Across Continents

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Surveillance society

Police - web

A seasoned British journalist, veteran of conflict, political turmoil, civil unrest, had recently returned to report once more on China. Expecting interference from the State apparatus. Shadowy plain clothes individuals deterring others from approaching a foreigner. Surprised to discover he was able to go about his business without hindrance or obstruction.

His was an expectation I’d shared when I’d first arrived in China. Cautious with the video camera. Discreet. Not because I was doing anything wrong, anything to offend, intentionally at least. Just didn’t want to draw undue attention to myself. To be misunderstood. Not that I was a foreign correspondent. But still careful to describe the blog as an "online diary for friends and family".

If the Police were a measure of the State apparatus, mine was a surprisingly similar experience to that of the journalist. If anything, finding them a help rather than a hindrance. Coming to my aid to search out rooms for the night in small villages. Advising me of dangers on the road ahead. Taking me out to dinner with friends. At the very least a friendly wave. Curiosity rather than suspicion.

There was the usual bureaucracy. Nightly registration with the local Police. An obsession with official stamps. But, for the most part, this applied to everyone. Not singled out for being a foreigner, an alien. No more onerous than in other countries I’d passed through. Besides, similar requirements apply in the UK for some visitors.

Did I feel watched? Viewed with suspicion? No. Not by the Police at least. Seemed pleased that I’d decided to come to see for myself what China was really like. Besides, with over half a million visitors a year from the UK alone, keeping tabs on everyone was never going to be practical proposition. And even if they were keeping an eye on me, would I know?

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