Total Truth: Beware the Chinese surveillance state in a new world order - TV review

We may not like how the US runs the world but there is wisdom in the phrase, ‘Better the devil you know’

China increasingly monitors its citizens (ValeryBrozhinsky/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Total Truth: Surveillance State
BBC 4, Tuesday and BBC iPlayer

Among the many challenges facing the world, the attempt to dethrone the US hegemony probably gets the least attention.

Many resent the United States and its allies calling the shots around the globe, but rather than focus on its obvious failings, it might be better to consider the alternatives.

History and human nature dictate that someone must be in charge and the challenge to 300 years of US/British dominance is coming from China, supported by its allies, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

This stunning documentary sets out what a Chinese world order might look like and you’re not going to like it.

We follow three Chinese citizens who have suffered extraordinarily for simply challenging the state.

Two are lawyers and one is a journalist. Their crimes were precisely those activities you would expect of their profession – challenging those in charge, in essence the Chinese Communists Party (CPP), to explain its activities.

The response was punitive.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his televised New Year address that China will ‘surely be reunified’ with Taiwan (Ju Peng/Xinhua/AP)
Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers his New Year message (Ju Peng/AP)

They were surveilled, detained, arrested and charged with subversion.

Their families, extended families and supporters were also followed, harassed and surveilled.

Their children were prevented from going to school. Their neighbours were encouraged to spy on them and harass them.

Relatives were forbidden from contacting their loved ones, prevented from attending their court hearings and when it suited the authorities, stopped from leaving their homes.

Among many astonishing sections of the documentary, there was one where the father of lawyer Weipang Chang fought with his daughter-in-law about the dangers of protesting against his son’s arrest.

Chang’s wife and young son hadn’t seen him in five years. They didn’t know where he was held and were not allowed any contact with him.

When they drove 2,000km to the detention centre where they believed he was being held they were stopped at the gate.

When they later tried to attend his first court hearing in years, they were stopped at the motorway exit outside the town with a preposterous claim that the mother and son were a Covid risk.

Chang’s father, a lifelong member of the communist party, had joined a protest asking for his son to be freed and said the next day, a surveillance camera was erected directly outside his house. He said he was now afraid and wanted to call off any further objection to the arrest and detention.

China has utilised the Covid restrictions and the rapid advances in technology to control its citizens through surveillance like no nation on earth.

Total Truth explains the Orwellian extent of the state’s spying in a test city.

There the totalitarian state is trialing a ‘social management’ system where compliant citizens have a social ranking of A to D.

A good ranking leads to a promotion, government gifts, a good school for your child and a hassle-free life.

The Sharp Eyes Project employs ‘grid officers’ for each district. They monitor routine stuff like bad parking and dogs being kept on a lead but their real purpose is to act as the ground troops of the secret police.

Each grid officer has 400 households in their patch and uploads copious notes to a central database.

It’s East Germany with unimagined tech support.

In total it adds up to the famed “socialism with Chinese characteristics” formulated by the CPP after the Tiananmen Square protest to allow limited financial freedoms and keep itself in power.

But the incredible growth rates of the Chinese economy over the last two decades are falling significantly and the state seems to believe that total surveillance may be needed to keep the growing middle class in line.

We may not like how the US runs the world but there is wisdom in the phrase, ‘Better the devil you know’.