Award-winning journalist and Park City native Josh Chin returns home this month for a series of in-person discussions about his new nonfiction book release, Surveillance State: Inside China’s Quest to Launch a New Era of Social Control.
Surveillance State, which is co-authored by fellow journalist Liza Lin, is described as deep dive into “the gripping, startling, and detailed story of how China’s Communist Party is building a new kind of political control: shaping the will of the people through the sophisticated – and often brutal – harnessing of data.”
“It was 2017, and a colleague and I had sort of stumbled into this really astonishing campaign by the Chinese Communist Party to use surveillance technology – advanced artificial intelligence, surveillance tools with mass data – to basically create a new, more nimble form of authoritarian government,” Chin recently told KPCW. “It was just this really astonishing thing that people hadn’t really reported on, and so we started digging into it. And the more we dug into it, the more we realized that there was probably a book there.”
Chin, the son of Chin|MacQuoid|Fleming|Harris partner Steve Chin, will kick off the Utah portion of his national book tour next Thursday, Sept. 15, at The King’s English bookstore in Salt Lake City, where he’ll be in conversation with veteran political journalist, Bryan Schott, from 6-7 p.m. He’ll follow up with an appearance at the Park City Library on Tuesday, Sept. 27, where he’ll speak with KPCW board chair Bob Richer from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Jim Santy Auditorium. Dolly’s Bookstore will be on hand with books available for purchase.
“[The book] documents this effort by the Communist Party to use new AI technologies to basically reboot authoritarianism for the 21st Century,” explains Chin. “And these surveillance tools we have today, they have just immense potential to totally upend the way that we think about things like security, or convenience, privacy, freewill. And the communist party is deploying them on a mass scale. It’s basically one gigantic social experiment, and it’s one that we think probably is going to have reverberations around the world.”
Chin, who began reporting for The Wall Street Journal in 2008 and currently serves as deputy bureau chief responsible for politics and general news in the WSJ’s China bureau, has extensive experience reporting on China and spent six years as a politics reporter there covering law, civil society, and government use of technology. He is a recipient of the Dan Bolles Medal and led an investigative team that won the Gerald Loeb Award for international reporting in 2018.
Among the most surprising discoveries in his reporting on Surveillance State is a sentiment that embraces this “Big Brother” technology for the positive elements it brings to daily life.
“We always think about surveillance in these sort of dystopian terms,” added Chin, who was born in Utah and currently splits time between Seoul and Taiwan. “Everyone’s read [1984 author George] Orwell rather, and that definitely exists, but there’s also this element of state surveillance that is sort of seductive in wealthy cities. These systems kind of work to make life more convenient and easier: They make traffic run better, they make healthcare more efficient, and those sorts of things. And people who live in those cities – as long as they are well behaved, and they agree with the communist party’s policies and ideas – then their lives are actually much better, and they’re happy with it.”
Of course, Chin’s reporting looks beyond this technology’s face value and zeros in on the government’s real agenda for surveillance.
“The communist party ultimately wants to stay in control – that’s their main goal,” he noted. “And so, what they’re using these technologies for is to find problems and to spot them quickly, before they before they blow up and become even bigger problems. They believe … they can prevent dissidents from becoming dissidents, because they’ll just make your life so convenient and predictable that you will never have reason to complain or to oppose the government.”
For more about Surveillance State, read an excerpt from the book recently published by The Wall Street Journal.