We Have Been Harmonised is the most accessible and best informed account we have had to date of China’s transition from what scholars such as Rebecca MacKinnon used to call “networked authoritarianism” to what is now a form of networked totalitarianism. The difference is not merely semantic. An authoritarian regime is relatively limited in its objectives: there may be elections, but they are generally carefully managed; individual freedoms are subordinate to the state; there is no constitutional accountability and no rule of law in any meaningful sense.
This book is a lucid guide to the system and a warning call: “The Party is feeding on the weaknesses of the West.” In the past few weeks, police in Britain have proposed facial recognition of people going about their business in the street, and that women reporting rapes might need to let the police take their phones to read all the information stored on them. As we eat away at our own rights and privacy, China is able to claim that what it is doing is simply a further point on a spectrum. Yet China is still unusual globally in having so few checks and balances on such behaviour.