UYLESS BLACK: Orwell is alive and unwell in China

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China’s Communist Party Congress recently announced President Xi Jinping’s two five-year terms had been extended. In so doing, the Party is most likely moving toward indefinite term limits for this President. Some commentators have related this situation to the life-long tenure of Mao Zedong and the associated calamities that befell China during Mao’s reign, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

I do not believe such a direct comparison is valid. Mao was a demented and heartless killer. Xi is an even-natured pragmatist, even a pleasant person in a social setting and in dealing with his job.

That said, make no mistake. Xi is ambitious for himself, his political party, and his country. China’s economic initiatives and military expansions are taking place in many parts of the world because of Xi’s view of what, in his vision, China has a right to be.

Because of President Trump abandoning America’s traditional leadership roles in trade agreements and its withdrawal from climate accords, China is replacing Uncle Sam’s now vacant places of foreign leadership. By not being a member of these international forums, America has no way of influencing their deliberations.

Since Xi’s ascension in 2013, he has been consolidating his power and eliminating his rivals. At the same time, he is taking on China’s deep-seated internal corruption problem. He has also been curtailing the already limited freedoms of China’s citizens.

N is for No!

The Chinese government has censored the letter ‘N’ as well as George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984.” The letter “N?” Yes, apparently the letter N is not to be used because it will prevent “expressing dissent mathematically: N > 2, with N being the number of Mr. Xi’s terms in office.” Whew! And we thought Trump was anal about criticism.

To gain a sense of the events taking place in China, consider its Social Credit system, which is in the process of being implemented in 30 cities. The system will consist of a file on each Chinese citizen. Each file will contain information on a citizen’s purchases, comments about China, social relationships, movements around streets, medical profiles, ordering food at restaurants, educational background, hailing a cab, and so on.

This data will be crunched by software that comes up with a “trust score” for a citizen. The algorithm assigns a value ranging from 350 to 950. If a person scores a high number, the person is given preference for such things as seats on trains and airplanes, loans for homes, smaller deposits for making reservations, etc. Playing video games will lower the score.

Even more Orwellian, a person’s trust score is affected by the trust scores of a person’s friends. So, if a citizen hangs out with the wrong crowd, the person’s trust score drops. This situation will surely lead to the stratification of social relationships. Perhaps people will surreptitiously try to discover others’ trust score in order to avoid jeopardizing their own. (Alternately: “I’ll show you mine, if you’ll show me yours.”)

Chinese citizen: Don’t run that red light! Give to charity. Take care of your parents. Say nothing that criticizes the Communist Party. If you conform, you will have a better chance of obtaining a visa to travel and be given access to better schools for yourself and your children. If you do not adhere to this evolving Orwellian society, you will go to the back of the queue in most aspects of your life.

Coming Friday: More details on China’s Orwellian society.

• • •

Uyless Black is an author, researcher and frequent Press analyst and commentator. He and his wife, Holly, reside in Hayden.

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