The Orwellian system of dividing China into 100×100 meter grids for surveillance now includes grid officers in charge of hunting members of banned religious groups.
By Massimo Introvigne
Last February, it was announced in China that grid management will be used to further crack down on illegal religious activities. Each grid will have an “anti-xie-jiao officer,” which would recruit other CCP members into an “anti-xie-jiao volunteer team.” Eventually, team members may become responsible for smaller “grids withing the grids” and carry on the anti-xie-jiao activity there.
Given the fact that younger CCP cadres are already busy with other tasks in the grid, it was recommended to appoint “veteran” or “retired” Party members as anti-xie-jiao grid officers and team members. Their job would be to look for any clue that members of the banned religious groups listed as xie jiao are present in the grid, in which case the police will intervene, and reach all citizens with systematic anti-xie-jiao propaganda. In theory, the xie jiao are those listed as such, including The Church of Almighty God and Falun Gong. In practice, increasingly in China under the banner of the fight against xie jiao all forms of “illegal” religions are targeted.
It is difficult for those unfamiliar with the Chinese policy of surveillance to understand how extensive and intrusive the grid model is. It was first introduced in Beijing and Shanghai in 2004, and gradually is being implemented nationwide. Its implementation was greatly accelerated under President Xi Jinping. Its basic principle is that surveillance through technology—which today is of course much more totalitarian than in 2004—is not enough, and will never replace surveillance through human beings. Each street, each building should be watched by CCP members working as eyes and ears of the Party.
For this purpose, cities are divided into blocks, or groups of blocks, each of them roughly resembling a square whose sides have a length of 100 meters (328 feet), although adjustments were made to account for the distribution of buildings and for lawns and vacant lots. Each grid has a grid manager with assistants, a grid police officer, a grid supervisor, a grid CCP secretary, a grid legal worker reporting to the local prosecutor, and a grid firefighter. Large cities have Chengguan (城管) responsible for overseeing 12 grids, and for coordinating human surveillance with surveillance through cameras, facial recognition, control of mobile phones, and artificial intelligence. The system was born with cities in mind, while in the countryside grids are larger and adaptations have been made.
The CCP leaders have praised the grid service as remarkably effective, and an essential building block of China’s national security, i.e., of the Chinese police state. It guarantees that each home or apartment is under constant surveillance by a number of specialized CCP officers.
Now, anti-xie-jiao officers are added to the grid. This signals that looking for any clue that illegal religious activities are carried out in private homes, or that believers unknown to the Party are present in the grid, is becoming a top priority in Xi Jinping’s China.