Five facts about China

I just returned from 8 interesting days in Guizhou, and I’ll do a longer post on my trip when I have time. But first I’d like to comment on a picture I took before my Guizhou side trip, showing a wall a few blocks from Tiananmen Square:

The picture illustrates 5 facts about China:

1.  The Chinese like the color red.

2.  The Chinese like to illuminate public buildings from below for dramatic effect.  More broadly, they like to brightly (and colorfully) illuminate their cities at night.  Chinese cities look vastly better at night than during the day, even if you don’t care for all the neon.  This is very different from Mission Viejo, California.  It’s sort of like the indoor/outdoor distinction I mentioned in a previous post.  I suspect this is true in much of East Asia.

3.  In the upper left you see a tree branch.  The Chinese like to plant trees, lots of trees.  Their cities are gradually becoming shadier, as is their countryside.  China leads the world in reforestation by a wide margin.  (Unfortunately, much of the new forest is “monoculture“.)

4.  The Chinese like to beautify ugly things.  Those conical shapes are decorative hats for porta-potties along Changan Lu, which is sort of the main street of Beijing, often featuring public events with massive crowds.  When I first visited China the bathrooms were appalling.  Many still are.  But there’s been a major attempt to improve things.  In my Guizhou post I’ll have lots more pictures.  While my wife was taking pictures of beautiful Chinese scenery, I was snapping photos of urinals.

BTW, I suspect the Chinese might have gotten the idea for these conical hats from Piero della Francesca:

But this time there’s no angel swooping down from heaven, unless you count that tiny object in the lower left—a CCTV camera jutting out from the wall:

5.  It’s one of over 200 million such cameras in China (300 million by 2020), a system called “Skynet”.  Police are now too lazy to chase criminals on foot, they just check the closed-circuit TV camera to see who did it.  The cameras are everywhere, as is “facial recognition”.  They snapped a picture of my face entering a park, and in subsequent entries I just looked at the camera in order to be let in.  (Normally you need to show a passport.)  Here’s the NYT:

He described the approach as a panopticon, the idea that people will follow the rules precisely because they don’t know whether they are being watched.

In Zhengzhou, police were happy to explain how just the thought of the facial recognition glasses could get criminals to confess.

Mr. Shan, the Zhengzhou railway station deputy police chief, cited the time his department grabbed a heroin smuggler. While questioning the suspect, Mr. Shan said, police pulled out the glasses and told the man that what he said didn’t matter. The glasses could give them all the information they needed.

“Because he was afraid of being found out by the advanced technology, he confessed,” said Mr. Shan, adding that the suspect had swallowed 60 small packs of heroin.

“We didn’t even use any interrogation techniques,” Mr. Shan said. “He simply gave it all up.”

China is probably 10 years ahead of the UK and the US in the race
to completely eliminate all privacy from life.



15 Responses to “Five facts about China”

  1. Gravatar of rayward rayward
    11. September 2019 at 06:04

    “China is probably 10 years ahead of the UK and the US in the race to completely eliminate all privacy from life.” The Chinese are giving up privacy involuntarily while the Americans are giving up privacy voluntarily.

  2. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    11. September 2019 at 06:35

    Man, time moves faster at an accelerating rate. A show I enjoyed a great deal was called “Person of Interest”. It ran from 2011 to 2016 and was vaguely apocalyptic and was about every person being known by some secret competing corporation. It will be on Netflix shortly. At first, I did not even get what was happening, then I thought “this is fun but not realistic”. By the end of the series I thought “this is plausible”. Now it is old news. Since they got that right, I am sure they will get the next thing right——predicting who will commit crimes or be killed (like the Cruise movie). Except in real life they will get it wrong—-“or will they?”

  3. Gravatar of Daniel R. Grayson Daniel R. Grayson
    11. September 2019 at 06:38

    The first photo, linked to , is not found.

  4. Gravatar of LC LC
    11. September 2019 at 11:00


    I have a contrarian take on privacy in China. I might be wrong, but I wanted to bring it up so it can be discussed.
    Privacy in China is non-existent concept historically. When everyone is poor and people were congregated in small 1 room flats, everyone shared pretty much everything. One of my friends told me how uncomfortable he felt going to China in the 1980s because neighbors could just come in and ask anything and everything they wanted. (Often they are curious and are good natured but for an outsider, it felt like nothing stays private.) The Communist Government also had neighborhood watches that snooped on everyone and there were these constant loud public speakers that went to everyone’s house. The movie “Platform” showed what living condition was like in these days.
    People also have a blind faith in technology and policing with that technology. The normal attitude seemed to be “Hey, I am not a criminal and I am not breaking the law, so what do I have to fear?” Some people favor more cameras and surveillance because they believe it makes their kids’ lives safer. They can watch and follow their kids as they go to school and play without being there with kids themselves.
    Recently, people understand a bit more about the concept of privacy due to rising living standards and somewhat more freedom to move, though it’s still pretty new to them. For instance, if a young couple sneaks out on a date, they could go to some hidden bar or restaurant and even hotels and there will be no Public Security (police) intruding on their activity.
    So I would say privacy in China is a concept that is likely to be built up from a base of zero toward something greater than zero. As people’s living standards rise and they have more opportunities to pursue their own leisure, perhaps they will push for more privacy. We should see how the future trends unfold and see which direction this goes.

  5. Gravatar of P Burgos P Burgos
    11. September 2019 at 14:44

    Didn’t the Stasi and other secret police in Eastern Europe show that you don’t need cameras to do away with most or all privacy?

    That said, if the cameras eliminate the need for secret police, it might make using constant surveillance more palatable to more people.

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    11. September 2019 at 14:55

    Daniel, Thanks, I tried to fix it. Is it there enow?

    LC, Very good comment.

  7. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    11. September 2019 at 15:23

    “a few blacks from Tiananmen Square”

    OMG, they measure distance in China with blacks? Doesn’t that seem a little racist? How many blacks in a mile?

  8. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    11. September 2019 at 16:05

    Interesting post. I have not travelled that much but my impression is that cities in the Far East light up at night much more. People seem to enjoy themselves, perhaps because of the lower crime rates than found in the US.

    Perhaps, even if we give up every shred of privacy or ability to dissent, we will at least get rid of street crime in the US in the next 20 years. Though I rather suspect we will give up all privacy and ability to dissent but still have street crime.

    12. September 2019 at 05:57

    See Scott, you do read my stuff and internalize it… good for you.

    Sorry, you don’t get to pox on both their houses.

    China is shit monster on privacy / liberty and BY SCREAMING THEY SUCK, it helps to make Privacy a DISTINCTIVE thing US politicians are afraid to be like China on…

    NEXT: China is now admitting my point on Tech Cold War vs Trade War

    “Beijing aims to separate national security issues from China trade talks, putting other disputes into a separate negotiating track, the Wall Street Journal reported. However, that would likely include China’s Huawei, which Trump views as a security threat. Both President Trump and China President Xi Jinping have connected Huawei to the China trade war.”


    We are CLEARLY going to have two SILO’d tech stacks, think of this as not just TWO INTERNETS, but also:

    Two sets of chips for everything

    Device manufacturers for EACH silo, nobody selling to both. Overtime, China will likely be forced to let Western device / chip guys sell into their markets. So they will let Apple products be sold in China, but nothing made in China will be in the Apple phone. China simply cannot be trusted on tech to not build backdoors into anything they supply.


    This does leave lots of other free trade for a while.

    But over time, since chips are going into MORE AND MORE stuff, there will naturally be less and less stuff that we can trade on that isn’t raw materials.

    Scott, you really should listen to Weinstein’s Portal podcast with Thiel, Peter makes a really smart slick argument that a tech cold war with China could increase productivity gains. Good stuff.

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. September 2019 at 17:03

    Tom, Actually, it works either way.

    Morgan, I liked you better when you favored free markets.

  11. Gravatar of xu xu
    12. September 2019 at 23:39

    It is not laziness – it is efficient and more effective. The debate about privacy is legitimate, and our country can have that debate, but to suggest that they are using face recognition technology because they are lazy is entirely inaccurate. Please read a basic tech book, then comment intelligently….

    You may also want to know that the majority of chinese, about 87%, approve of that technology. So just because you DO NOT want an Orwellian society, does not mean other countries oppose of using such technology to determine things like credit. Focus on US policy, US politics, and leave chinese politics to chinese citizens….

    13. September 2019 at 05:26

    Scott, I DO FAVOR free markets.

    They are how my people, the entrepreneur god-kings, rule the world. Free markets are how bureaucrats, academics, and public sector employees BEND THE KNEE and everywhere on Earth becomes like Texas.

    Free markets are JUST ONE TOOL towards the setting the world straight.

    Why are we all so indebted to Mundell?

    BECAUSE HE BROKE EURONATIONS that did not valorize my people.

    A story:

    In the early aughts, I spent nearly a year working with a GREEK startup, this one guy, a genius, had figured out how to hack a DVD chip and makes DIVX video codec run on it.

    This was an immense invention. It meant that DVD’s could be ripped, passed on p2p networks, and burned to DVD and then played on new DVD / DIVX players.

    This movie piracy is what drove P2P networking, Silicon chipsets, drove broadband penetration, on and on…

    And this poor bastard, in order to basically get a biz license spun up, he had to use the GREEK TELECOM state-owned infrastructure, their offices, their labor rules, everything.

    And his lead, his opportunity to drive the market, to do connected DVD players, was destroyed in two years time, bc he was SUBSERVIENT to Greek loser bureaucrats.

    So, whatever shitty stuff teh greek people had to go thru with the EURO WAS WORTH IT.

    Free markets are just a tool Scott, long term, of course, we want them. In theory, we want them, BUT, the PRIME DIRECTIVE is not free amrkets, the PRIME DIRECTIVE is Valorize God-King Human Capital.

    It goes:

    Human capital > Capital > Labor .> Welfare recipients

    Bureaucrats are LABOR.

    So Scott, regardless where your wife is from, CHINA WILL BEND THE KNEE TO US

    Because US bends knee to Texas and Texas is the best place for god kings.

    Scott, China HAS TO BE kept out the tech stack, so that BUREAUCRATS are forced to just be labor.

    it’s really that simple.

    Whether your wife like it or not.

    Make sure she knows that once China bends knee, and the whole world is racing to be the most Texas-like Texas, no harm no foul.

    BUT to get there, we will PROBABLY be cutting off access to US unis to Chinese students, and we are PROBABLY going to go thru some ugly periods here BECAUSE it well known that Chinese spies are here and will have to be rooted out.

    Scott, we grinned and beared it thru the immense suffering of the Greek people to break their bureaucrats and valorize my people…

    We will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to d the same with China.

    Gird your loins.

    13. September 2019 at 05:30

    Maybe you didn’t read Ayn Rand, Scott…

    We are going to cut off China’s tech to break their world until they become like Texas.

    Have your wife read Atlas Shrugged, it’ll help.

  14. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    13. September 2019 at 08:20

    Is snorting Adderall legal in Texas?

  15. Gravatar of P Burgos P Burgos
    14. September 2019 at 17:18


    The talk about surveillance is about US politics, and how much and in what ways the US should use surveillance technologies, even when people are talking about China. China is just an example of a country using surveillance technologies much more extensively than other countries. I suspect that you already know that.

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