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  • Plan for Facial Recognition on Beijing Subway Raises Concerns

  • Netizen Voices: There Has Never Been Such Tyranny Throughout History and All of the Lands

  • Winning Hearts and Minds through Propaganda and Disinformation


Photo: Naxi Stone Village, by Rod Waddington

Naxi Stone Village, by Rod Waddington (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Plan for Facial Recognition on Beijing Subway Raises Concerns

Chinese state media reported last week that Beijing’s subway system will soon use facial recognition technology to classify and divide passengers into groups for different security screenings. The news was announced at the end of October at a Beijing forum on urban rail transit operation. It is not clear what criteria will be used to classify passengers but efforts are underway to create a face database and develop standardization procedures. The following is a translation of the original Beijing News report by Yan Jianfei: 

The 2019 Urban Rail Transit Operation and Development Forum commenced in Beijing this morning (October 29). At the forum, staff from the Beijing Metro and Beijing Rail Transit Command Center revealed that there will be a subway “white list” and a rapid security inspection system created in the near future.This system will use facial recognition technology to classify passengers for security screening purposes.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of China Urban Rail Transit and Beijing Metro. The “2019 Urban Rail Transit Operation Development Forum” hosted by the Ministry of Transport and Beijing Metro Operation Co., Ltd. was held in Beijing from October 29 to 30. The theme of the forum was “Towards a New Era of Urban Rail Transit Development.” Nearly 300 people from 48 rail transit enterprises and 56 traffic management departments from all over the country participated.

At the forum, Xie Zhengguang, the Party Secretary and Chairman of the Beijing Subway Operation Company, revealed that from 2000 to 2019, Beijing Metro opened a total of 21 new lines, increasing the operating mileage by 645 kilometers, 12 times that of the previous 30 years. The operating mileage has expanded from 54 kilometers to 699 kilometers, and the annual passenger traffic has increased from 435 million passengers to 3.848 billion passengers. Since 2000, the Beijing Metro has shortened the voyage interval by 118 times, and the minimum voyage interval of the main lines in the city is now at two minutes, reaching a world-class level.

Regarding subway security, Xie Zhengguang announced the construction of the passenger credit system, plans to establish a subway “white list” and the rapid security inspection channel, and efforts to strengthen punishment for dishonest acts.

Zhan Minghui, director of the Beijing Rail Transit Command Center, said that the current system of screening both passengers and objects at the same time is low in efficiency and contradicts the needs of mass rail transit. In the future, efforts will be taken to continue to optimize the security screening process, vigorously promote the application of multi-channel security screening equipment, and improve the security inspection capability of each machine. Facial recognition technology will be applied to achieve passenger classification in security screening. Research will be conducted to establish passenger classification standards and compile corresponding face databases. 

This system will rely on face recognition to identify passengers and provide the information to security personnel, who will then take corresponding security measures based on the information received. [Chinese] has more from Zhan Minghui on the planned changes:

Zhan Minghui, director of Beijing Rail Traffic Control Center, delivered a keynote speech on Beijing subway’s response measures on large passenger flow at a forum on urban rail transit operation and development held in Beijing Tuesday.

Zhan said that while Beijing subway faces large passenger flow in the rail transit network every day, it has placed huge pressure on security checks of passengers and items.

To improve efficiency, the director said Beijing subway needs to promote the use of multi-channel security check machines and facial recognition technology.

Through setting up standards, the facial recognition system will judge and classify passengers first into groups and inform guards to use relative measures, Zhan said. [Source]

While the new screening procedure is said to be designed to increase efficiency and lower wait times caused by the city’s current subway security measures, concerns are being raised about the potential for increased surveillance. Similar facial recognition systems are also already implemented in several other cities. From Abacus: 

Unlike most places, Chinese subways often apply security measures similar to ones seen at an airport. There are bag checks, body checks and metal detectors. And while people aren’t required to take out their electronic devices, passengers are often asked to take a sip of any beverage they’re carrying for security reasons.

[…] All of this has predictably created huge lines of people waiting to enter the station during rush hour. Beijing recorded 3.85 billion subway trips in 2018 alone. On one particular day in July, the subway had 13.7 million trips. That’s a lot of miserable commuters, so subway authorities are looking for a smarter way to pick out the “bad guys.”

[…] Other cities, including Shenzhen and Jinan, have been introducing facial recognition payments into their subway systems as well. And there’s one more technology that could help this tech spread. This year the Beijing Subway became the first in the country to offer 5G coverage across an entire subway line. 

Although this is good news for commuters looking to stream games and movies, it could also mean better surveillance. Having 5G in the subway enables 4K video feeds in a highly-populated area. This kind of tech could aid facial recognition and positioning technologies, Chinese state media outlet People’s Posts and Telecommunications News explained earlier this year.[Source]

Beijing authorities earlier announced that they would begin using social credit scores to penalize bad behavior on public transportation.

As facial recognition systems become increasingly ubiquitous in China, some netizens have taken to social media to poke fun at the use of the technology. The following is a TikTok video shared on Twitter showing a group of ducks being processed through an automated production line.

Note: Quanjude is a Chinese restaurant known for its Peking roast duck.

@TuCaoFakeNews: At Quanjude, a group of patriotic ducks are observing a newly introduced automated production line! The technical duck explained: We use duck facial and gait recognition technology to ensure complete control over the ducks’ development. We also use big data to monitor various growth indicators in real time to ensure the quality and appearance of the ducks. All of our technology are world leading. The ducks all cheer: “Impressive, Quanjude.” [Chinese]

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Netizen Voices: There Has Never Been Such Tyranny Throughout History and All of the Lands

On October 29th, the Shuangqiao branch office of Chengde City Public Security Bureau in Hebei Province released a “police announcement” on Weibo. The notice said that the bureau “cracked” a case involving a 15-year-old student who viewed information that was “anti-China” and “antagonistic towards China.” The boy was severely reprimanded by the police and authorities from his school.

From the Shuangqiao Public Security Internet Spokesperson Weibo account:

Police Announcement: Recently, the Shuangqiao Public Security Bureau cracked a case in which the internet was used to browse information that was “anti-China” and “antagonistic towards China.”

According to investigation, Li (male, 15 years old, a resident of Chengde City) was tempted by other “individuals who identify spiritually with the Japanese” to access “vulgar Wiki” and repeatedly browsed information that deliberately distort Chinese history and misinterpret trending news and events at home and abroad.

At present, Li is deeply aware of his mistakes after being seriously criticized by public security organs and his school.

Following the release of the news, a large number of netizens were dissatisfied and left many comments below the Weibo post. The Shuangqiao Public Security Internet Spokesperson has now deleted the post.

The following is a collection of netizen comments curated by China Digital Times. Many of the comments reference Li Yi Bar (also known as Di Bar 帝吧), a subforum on Baidu Tieba that is known for organizing members to flood overseas sites they deem as anti-China with spam comments:

@Hong******liang:I report the following to my public security comrades: There is a reactionary organization called Li Yi Bar on the internet. Every year, it commits organized crimes, circumvents the Firewall to access Twitter and other overseas reactionary websites, views information from various hostile forces outside the country that seek to distort and disfigure China. The organization also frequently interacts with these groups. Please ban this lot as soon as possible, bring its key members to justice, and criticize and educate those who are tempted by them.

@Bei******chan:What is vulgar wiki?

@Man******le:Police comrade, I want to surrender. I am having thoughts again today that are telling me to view evil capitalist websites.

@Da******9:Police comrade, can you please tell me what kind of information belongs to the category of “anti-China” and “antagonistic towards China”? This is to help ensure that I avoid them at all cost when I go online. In addition, what other content do you not allow us to see? I want to know so that I can shut my ears the next time I encounter this type of information.

@M******9:Uncle police, last time when those people from Li Yi Bar invaded Facebook, most of what they saw were anti-China content. It’s not nice for you to do this. Is it not okay to merely view the content? The more of those content that I see, the more patriotic I become. The guy simply looked and didn’t say anything harmful, and yet you punished him. This is illegal and unreasonable. There is still a long way to go to build up rule of law in China.

@v******2:Can those who circumvent the Firewall to launch attacks on anti-China forces, such as the Li Yi Bar group and those fangirls who are praised for their actions, be considered to have browsed anti-China content? ?

@Qian******8:Deleted? Shouldn’t you go to that school and apologize to that child, and admit that you are recklessly enforcing the law and causing chaos!

@Wu******chen:The fangirls who are out there flooding the anti-China websites, do their actions count as browsing anti-China content?

@S******l:Come and arrest me. I have viewed anti-China content today. It was a Weibo post published by the @Shuangqiao Public Security Internet Spokesperson at 9.44 in the morning. That Weibo post created strong anti-China sentiment in me. Please punish me!

@f******n:15-year-old minor getting arrested for browsing the Internet to view “anti-China” content. Not only are we not allowed to write, we are also not allowed to see. There has not been such tyranny throughout history and all of the lands.

@K******G:There are many countries that make “spreading” certain content punishable by law, but there are not many that make it illegal to “view” such content. Also, what is “vulgar wiki”? I really want the Shuangqiao Public Security to provide evidence and explain what kind of state is “vulgar” and what is “deliberately distorted.”

@4******9:How is this Winnie the Pooh? It is obviously Tigger. [Chinese]

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Winning Hearts and Minds through Propaganda and Disinformation

In an episode of BBC Sounds as part of her series “China and the World,” Isabel Hilton gives an in-depth look at the the Chinese government’s influence campaigns overseas, in particular programs under the United Front and the “Grand External Propaganda” campaign. Interviewees, including Isaac Stone Fish, Didi Kirsten Tatlow, David Bandurski, and others look at Chinese influence in the media, academia, cultural institutions, and elsewhere. From the show’s introduction:

Now, seemingly, China has adopted a radically different approach. Glitzy television channels proliferate broadcasting in English, French, Spanish, Arabic and Russian. Beijing regularly invites journalists from developing countries on all-expenses-paid trips to Beijing and other major cities; inserts in such Establishment newspapers as “The Washington Post” in the US and the “Telegraph” in the UK present a positive image of today’s one-party state; while Hollywood focuses now on box office revenues in China.

Less visible, though, is the work of the United Front Work Department, a key component of the Chinese Communist Party’s operations, targeting influential figures in politics, culture and business to support China’s interests and attack its enemies. A close watch is kept on Chinese students abroad, the Chinese diaspora and people of Chinese descent. Censorship of published journals persists and a whole new area of control has been established in “management” of social media and online sources of information. [Source]

In the program, Isaac Stone Fish explains the difference between Russian and Chinese influence campaigns: “Russian influence is a lot more about chaos for chaos’ sake. Chinese influence is about shaping the way people think about China.” In a piece for Project Syndicate, Orville Schell and Larry Diamond make a similar point while also warning against stereotyping all Chinese who are living abroad as being agents of the Party:

What are those ends? Unlike Russia’s influence operations, which center on electoral manipulation through disinformation about the target country, China’s foreign operations, including in the US, focus on narratives about itself. Its leaders want to shape how the world views China’s rise, in order to minimize challenges to its militarization of the South China Sea, repression of religious minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, pervasive surveillance of its citizens, and resistance to democratic reform in Hong Kong.

To achieve this, China leverages its own citizens abroad – especially those in academia, whether faculty or students – and members of the Chinese diaspora, whom it considers “fellow countrymen” (同胞们) who owe loyalty to the “Chinese motherland” (中国祖国). Already, many Chinese students do not feel free to speak candidly in American classrooms; Chinese experts self-censor so that they can obtain visas to return home; and most Chinese-language media in the US now reflect a China-friendly line.

[…] Crucially, the US must ensure that its response does not risk triggering racially driven attacks on Chinese in America. China may view anyone who is Chinese or has Chinese heritage as a potential agent. But, to uphold its values of fairness and equality, the US must look squarely at behavior, rather than ethnicity. [Source]

An article in Quartz by Celine Siu demonstrates how these government efforts to influence global views of China through its media are not always effective, as seen in the state media presence in Kenya:

The four state media—Xinhua, CGTN, China Radio International, and China Daily have around one hundred people in Kenya. But BBC alone has 300. In fact, Kenya is BBC’s largest bureau outside of the UK, and across the entire continent, BBC has around 600 journalists. This far outnumbers the Chinese: CGTN Africa has approximately 150 staffers in total, according to a source with the majority being local staffers. Xinhua’s headquarters in Nairobi has some 40 Chinese, including family members. China Daily‘s Kenya Bureau currently has four staffers with two Chinese.

“Even though China wants to expand its soft power through media, looking from the actual resources on the ground, such as the amount of news here, they cannot support big groups of people here. There is not enough value in doing that,” explained a former senior executive for Xinhua Africa, who asked not to be named as they no longer worked there.

To be sure, while Xinhua and other Chinese state media look small relative to the BBC—whose legacy goes back to the colonial period—Chinese state media’s staff do outnumber American and other Western media outlets such as CNN, Financial Times, and Der Spiegel. But again Chinese state press do not enjoy the same level of viewership and influence compared to the international corporate news organizations, whose reporting are often featured, cited, and disseminated widely on social media platforms. [Source]



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