I was wondering the other day about this question but have no good sense myself. Moreover, I'm not even sure just what good metrics might be applied to attempt to assess the question.

Earlier today I was thinking of asking but decided against. However, I just came across a new story that seems to raise the question from those in China. Here is the relevant quote related to a tracking wrist band one woman living in Beijing found on her doorstep:

I have accepted lockdowns, forced COVID-19 tests and health codes, but this thing feels like surveillance just for the sake of surveillance.

While the story doesn't clearly say it was provided by some national or provincial health department it makes no suggestion that some criminal or scamming (non-governmental at least) actor might have been involved.

Adding to the recent "flash" protest against Xi in general but including the policy I thought I might query here.

Often China is held up as something of a poster child for the state capacity story. That might imply the policy is now more about social control than actually managing COVID. But it could also just be a case of unintended consequences, at least in a perceptual form, rather than the intended goal now. I could certainly see an argument made for having locked itself into such a policy as China's health system and population are probably poorly suited to living with COVID that the rest of the world has started moving to specifically due to its earlier success in containment (even accounting for gross under reporting). Certainly one might think relaxing the policy and then seeing a major outbreak and overloaded hospitals would be the last thing Xi needs going into his selection process.

Any have thoughts on just how to tease out the likelihood or policy as advertised from health policy used for social control purposes given it seems quite possible that the two purposes could be pursed under the same policy simultaneously.

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Oct 15, 2022


It's similar to asking how much Western COVID policy is about COVID. Mask mandates are partly about COVID but they are also about everything else. 

If China would lose the battle against COVID, that would suggest that the people in which a lot of political capital was invested were wrong. That would be bad for Xi Jinping. 

I doubt that senior people in the CCP are focused on "We want to create a surveillance state, so how can we convince the population that they should be surveilled?"

Just like the extreme fear in TV production sets gets them to go to crazy lengths for anti-COVID policies, I think there's a good reason for some bureaucrat to think "We don't want our people to starve, so we better make damn sure that we can do contact tracing with 100% efficiency."

If the person who created the wristband program gets promoted I doubt it's for a justification like "they helped increase the surveillance of people" but rather that they are willing to go to extreme lengths to make sure that the zero COVID policy succeeds. 

That said, of course, the systems also get used for other purposes, whether in China or in the West. 


Oct 17, 2022


If current covid policies (lockdowns and tracing) are relaxed, millions of Chinese could die. China's CoronaVac vaccine doesn't appear to be nearly as effective as the Western alternatives at two doses. Why a third dose hasn't been more widely distributed yet is unclear. Respirators could also eliminate the need for current policies, but most experts still seem reluctant to recommend them for dumb reasons. There might also be "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" and "China is more effective and tougher than the rest of the world" attitudes floating around.

1 comment, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:39 PM

This article makes interesting reading on the topic. (Paywalled, but you get to read a certain number of articles free.) The writer, Long Ling, is described as a government official in Beijing and a member of the Chinese Communist Party. I do not have any evidence, beyond the LRB saying so, that this is or is not true. The name is surely a pseudonym. He has written several previous articles for the LRB about life as a civil servant in China.

Whoever Long Ling is, he is describing a Moral Maze far beyond anything that has been discussed on LessWrong.