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We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China's Surveillance State

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  898 ratings  ·  127 reviews
One of the world’s most respected investigative reporters reveals how George Orwell’s chilling vision of authoritarianism in 1984 has come true in modern China’s high-tech surveillance state.

They are always watching.

For nearly twenty years, politicians from President Bill Clinton to tech gurus including Google’s Eric Schmidt proclaimed that the internet could not be censor
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published September 1st 2020 by Custom House (first published October 15th 2018)
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Average rating 4.24  · 
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D.B. John
Jul 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant. A terrifying, urgent, well-written polemic. China is hatching into the next stage of its evolution: as the world’s most creative AI superpower, where data privacy is non-existent and the whole country is a dynamic test lab for unheard-of surveillance tech.

China’s technology has already overtaken the West’s. But as the author points out, at the core of the Chinese state, at the heart of its modernity and breakneck growth, lies something very ancient: untrammelled, chaotic despotism. F
Oct 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

“It doesn’t matter whether it is the government, the military, the people or the schools; east, west, north, south or the center, the Party rules everything.” —Xi Jinping in 2017

‘What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one’-Neil Postman

“Beneath this leaden silence, a rancid brew of pain, guilt and bitterness is fermenting, sending poisonous bubbles rising to the surface of
Aug 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
"The perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary." - Michel Foucault

Yikes. I don't know how to put all this into a review but I try to come up with a brief overview.
"We do not have to fear China but ourselves" is the ending sentence by the Author. To me it is a bit harder now to really believe this since this book clearly shows how the Chinese Communist Party slowly and carefully and well-conceived taking over and influence not only the eastern but almost every
Review to follow. Interesting insight into modern China.
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A sharp, scathing and scary polemic against the Chinese Communist Party that makes for a worrying read. 1984 has arrived in China and the CCP's totalitarian model is being exported worldwide with the acquiescence and, in some cases, approval of Western democracies and multinational corporations. ...more
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yikes and double yikes.
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A hard-hitting book on the authoritarian system focused mostly on the rapid propaganda and surveillance measures taken under the President and Paramount Leader of the CCP, Xi Jinping since 2013.

I haven't lived in or visited China or Taiwan since 2013 so this book actually contained a good deal of information about changes and polices that I was unaware of. I found Strittmatter's somewhat anecdotal approach enjoyable and well-written. The main thrust of this work is something to the effect of Kr
Dave Dosanjh
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well researched and incredibly important book, but with an important caveat for would-be readers.

I have no choice but to give it 5 starts and a strong "must read" recommendation despite almost discarding it after the introduction. The release spans an unfortunate inflection point in the history of journalistic standards, having been mostly researched and written before Donald Trump's election, but with the intro apparently penned just after, while the author's mind was consumed with negative o
Paulina Parzych
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read in 2020 for everyone. Big pack of knowledge about China
Jun 23, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A well-researched account of China's transformation, but one that lacks any sense of impartiality.

It's easy for intelligent, well-educated and well-informed persons to find faults in a state, esp if their own political values are dissonant with that of the state their critiquing. But this critique lacks any sort of even-handedness and China's literary giants from the Confucian and legalistic traditions are merely quoted to contextualise CCP rule. Thus the author inadvertantly implies that China'
Élodie (shereadsinparis)
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china
A well-writeen explanation of the censorship system in place in China. The author desribes the system in place in the country, how it uses AI technologies, how the population is reacting, what are the psychological maoneuvres in place. It also describes how Beijing is gaining influence in the Western world. All in all, it is a pretty good overview of this "harmonisation". ...more
Ben Rogers
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely eye-opening book.

Downright scary at times.

Highly recommended for any political readers or readers who enjoy learning about the sociology of other cultures.

I found it really fascinating. It was really an interesting read.

Jan 14, 2021 rated it liked it
I really wanted to read this book after seeing a few reviews. My expectations were high.

Unfortunately, it fell short. Not that it isn’t interesting or that that the topic isn’t important and relevant today. In fact, the book ends strong. Its an above average book but not as great as I wanted it to be.

I use WeChat. I write to colleagues in China using it. I’ve traveled to China, seen the numerous cameras, and know I'm watched. So, when I heard about this book, I put a hold on it from my library
Dec 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Equal parts saddening and terrifying. Resistance if futile.

Mark Reece
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book sets out how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is attempting to renew itself, if that is the right phrase, by the use of AI, advanced surveillance techniques, and the manipulation of the Internet. The book also discusses related subjects such as the manipulation of language to achieve the same ends.

The author previously lived in China and calls upon a wide range of sources, including personal experience and articles from party publications, amongst other things, to provide a compelling
Sep 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think its actually 3.75 but I didn't feel right rating it a 3 stars. This book was a good ride! I was slightly hesitant at first because it started off feeling like it was him explaining his experience in living in China which I wasn't that down for but then he started weaving his experiences and people he met in with studies and facts about China's descent into the new system they are following and exporting across the globe.

This book is a whole lot of "oh yeah gross yeah gross yeah not shoc
May 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: society
I think an essential part of understanding this book is separating CPC from the Chinese people. Just like Strittmatter mentioned, he is most grateful for China and its people. I myself think Chinese culture and history are both beautiful and entrancing.
Consequently, I am pained by what is happening, more so - I am furious, I can't even find words to describe it. But it's not only the Chinese autocracy to blame (as many Westerners tend to think), we, as in our leaders, created an opportunity for
R Reddebrek
Jan 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author is a liberal journalist, so at times the text uses terms like Marxist and communist in a sloppy way and occasionally leans into rose tinted musings on "western values".

But aside from that the book is an important and easy to read and understand look at the CPCs modern surveillance and influence practices within the PRC and abroad. Much of this work is built on older and nearly forgotten policies of the CPC and the new technologies of algorithm databases, AI research and policies the C
Jun 24, 2020 rated it did not like it
Perhaps it was apparent from the blurb alone that this book would be biased, calling China "the most horrifying surveillance state in history" due to its technological advancement. Perhaps another red flag was that the blurb uses President Bill Clinton and Google’s Eric Schmidt as authorities on the freedom of internet (yes, Google *chuckles*).

As a big enthusiast of this subject, I have read my fair share of sources discussing democracy and rights from both sides: China and the West. In my opin
Teresa Lukey
Oct 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: listened
Wow! What an interesting read and highly recommended. In today’s world I think it’s easy to dismiss communist ideas as conspiracy theory. I’ll admit that I can often fit in that naive line of thinking, but I do know that we shouldn’t trust what a communist country tells us.

This book really was a wake up call to me because communist ideas and requirements are infiltrating U.S. companies and our information is being sold to China. The ways that this regime manipulates it’s people, businesses and e
This digs into some of the surveillance practices used across China, and draws interesting comparisons across authoritarian regimes and how they maintain power. (And - given the recent release date - analyzes the extent to which these methods are in use in the US today.) Thought provoking and timely
Lewis Hodgson
Jan 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chris Jaffe
This is a very well-done and sobering look at China under Xi Jinping. The author is a German jounralist who has worked in China, and it sure sounds like he knows his stuff. While China had been rising up economically for a while, Xi has changed course, calling for China to aggressively assert itself domestically and internationally. Domestically, ten years ago, there was plenty of dissent to be found in China's online community. People around the world were confidentally predicting that the inte ...more
I. David
A Wake-Up Call that Should be Read by All Americans

Visit I. David’s blog at

Based on my very rudimentary understanding, “harmony,” in Chinese culture, means peaceful interpersonal relationships among all members of society. In his book, We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State, long time Beijing correspondent for the German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, Kai Strittmatter describes how the Communist Party is using modern technology to ap
Sep 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
This book is absolutely chilling. It's scarier and more dystopian than 1984, and you have to constantly remind yourself that it's nonfiction.

If there's ever a book that takes the metaphorical blinders off, this is the one. Many of us know a little bit about "the situation in China," to put it euphemistically, but don't know much about the specifics. Some of this is by design - China doesn't want other countries to have all the dirty details on exactly what's going on within its walls. China doe
Dave Reads
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
China is full of boasts. It says it dominates the world in everything from technology to war preparations. It says its economy has never been stronger. Yet, in Kai Strittmatter’s book, we see how the nation’s autocratic leaders have used capitalism and technology to control its citizens including the largest surveillance state in the world. The book describes how leaders monitor every move and purchase of the Chinese and how that data is used. So when we hear reports that China is stealing data ...more
Oct 30, 2020 rated it liked it
I would really like to give this book 3.5 stars. It is obviously well researched and a very timely topic namely the modern Chinese government and the levels of control it exerts over not only its own population but it's influence throughout the world. Written by a German expatriate with intimate knowledge of life in China, this book explores the stark and often terrifying methods used by the Chinese government to control information through censorship technology development ( AI technology in pa ...more
Kunal Thakker
Jul 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really informative book about China's human rights abuses and its looming threat to the West. Really well written and easy to read.

Only point of confusion is the author's hostility to Donald Trump? He's the only significant Western leader to actually stand up to China in decades and so I would have assumed someone as alarmed about China as this author is would have seen this presidency as a step forward? I kept an open mind and genuinely wanted a critique of Trump's policies because maybe I was
Sep 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
To exist in this weird time, one must stay informed and vigilant and dive deeper into stories and articles, rather than just reading the headlines and reacting. Tons of articles in the past several years about China and the various policies the Party has employed has not only raised eyebrows but suspicions as well. Strittmatter does an excellent job detailing the current events (albeit makes things a bit disjointing when he has written addendum regarding the current COVID crises), the historical ...more
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“In a world where the distinction between truth and lies has been abolished, there are just facts and alternative. The dominant values are not morality and a sense of responsibility, but usefulness and profit. If you do see the truth, it will do you no good to tell it; in fact, it’s dangerous. Best of all is to acknowledge the lie as true and embrace it passionately—that’s what the fanatics do. But they will only ever be a very small group. The next best thing is deliberately to avoid learning the truth, to live a life of benumbed ignorance—and if you do happen upon the truth, keep quiet and pretend you haven’t. These two groups represent the majority of the population. Anyone who speaks the truth is either stupid or suicidal. The smart people in such a world are not the clear-sighted and wise; the smart people are the cunning and shrewd.” 0 likes
“The source of Xi’s power over his own ranks remains intimidation. And that is certainly effective in the short term: during his first term in office, Party functionaries all over the country were paralyzed with fear of the dreaded Central Commission for Discipline Inspection—one of the country’s most secretive and powerful organizations—and the suicide rate among CCP workers doubled. Between 2009 and 2016, according to a study by the Institute of Psychology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 243 Party officials took their own lives (140 jumped to their deaths, 44 hanged themselves, 26 took poison, 12 drowned themselves, and 6 slit their wrists).21 These figures are likely to fall short of the true number.” 0 likes
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