on culture and religion.

Deceptive Terms

The message the video spread on Weibo, according to Australia’s ABC News, was that “youth should be trustworthy, credibility is valuable, every aspect of life contains the concept of integrity.”

Keep in mind that under the CCP, phrases such as “being trustworthy,” “having credibility,” and “acting with integrity” have very different meanings than they have in free countries. This specifically means being “trustworthy” in the eyes of the ruling communist regime, having “credibility” by never violating its totalitarian standards, and having “integrity” to always follow its will regardless of whether or not the regime can see your actions.

The video plays on the policy of “political correctness,” which was framed by Mao Zedong in 1967. The idea was that if you supported the CCP’s policies of repression—which at the time included the violent destruction of Chinese history during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976)—then you were “politically correct.” If you opposed the policies, however, then you were not “politically correct,” and you could have been marked for imprisonment or death.

Emotional Control

Propaganda of this type is especially insidious. It uses a form of altered language that will be interpreted differently by people living under the CCP than it would by those outside the system. It also uses colorful and happy imagery to frame a positive perception of an artificial intelligence system for totalitarian social control.

The video portrays an Orwellian reality, under a regime with all the horrors of labor camps and torture we saw under the Soviets, but with a polished, friendly facade.

Of course, this is the goal of propaganda. It doesn’t need to be true or false. It just needs to elicit an intended emotional response. People gradually become conditioned to associate the programmed emotion with the issue.

This differs from misinformation, which is the direct use of false information either to muddle an issue or spread confusion, and from disinformation, which uses more complex forms of deception, such as staged events and planted evidence, to create reports that appear true.

These all fall under the banner of psychological warfare (or “PsyOps”), which aims to alter the way an issue is interpreted. It works through the subversion of a person’s cycle of meaning, to alter the way they view issues as “symbols” of various concepts or feelings.

When watching propaganda like this, reflect on what impression each scene leaves you with. What emotions does the music invoke? Those impressions and emotions are likely what the creators of the propaganda want you to feel toward the issue.

The ‘China Model’

The Social Credit System is one of the CCP’s many arms of its “China Model,” which represents the CCP’s brand of censorship, surveillance, and human rights abuse. The regime is exporting the Social Credit System under its “One Belt, One Road” development initiative, in which the Chinese regime is constructing infrastructure in other countries.

The form of censorship it uses is what I recently described as “Trojan horse censorship.” While it wraps itself in a veil of good intentions, its true nature is a program to crack down on dissent, to eliminate any hope of people to oppose the ruling regime, and to further the CCP’s destruction of tradition, but these aren’t talked about on the surface. Those true intentions are the armed men inside the wooden, smiling veneer of this Trojan horse.

This isn’t just a Chinese issue anymore, either, as the CCP is exporting the system. It’s already being used in parts of Africa and Latin America. The city of Darwin, Australia, also will soon launch a variant of the system, in cooperation with the CCP.

If the CCP is allowed to continue pushing this system, expect to see this same type of censorship, masked in this same type of propaganda, in a city near you. This is the goal of the CCP, and it’s something the many socialist tyrants around the world will drool over.

Follow Joshua on Twitter: @JoshJPhilipp