Learning With: ‘How China Turned a City Into a Prison’

Learning With: ‘How China Turned a City Into a Prison’

6. The authors write:

Chinese companies are earning a fortune selling this surveillance technology. They make it sound-like a sci-fi miracle allowing the police to track people with laser precision. But spend time in Xinjiang and you see that the surveillance acts more like a sledgehammer — sweeping, indiscriminate; as much about intimidation as monitoring.

Do you agree? How is the surveillance used for intimidating rather than monitoring the residents of Kashgar?

Finally, tell us more about what you think:

— What is your reaction to the story of Kashgar? Which text, image or narration stands out for you as particularly powerful, affecting or frightening? What questions does the persecution of the Uighur raise for you?

— The Times’s interactive news story includes audio, video and text. How effective do you feel this format is in telling the story of Kashgar? How would its impact have been different if the article had been presented as a traditional text-only news story?

— The article does not include any quotations from the Uighur population currently living in Kashgar, as the Times reporters were concerned that interviews with the residents would bring unfavorable attention to any who might participate. What do you think life is like for Uighur Muslims in Kashgar? Select one page in the interactive and write an imaginary monologue or dialogue between two or more people featured in the piece about what it is like to live under such surveillance on a day-to-day basis.

In a related article, “One Month, 500,000 Face Scans: How China Is Using A.I. to Profile a Minority,” Paul Mozur writes:

Now, documents and interviews show that the authorities are also using a vast, secret system of advanced facial recognition technology to track and control the Uighurs, a largely Muslim minority. It is the first known example of a government intentionally using artificial intelligence for racial profiling, experts said.

The facial recognition technology, which is integrated into China’s rapidly expanding networks of surveillance cameras, looks exclusively for Uighurs based on their appearance and keeps records of their comings and goings for search and review. The practice makes China a pioneer in applying next-generation technology to watch its people, potentially ushering in a new era of automated racism.

How worried should we be about technology as a tool of social control or oppression? What responsibility do tech companies have for the uses and abuses of their products? Should American tech companies — such as Google, which built a censored version of its search engine for China, and Thermo Fisher, a Massachusetts company, that helped China to use DNA to track its people — continue to support the development of technology used by the Chinese government?

— Compare the uses of social control in Xinjiang with what you have learned in dystopian fiction like “The Hunger Games,” “1984” or “Brave New World.” How are they similar or different? What lessons or warnings do these scenarios, real and imagined, raise about the dangers of technology and oppressive governments? Do you think any aspects of technology and social control are present in American society?

Further Resources:

China Uses DNA to Track Its People, With the Help of American Expertise

Google Tried to Change China. China May End Up Changing Google.

Google Employees Protest Secret Work on Censored Search Engine for China

With Pressure and Persuasion, China Deflects Criticism of Its Camps for Muslims

Feeling Safe in the Surveillance State