Most people have either read or heard of George Orwell’s book, “1984”. The book was written to speculate where the authoritarian and cult-of-personality trends of the time could have led. However, its author would have never guessed how close we are to fulfilling what he wrote of.
In 1984, the world is divided into three superpowers: Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia. What’s most important, however, are the structures of these societies. All are nearly identical, and all serve one purpose: to keep the ruling class in power.
The societies found in the novel enjoy no freedom and its citizens are brainwashed into simultaneously fearing and loving “the Party”, akin to the Communist parties of the USSR and China. Surveillance is everywhere, and anything unorthodox is greeted with it disappearing.
While the events and setting of the book are entirely fictional, it does make one think: Is it really possible?
To which I would readily respond yes, and point to the People’s Republic of China as a prime example.
First off, China’s current ruling class, who are the top members of the Communist Party and those who form part of the Politburo, have been in absolute power since Chinese Premier Mao Zedong‘s death in 1976.
Second, there is little freedom and ample surveillance in China. The government denies its actions, censors social media and imprisons those who dissent. In fact, Chinese citizens who post the “wrong” things on China’s state-managed social media are publicly shamed and forced to beg for forgiveness and confess their “crimes” on live television. This creates an atmosphere of fear but also one of devotion (not yet of love) to China and the Communist Party. Citizens are encouraged to report such behavior, and security cameras with facial recognition software see through everyone (similar to the use of telescreens in 1984, where the slightest facial expression can send you to prison).
Of course, most of China isn’t at that point yet and while most Chinese citizens fear the state, they don’t (yet) love it or adore it as citizens of the fictitious nations in 1984 do. Perhaps Niccolo Machiavelli‘s quote from The Prince is true: “Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved” (in case you’re wondering, Machiavelli was referring to how a ruler should be regarded and which was safer for his own political stability).
Still, it is disconcerting to see such rapid development of censorship, surveillance technologies, and authoritarian tendencies in China. But by far, the scariest part is that China is not alone.