Inside China’s High-Tech Dystopia


There’s no disputing that Shenzhen has become one of the most important places in the world of tech. Nowhere else has quite as potent a combination of tech know-how, cheap manufacturing costs, and sheer speed. But it goes further than that. Living in Shenzhen is in many ways like living in the future. And not necessarily a utopian future. More like the other kind. Consider Zowee. Zowee operates a factory much like any other in Shenzhen. They make cheap smartphones and other electronics. Like other top manufacturers, they’ve built a complex where workers can live right beside the factory line, work around the clock for a couple of years, and hopefully buy a better life for their families back home. The factories here are clean, and the work is precise. But things are changing quickly in a way that does not favor the common man and woman. All the rest of these lines are staffed by about 80 people, but right here there are new machines coming online that are going to build a smartphone end-to-end completely by robots. The end goal of something like this is to get the quality of the products higher, to bring costs down from less labor, and ultimately to keep China as the manufacturing hub of the world and fend off low-priced competition from places like Southeast Asia. The factory of the future looks like this. It’s a closed off loop where robots pass components among each other, and finished products pop out at the end. All those workers have been replaced by one lonely final inspector. It’s a strong sign that the future of Shenzhen is less for these guys… …and more for these guys. Zowee actually builds these automation machines itself. Behind me are some of China’s best and brightest engineers, hard at work building the machines you see out on the floor today, and the ones that are coming tomorrow that are going to automate the entire factory line. Nowhere will face more turmoil than Shenzhen as the robots rise and send millions of workers to the unemployment line. But it’s not just the working class that’s facing a dark future. There are dystopian innovations that seem to touch every facet of life here. I ran into one example of this while attempting to rehydrate. After some investigation, I discover what’s going on here, and it has to do with these things: QR codes. You know the drill. You scan the code and something pops up on your phone, like a promotion or discount. America laughed these things off years ago, but here, they run the entire economy. Cash and credit cards are history. Instead you scan QR codes to pay for everything: restaurants, groceries, even buskers. On the surface this is all good. It’s the easy, convenient mobile payment system of the future. But there’s also a dark side. The Chinese government can peer into the two dominant payment systems, AliPay and WeChat, as it sees fit. It’s already started tracking behavior as part of a plan to rank citizens and measure how good and obedient they are. The tech revolution may have brought prosperity to Shenzhen but it’s also brought more and more insidious intrusions into people’s lives. To dig deeper into life under the Chinese deep state, I’ve assembled a team of extraordinary foreigners who work at tech startups in Shenzhen. Hopefully a few beers will encourage them to open up about their thought crimes. Living in a very tightly regulated Communist country – does that bother you, or you don’t care? The presumption at least that I got before I came from Australia was sort of like moving into a sort of like a militarized state, like things are going to be really intense. But like, you take a beer, just like walk down the road, hang out in the park, fine. Do that back in my hometown in Australia, like, straight to the cop-house. But then, play spikeball on the grass, and then all of a sudden the cops come and stop you. Well and you got, you jaywalked and you had facial recognition? I actually got this. So I was jaywalking in Nanxian. And all of a sudden I got a fine to my WeChat. Was it instant? It was about 20 seconds after, I guess. I had money in my balance and it just went straight out. This is just for the one thing – it just came straight out. Didn’t even authorize it. That’s crazy. It’s true. Try to jaywalk in certain parts of Shenzhen, and the government’s facial recognition will spot you. There’s even a board of shame, showing the faces of recent offenders. I’m surprised and very very worried that they have your face in the facial recognition – like, the facial recognition system. But they have everyone’s though. When you go across the border they take that picture, exactly, yeah. So it’s all in the system, they know where you are. That’s scary. It gets even scarier. Because big brother is watching what you do online too. Most of the websites we know and love are blocked in China, replaced with Chinese equivalents that the government can monitor: a sort of mirror universe internet. I asked my friend Diane, a Shenzhen native, to help break this down. Appropriately enough, she took me to this restaurant staffed entirely by robots. That’s some gnarly-looking chicken. Is that chicken? Mmm… robot food. I wanted you to help you out with one thing. So if I sorta call out a U.S. tech company, can you tell me the Chinese equivalent? Because you know, you can’t get Instagram or anything here, so. Let’s do a few. So Google would be… Baidu. And Amazon… is like, both JD.com and also Taobao OK. And, and, um. YouTube? Youqu. Youqu, Iqiyi. Facebook? Facebook we have WeChat. Yeah. Do you feel like you’re in a different universe? All the online stuff is such a big part of all our lives. And it seems like China has created its own world. Yeah, that’s definitely like that. But like I said, for for like Instagram, I was surprised to see even – Instagram got banned from China, but all the young people, they’re there. Still go. Yeah. It turns out it is possible to access the freedom-loving internet here, via what’s called a VPN: an alternate internet connection that bypasses the government’s blocks. And you don’t get in trouble if they see that you’re on the VPN all the time? For personal use, I don’t think that’s that big of a deal, yeah. The future will be interesting for how the different worlds are collaborating together. Yeah, and definitely the young generation, they’re not like just, oh, I’m satisfied just to kind of stay inside. Yeah, they’re more curious. I came to Shenzhen hoping to find some kind of ground truth, a clear picture of what China’s growing tech prowess will mean for the rest of us. Honestly though, I’m as confused as ever. The city is full of energy, desire and creativity. But exactly how those traits are channeled in the years ahead remains an open question. My hope is that the best parts of our human nature get a chance to thrive, and that 1984 can wait a few more decades to arrive. And on that note, I leave you with this dashboard dog. Because it’s obviously good and pure and very happy.

100 thoughts on “Inside China’s High-Tech Dystopia

  1. China is way over rated every thing they make is garbage and it just fill up the land fills

  2. Kudos to Bloomberg for churning out another cliche bullshit pretending to be unbiased and insightful.

  3. cashless future ,maybe chips inplanted .Governement watching controlling thoughts , thinking ,how you live .Mark of the beast,end times for sure . As predicted by the bible revelations. of course non believers wont care til they pass then they will know . We all are going to find the truth one day could be today for some or myself . Never know. Many will makes jokes , laugh off religion ect as they continue on. But who will have the last laugh ,will have to see. devil doesnt worry about ones already coming to him,no rush.its the ones he doesnt have he works on.

  4. So the machines are replacing humans and it's the end of the world. But at the same time, other kinds of jobs have been created by technology – the booming delivery industy, bike maintanence for shared-bike companies such as Mobike or DiDi Bike, etc. Why does this guy see so much negativity while there's so much more going on at the same time? Jealousy?

  5. Blocking US social media from collecting data is to protect the Chinese citizens, it's the right thing to do.

  6. Can u plz make a video on how and why SHENGIAN is called the city of future in China 🇨🇳 ?

  7. US spies on everything youtube , facebook and whatsapp and you name it no wonder china has banned all of that

  8. more anti China propaganda. The card being rejected has NOTHING to do with "these things". 3:38
    you don't scan qr codes to pay for everything, that's just a flat out lie, I was in Shanghai not long ago. Sure, they have the codes, yes you can pay for many things with your phone. My card doesn't work in any shops either but it works at atm's, I just get cash out enough for the day and cash is still accepted everywhere.
    Notice how the shops have an eftpos machine to take cards but then he say's the issue is the QR codes. So if that's the issue, why do they have eftpos machines and cash tills? Maybe the issue is his american card (and the guy using it).

  9. 4:55 "to dig deeper into life under the Chinese deep state, I have assembled a team of other foreigners who also have no idea what's going on"

  10. 5:05 meanwhile Julian Assange gonna be indefinitely imprisoned without trial and probably tortured for simply telling the truth in service of the people.

  11. ironically google is spying on you all the time but it's anti-freedom to not have google in China

  12. Look at the bar scene carefully, it is staged.
    Here's it basically. Three guys in the middle know eachother and are genuine but not the guy on the left, reporter on the right doesn't know anyone there allegedly but points to the guy on the left to cue his story. Guy on left can barely recount his story forgetting to mention wechat and how many seconds it took to get the fine.

  13. Bloomberg went all the way to China for this documentary? Why don’t you ask Facebook, google, Apple?

  14. Okay I just have to comment here. I use Facebook and even though I try to interact with westerners I find that in the end I still get an overwhelming number of exchanges with my fellow country men only. I find westerners to be presumptuous and just as reticent as a Chinese person. So how is we chat unique in it being an insular media platform? Facebook is no better. Even LinkedIn is the same.

  15. In some of the comments, I am sick and tired of people saying "Chinese stole their inventions from Westerners". Chinese didn't steal anyone, anymore than Americans "stole" their inventions from Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants and other immigrants from Western Europe, especially Germany.

  16. Robots replace people? No different then USA etc.Jay walking LOL If they are this advanced just think how far the USA and England are

  17. You seem to be saying that the greatest achievement of China's research on Ai is simply to reprehend Jaywalkers. Thank you for your shallow opinion. Reeks of jealousy and resentment!

  18. Shenzhen really will be or currently IS becoming the "ZeroOne" like in AniMatrix lol

  19. THE CHINESE REGIME MASSACRES UIGHUR AND TIBETANS AT SUCH AN INCREASING SPEED…. ETHNIC CLEANSING IS THE WORD HERE.

  20. Its funny to say big brother to china.because most of the hightech used by china comes from israel.the camera for example in this video that identify you is coming from israel.the robotic used by chinese come from israeli companies .and the the inspector in the manufacturing process is also israeli technologies.lets say that china today use at least 80% of israeli high tech .its a copy cut from the israel high tech business.the chinese even study in israeli univercities like the technion for example .they want to be a copy clone of israel .no wonder the american are mad with israel that sell them all this technologies .and dont let the chinese buy any israel high tech company .spies are everywhere.

  21. I think it is so sad how predictable the human race is – wasn't this just all so inevitable?

  22. In the West,it called credit check and postcode lottery.The spending behavior,the postcode you live,and the school you go, pretty much determine which class you and your children with land in your entire future.

  23. U can't control almost 2billion people with democracy.
    Americans already destroyed countries using "bringing democracy " like Libya, Iraq and etc.
    That not how it works .

  24. China isn't a country, its a ten thousand year old civilisation that gave the human race Iron Smelting, Sailing ships, the Compass, the mechanical clock, gunpowder, the firearm, the written word, moveable type, astronomy and paper manufacturing.
    Compare this to America's contribution to humanity; Slavery, pornography, opioid addiction, fructose corn syrup, monster trucks, cross dressing and nascar. We should not be so hasty in judging the Chinese and their culture.

  25. I see nothing wrong with what China is doing in terms of social behaviour monitoring. They are making sure people follow rules in all aspects of life. China is not limiting anyone to do what they want as long as they follow rules. Now if you think jaywalking, stealing, committing crimes is freedom and one should not be punished for it then you are wrong.
    That guy jaywalking is wrong and he was punished for it. In the west, he would've probably died one day as millions die in jaywalking incidents.
    Now next time he'll not do it.

  26. Not a world I will live in! I purchased an old-school flip-phone from Wal-Mart for $30. No more iPhone for me! A futile protest? Probably but, if we all refuse to participate, such a system won't work here.

  27. asking to someone "do you feel like you are in a different universe" for the usage of a social media stuff is kind of racism i think. You exactly mean that using facebook is the normal or the standart, but why ? for controlled or designed by Chinese government ? how do we sure facebook not supported or controlled by u.s government ? by the way the speech is on 7:42 and that is very insulting.

  28. China's workforce is slave labor supported. This is communist propaganda, do not believe Bloomberg.

  29. What r u talking about??! Every country's monitoring their citizens in various degrees… u hypocrite!

  30. We are way behind. Why are we call a first country. Next to china we are mostly considered a 3rd country or a country in development.

  31. The way I see it: In China the government is the almighty. Therefore they able to control almost everything in China. Whereas in the United States the corporations are the almighty. If you really think about it the internet companies Google and Facebook in the U.S , invade people privacy, collect people data and benefits of them. Corporations also ran the US government with lobbyists money and back door deals, politicians is just puppets on a string and policies are all written to benefit the top 10% which all of the top 10% are on the board of director for these corporations.

  32. Stroothe, listen to the brainwashed people not recognizing the golden cage they are in, trying to convince themselves it's an exaggeration. Dystopian fascism! .

  33. Funny ppl don't know that facebook was banned from China because it would not remove a violent terrorist group (Turkestan radicals). FB ignored Chinese govt. back in 2009 when this group brutally killed lots of Chinese civilians on the streets. The horrific attack was coordinated on facebook. As a country's leader what would your response be then if Facebook refuses to block the terrrorist group that is hurting your people? Double standards here in the west. Don't even bother to find out why and claim it is to do with 'freedom'. Well, all the press are having a field day with anti-china propaganda. Why the heck would a country go back to FB when there are so many 'I hate China' facebook groups and even 'Nuke China' Facebook approved comments.

  34. It would be interesting to look at countries comparable to the USA to see which is implementing policies that similarly raise eye brows.

    Australia passed laws meaning the government can request data from ISP's in full secrecy. This makes Australia as questionable as China when it comes to what the government can request and the secret nature of it.

    China plays with it's cards mostly on the table.

  35. Never ever wanna go to that place where your face can be seen by cameras almost everywhere

  36. China: Every step openly monitored by only votable party, all online actions eagerly evaluated, tons of things censored, active propaganda, jailed journalists and opposition, forced sterilization of undesirables.

    US: Apple doesn't even unlock a phone when the FBI pressures them, but there are maybe 40 people in Guantanamo so its exactly as bad.

    > ccp bootlicker logic

  37. China Rise without invading other countries. So, is China a bad country?

  38. WHAT THE FUCK THERE'S A BOARD OF SHAME!?!?!??!?! Made by the government? I bet so geniuses in america just cannot fucking wait for this. To "protect" us.

  39. So many Chinese bots here smh
    if you’re drawing equivalence to US, why arent you in China? Why did you come to the US? lol

  40. One thing u dont know we chinese call ur weastern cities as big villages.cause u guys are so backwards and lagging behind the times.

  41. Americans used to live in a democratic one. China is a Communist country. Chinese used to live that one.

  42. So how does this system defend against government corruption? Say you do/say something like you enjoy freedom of speech, and a red flag is triggered and you're fined $80,000. People then don't want to raise any issues because they don't want to be fined themselves, what then?

  43. China: *breathes
    USA: Human right violation, Dytopia, Threat to Asia, Communist, Atheist erc etc

  44. Is not different of what US is doing with 17 security agencies, just more futurist…and public..US have pictures of all of us but don't show it…
    And again don't speak just gain china look what google have been accused off – algorithm manipulation, including steer politicians and candidates in US elections.
    And trump spoke with Twitter management and now you can hide comments in twitter…lol
    All systems have flaws and try to manipulate ppl. US is not exception…only to see the logic of demonizing Iran and supporting Saudi Arabia and Israel the worse Human Rights offenders in the world

  45. 美国应该更安全点,把4G变3G吧,不用担心网络黑客了The United States should be safer, change 4G to 3G, don't worry about hackers

  46. If people working no longer is the means for providing and living , there must be a replacement. That’s the dilemma , they aren’t concerned with a replacement.

  47. I don't want to live on this planet anymore lol Could we all just stop controlling each other??? Goddamn!!

  48. It is silly either to trust people too much or do not trust at all. By the same token, the internet regulations and facial recongnition technologies are not necessarily evils (just like the internet itself). What is problematic is what they are used for. If the government uses them solely to purge deviants and to promote a bigoted ideology, then it is already in trouble. If it uses them to ensure the safety and convenience of life and restrains from controlling people's lives too tightly, then it should be fine.

  49. Califiornia is more dystopian. At least the Chinese dont have homeless shitting in the street, massive drug addiction, violence and terrorism.

  50. What you described didn't match what you concluded….Bloomberg, u are falling into the Fox pattern now, judging with emotion and prejudice : (

  51. Yeah now let's hear those idiots in support of socialism…..actually no they need to stfu because it's one more step toward this type of government…..one of the last steps before we all are living the 1984 movie for real !

  52. Qr codes, Mobile payments, next the mark of the best on you hand or forehead

  53. Public shame ! that's fucked up … public bullying that's really going to have some major backlash …. that's just so morally wrong

  54. You're never going to get real and accurate responses from Chinese citizens ….no one is going to say anything no matter how little, against their Chinese government.
    They would not just loose some points on their social credit their going to be fined outrageously and jailed and very likely death penalty if it's really bad. I mean think about it… If a guy gets automatically fined for Jay walking like that 1 Guy did…
    imagine if a Chinese citizen got on national TV and just slandered the government they would be a dead man or woman.
    Let's hear from the Chinese person that left the country because of the Chinese government. That's the only way to get an honest reply of "this sucks big time"

  55. They don't think about the hidden camera surveillance that's hidden and sees their computer monitor !

  56. Cellphone. SUVs. food made by robots. We've pretty much isolated ourselves from other human contact. So basically life has become meaningless. We have become true demons.

  57. 3:00 they just want to take cash under the table. Also the credit card fees are bad.

  58. china these days as been overhyped soo much….the cities, atleast at eye level, don't look that great lol.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *