Last year I told you about China’s dystopian “social credit score” system, in which a person gains or loses points based on how good of a person they are seen to be — for instance, they get points for taking care of an elderly relative, but lose points for driving drunk. Though China has had experimented with versions of this idea for a very long time, it’s only with the advent of recent technology that they got better, more detailed, and more individualized ways of tracking people. Like, in the 1980s you might need someone to snitch on a neighbor you suspected of doing something illegal, but now there’s a government camera in every streetlamp so the robots can do the snitching for you. Don’t you feel safer? DON’T YOU???
And when I say “something illegal,” sure I may be talking about driving drunk or stealing someone’s laptop, but I’m also talking about being critical of Chinese governmental policy, or being a women’s rights activist, or a gay rights activist. You might not think those things are equivalent but the Chinese government does, and that’s why the world is very concerned about them using this social credit score to punish dissidents.
So now, a year after my previous video, it looks like that is continuing to happen. I recently watched a video about Chinese MMA fighter Xu Xiaodong, who is an awesome skeptic — he has made it his mission not just to bring MMA fighting to China, but also to debunk phony martial arts senseis who claim to be able to perform miraculous feats due to balancing their energy or whatever. In one prominent incident, Xu challenged a tai chi master to a bout. The master claimed on TV and social media to be able to use tai chi to break rear naked choke holds and perform other kinds of self-defense. Tai chi is a beautiful art form and very nice exercise, especially for older people, but it is not and never has been useful as physical combat. Xu was tired of seeing masters like this trick people, taking their money to teach them “self-defense” that would actually leave them dead in an alleyway if used that way.
The master invited Xu to come to his city and fight, and Xu decided to do it, buying his own plane ticket, publicizing the event, and then walking into the ring and destroying the master in seconds.
That’s just good (and entertaining) skepticism, right on par with James Randi embarrassing Uri Gellar on Carson. He went on to fight other con artists, but instead of being praised for exposing these charlatans, one tai chi master sued him for defamation and Xu was forced to apologize to him and pay him $60,000. Even worse, somehow, is that he had his social credit docked down to a D for disrespecting “traditional Chinese culture.” He’s banned from social media, including his video channel. He can no longer buy or rent property or stay in certain hotels, and he cannot take high speed trains. His name no longer appears in online search results. Footage of his regular MMA fights is being buried.
His treatment is disgusting, and I hope he’s able to get out of China, if that’s what he wants at this point. They honestly don’t deserve such an upstanding representative of MMA.
And now for one more update: along with my video last year describing the social credit score in China, I also did a video about Naomi “Sexy Cyborg” Wu, an incredible maker living in Shenzen, who got in a fight with Vice over a bio they wrote about her. She begged them not to include certain personal details but they did it anyway. In my video, I pointed out that Vice should have considered the cultural context and understood how “an article that champions Wu’s subversive push for women’s equality could be dangerous to her.”
Well, last week Wu was taken into custody and questioned by Chinese authorities according to Rachel Thorn on Twitter. Thorn wrote, “She posted a brief and cautiously phrased video she made while leaving the police station, but even that was apparently too controversial, because she quickly took it down. The Chinese govt. seems to be “disappearing” ordinary citizens at an alarming rate. SHE IS VULNERABLE.”
She went on to urge people to be very careful about what they Tweet at Wu, since the government may well be reading everything she gets, and the more subversive messages she seems to be receiving, the more danger she may be in.
This isn’t some distant dystopia — this is happening right now. The Chinese government is kidnapping human rights activists and anyone who questions their authority. These people go away and sometimes are never seen again. If it helps you visualize the problem, Naomi Wu is one of us. She’s a smart, nerdy techy who builds cool things and makes videos about them. Imagine if Adam Savage couldn’t criticize Donald Trump because he might just disappear one day and no one would ever know what happened to him. That is happening, now, in China.
I hope that Wu and Xu end up okay, whether they try to leave or whether they stay in China to try to make it better from inside. And I hope that other countries, including and especially the United States, can have the guts to state unequivocally that this Big Brother Black Mirror shit is not it.