Grid administrators are given increasing responsibilities to monitor and report on the daily lives of each resident. Believers and dissidents are primary targets.
by Ye Ling
Aiming to monitor and control its citizens even more, last year, the Chinese government divided neighborhood communities into grids, each made up of 15 to 20 households, and assigned an administrator to watch over residents and report back to their superiors on any “hidden dangers” that may cause problems to the regime.
According to the official media in mainland China, at the national meeting of Public Security Bureau chiefs in January this year, the Minister of Public Security announced that safeguarding the regime’s security and guarding against political risks are the top priorities for public security work in 2019. And grid administrators are an essential component for this task. Therefore, ordinances regarding their work are becoming increasingly detailed, and new responsibilities regularly added to their daily grind.
Being well-informed about all developments in communities they supervise is the primary duty of grid administrators. “They must know family members in each household within the jurisdiction, their occupations, ages, and alike,” a grid administrator from the eastern province of Shandong who has been in this job for quite some time explained to Bitter Winter. “We must pay particular attention to rental households. We even ask their neighbors to keep an eye on them. All new tenants must report to the grid administrator as soon as they move in.”
The grid administrator said that he must visit drinking and entertainment establishments, as well as other public venues in his area, to observe and inquire about matters of varying importance. “Grid administrators have to be know-it-alls who keep abreast of each and every move that residents make, even sense when people are getting into fights or couples quarrel.”
On top of residential areas and public institutions, like hospitals and schools, grid administrators must also patrol and inspect religious venues and keep an eye on believers.
“Key targets of supervision include persons who have been released from prison after completing their sentences and religious believers. In particular, members of The Church of Almighty God [CAG] must be identified, monitored, and reported,” the grid administrator said. “We must know when members of such households leave and return home, and, in particular, ensure strict monitoring during ‘sensitive days.’” By “sensitive days” he meant important government meetings or anniversaries of critical events, such as the Tiananmen Square massacre.
“A Falun Gong practitioner lives in my neighborhood. She doesn’t know it, but more people besides myself, sometimes police officers, are watching over her on some days. Like when the government holds an important major event, she is not allowed to leave the area. Even if she takes a pumpkin from her neighbor, the government will know.”
Mobile phones and reporting quotas
The documents, recently obtained by Bitter Winter, that relate to the work of grid administrators in various parts of China, confirm the Shandong administrator’s words. As per the edicts, religious believers and petitioners are the primary surveillance targets. Disputes or conflicts between neighbors and mass incidents such as organized protests or demonstrations are what grid administrators need to watch for and try to resolve by themselves. If not, grid administrators are obliged to report such incidences immediately through an application on their government-issued phones.
A grid administrator from Dongying city in Shandong, a young man who is new in this job, told Bitter Winter that his superiors recently gave him a phone with a special mobile application. He is demanded to use the phone to take photos and report on what is happening in the area of his responsibility. He has been ordered to patrol his grid regularly and record any out of the ordinary matters, like unlicensed gatherings of believers or unregistered residents appearing in the neighborhood. The photos are then uploaded onto a government-run online information platform, to which phone is connected. Each report is automatically classified and then sent to relevant state institutions for a follow-up.
To reach the assigned quotas, some localities demand grid administrators to enter, verify, or modify into the system each month at least 300 pieces of basic data – such as changes in the number of residents, detailed information about housing units, enterprises, entertainment venues, activity facilities, and alike.
According to official media reports, the government is training grid administrators to use the special mobile phones to ensure that their capabilities are fully utilized, and administrators become proficient in reporting about incidents and dealing with information about their grids.
“Via the phone, the government can monitor our patrol route and see the distance we travel. The management can detect every time we make a stop while on the route and tell us to keep moving,” the grid administrator from Dongying explained.
Similar measures are implemented in other regions nationwide. According to The Grid Work Standards for Full-Time Grid Administrators (Trial), a document issued by a locality in the eastern province of Zhejiang, grid administrators are demanded to patrol their areas for at least four hours a day, covering at least three kilometers. They must visit the identified “troublemakers” and key sites within the grid at least once a month, and each household and each public area once per quarter every year.
In some regions of China, authorities organize emergency meetings and drills to teach grid administrators how to deal with mass incidents and disturbances. They are trained by police officers and are provided with shields and batons during training.
Rewards and punishments
The Social Governance Grid Center Performance Assessment Rules, issued in July by a locality in the southeastern province of Fujian, contains over 100 rules for patrol work by grid administrators and provides guidelines for the assessment of their performance, which is directly linked to their salary. Each grid administrators starts with 100 points at the beginning of every month, and one deducted point is equivalent to 10 RMB (about $ 1.4o).
For example, 5 points will be deducted for missing a patrol round, and 3 points if it is not conducted within the prescribed time and route. A grid administrator will lose 5 points each time he or she doesn’t sign in and out on their government-issued phones at the beginning and the end of a shift or don’t take photos with the device. Ten points are deducted for each missed emergency meeting or training without providing a valid reason. The most severe punishment – deduction of 50 points and almost guaranteed dismissal – is given when grid administrators don’t obey commands by their superiors.
In another locality, grid administrators will have 2 points deducted if 20 or more people from their grid go to petition district authorities, and 3 points if aggrieved people decide to petition the central government in Beijing. The number of deducted points is doubled in cases when grid administrators lose the sight of known dissidents, human rights activists, petitioners, members of persecuted religious groups such as the CAG or Falun Gong, released convicts, and alike during “sensitive days.” Some localities require grid administrators to meet with these “key targets” three times on each such day. If a grid administrator fails to report within two hours a conflict that involves over ten people, such as workers’ demanding their unpaid salaries or patients disputing with medical staff, 3 points will be deducted.
Grid administrators who proactively report leads can earn rewards. For example, some localities in Fujian may award 1,000 RMB (about $ 140) for each CAG believer or Falun Gong practitioner who is discovered by administrators and who are later detained. Those that provide leads that result in finding relevant information or mass arrests receive substantial rewards.
Masses control masses
For the CCP, which is committed to creating an Orwellian state of high-tech surveillance, the human factor still remains irreplaceable, and grid administrators play a critical part in this process, especially when controlling the grassroots levels of society. It is, therefore, why the government wants them to be present in every populated area to watch over “key targets,” ensuring that everything that the regime regards as “hidden dangers” is resolved at an early stage.
To put it bluntly – the goal is to have a snitch and instigator in each community who knows everything about everybody, and who, when a need arises, can mobilize others to ensure “social stability” – a favorite go-to reason for the Chinese regime to suppress dissent, ethnic minorities, and religious liberties.
And the lessons and experience of suppressing the entire population during the Cultural Revolution come in handy in this regard.
In a document entitled Pilot Evaluation Measures for Responsibility Sharing and Assessment of Grid Management Work, issued this May by a locality in Fujian Province, the Fengqiao Experience – a Mao-era method used for massed groups of citizens to monitor and reform those who were labeled as “class enemies” – is listed as a critical component to be employed in the work of grid administrators.
The method operates on the principle that “Ten people work together to reform one person so that conflicts are not handed over to higher authorities, and thus the society is reformed from within.” Understanding the “value” of this method, in 2013, Xi Jinping ordered all CCP structural bodies and government departments at all levels to familiarize themselves with the Fengqiao Experience to carry forward this “good tradition.”
“Every effort must be made to build an ‘upgraded version’ of the Fengqiao Experience,” the Fujian document states, encouraging to work towards early discovery and effective resolution of incidents so that “small matters don’t leave the village, large matters don’t leave the township, and conflicts do not reach higher authorities.”
Will this work? Time will show. But with increasingly strict requirements, point deductions that decrease monetary gains and other oppressive measures to make grid administrators report on their fellow citizens, some started leaving the system. A grid administrator from Hangzhou city in Zhejiang told Bitter Winter that initially, lots of people wanted to do this job, but now, at least 70 people have resigned because of the strict demands. But the government is not worried, the administrator added, because there are still over 700 grid administrators, some part-time, in his small county that continue serving the regime to “maintain stability.”