Little Red Podcast

The Han-opticon

China’s dystopian surveillance networks – Louisa Lim

Surveillance drones disguised as birds. Cameras in classrooms monitoring students for signs of distraction. Sensors embedded in hats transmitting brainwave data from workers on the production line, to scan for depression, anxiety or rage. A network of cameras across rural villages, with the longterm aim to “turn every television set and mobile phone in the countryside into a security monitoring terminal.” All of these technologies are being piloted in China, as the country harnesses artificial intelligence and cutting-edge tech to transform itself into a modern surveillance state.

Little Red Podcast

Shaken But Not Stirred

The Chinese State and the Sichuan Earthquake – Louisa Lim

A single word defined state media coverage of the tenth anniversary of the massive Wenchuan quake that left 88,000 people dead or missing: Thanksgiving. With a complete lack of irony, the state news agency declared the anniversary to be Thanksgiving Day, with exhortations to “let the gushing springs of love flow without end,” even as the parents of children killed in the collapsed ruins of their shoddily constructed schools were forbidden from raising tombstones to remember their loved ones.



A Date To Forget

Doubling down on the Tiananmen taboo – Louisa Lim

To write my book The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited, I spent a lot of time in fast-food restaurants. Not because I like burgers, but because dissidents often favour the crush of diners and the buzz of conversation, believing it complicates surveillance. As I sat in McDonald’s with Bao Tong – who spent seven years in jail as the highest government official to be sentenced post-Tiananmen – he could point out which plainclothes policemen were shadowing him. When I visited Zhang Xianling – who co-founded The Tiananmen Mothers, a group of relatives of those who died when the government troops crushed the democracy movement in Beijing on 4 June 1989 – her first words were: “They knew you were coming.” The police had already phoned her to ask the purpose of my visit, knowledge presumably gleaned from tapping her, or my, phone. The surveillance was explicit by design: an act of intimidation aimed at multiple audiences.

Little Red Podcast

Tinker, Tailor, Student, Spy?

Australia’s Chinese student boom – Louisa Lim

Editor’s note: We’re thrilled to share the news that The Little Red Podcast, hosted by Graeme Smith and Louisa Lim, was this year’s winner of the Australian Podcast Awards in the news and current affairs category. At the China Channel (and at our former incarnation at the LARB China Blog) we have long been collaborating with the podcast to bring you Louisa’s companion essays to each new episode. Below is Louisa’s essay paired with last week’s episode about Chinese students in Australia, as well as the Soundcloud audio. Our hearty congratulations to Louisa, Graeme and the team. – Alec Ash

Little Red Podcast

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Inside China’s secretive United Front – Louisa Lim

The Communist Party's shadowy United Front Work department has emerged stronger than ever after the most recent government reshuffle. This body, which President Xi Jinping referred to in 2014 as a “magic weapon” for achieving the “rejuvenation of the Chinese race,” has now taken over responsibility for all work related to ethnic minority groups, religious management and contact with overseas Chinese, along with its main task of winning hearts and minds overseas.

“It makes clear what was generally the case all along: the United Front Work Department was the arbiter behind the government departments carrying out this work,” says Dr Gerry Groot of the University of Adelaide, who specialises in the United Front Work Department (UFWD), over email. “Though many people researching areas like religion and ethnic affairs knew that the UFWD was the real power or at least important, it is remarkable how rarely this was acknowledged in published work,” he continued. “That pretence of a separation between Party, government and civil society is now over.”