Inside China’s High-Tech Dystopia

July 31, 2019 posted by

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 All those workers have been replaced by one lonely final inspector.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 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 Replies to “Inside China’s High-Tech Dystopia”

  1. Philip Brucker says:

    We're just a few short years behind China in surveillance, the politicians just need to weaken the Constitution a little more. Silicon Valley is a great help to them in doing so by swaying popular opinion to the authoritarian left.

  2. Andrew Tobeck says:

    Yaeh but let's keep sending all the jobs to China. The democrats are so stupid when they say automation is killing manufacturingnope automation is far more reason to keep manufacturing in our own country as it employs high skilled engineers

  3. and44bor says:

    The reporter is not the smartest person in this video. Saying shallow thoughts, asking people primitive questions and laughing often like a retard. Dislike.

  4. 1badpete999 says:

    When robots will have pretty soon full AI and can reproduce and improve on themself without the help of man they will get the idea very fast that man is useless and is a parasite and act like in terminator movie !

  5. Watches from the closet says:

    I suggest everyone look at the history of French Altom and Japanese Toshiba. They were forced to transfer their technology to US to plead for mercy from the super bully. Cases against China are peanuts compared to cases against USA.

    – They sell weapons to Saudi Arabia so that they can bomb Yemen's hospitals and water supply. They even have the nerve to say "we export freedom to Yemen"
    – They legitimises Israel's conquering of Palestinian lands
    – They put 400+ cases of sanctions against Venezuela since 2007 to cripple the nation and started this hyper inflation. They blame it on Maduro ofc because they want to install a puppet government! New sanctions just came in last week. As if Venezuelans arent suffering enough.
    – They used the white helmets to stage a fake chemical attacks in Syria using CHILDREN to justify their missile strikes.

    And yet everyone is so bothered by China's censorship and social credit system or BRI. What about USA's project PRISM, the Patriot Act, NSA backdoors and much more. Not forgetting Project Echelon and the Five Eyes (whites) spying community.

    all of you are sheep

  6. Kisembe Namusyule says:

    China will implode in a few decades. Simply because their citizens will demand more freedoms.

  7. CaptainDuckman says:

    in a few years, this will be the EU as well.

  8. Leopoldo Geopol says:

    It is so easy to see the faults of others and be oblivious of our own sins. As if in America it was different (has Bloomberg ever investigated what Snowden and Asagne discovered?)
    The millennials may go to history as the generation that gave away the civil rights and freedoms their grandparents worked so hard to keep.

  9. Honglai Liu says:

    when that Australian guy said scary, I can't stop laughing. Australian Internet sucks all the time. Crazy expensive and cray slow. that scary is pretty much the too fast internet speed I guess.

  10. Hoggar Krababbel says:

    When the Chinese do business and create jobs, it's a "dystopia".

    When Amazon and Google turn neighborhoods into crime ridden, drug infested tent-cities full of homeless people, it's bEaUtIfUl!

  11. il Desu says:

    So they have two options for their youtube and amazon clones. What a nightmare.

  12. Jan Dreier says:

    Interesting, but no Anthony Bourdain.

  13. Justin pill says:

    China sucks i love the Chinese culture and people but the government sucks

  14. BUM BUUM says:

    To the host Ashley VANCE ( 7:00mn) saying to the Chinese woman "is it chicken" ("sounds like it is real chicken or dog?")…sounds very racist to me … she laughed politely ! Your words are offensive… I like your show but be careful when you talk about others" culture !

  15. TT PP says:

    Only a matter of time before it takes over the Western world.

  16. Mr watcher says:

    America in continuous decline for 40 years and she is trying to blame China for everything. See the work ethnic in China is totally different from US?

  17. MeMyself&I says:

    I don't know about the rest of you but the battery in my phone can die at inconvenient times. I really wouldn't like not being able to buy something because my phone is dead.

  18. pete chau says:

    Sounds like the dystopian system you read about in the book of Revelations.

  19. Da Mao says:

    LGBTQRSTWXZ agenda, open borders, crime ridden inner cities, 20 murders a day, obesity,  >>> risk than govt facial recognition system.  I mean, if you are black, wouldn't you rather have an impartial facial recognition system rather than a racially profiling white cop?

  20. EmperorKAlt says:

    lol China got the idea from America only more technologically advanced. Duh the NSA Act? We can’t be hypocrites for what we’ve done past 40+ years.

  21. Henry Pang says:

    If you don't like it in China you can always leave. The Chinese didn't ask you to come and earn money in their country.

  22. KLASS podcast says:

    if the commentator doesn't realize hes in 1984 he is seriously deluded.

  23. Pinaki Saha says:

    I have spent half a year in China, I disagree with potrayal of this city as a some sort of dystopian future. 1.) AI taking over menial labour, in 10-20 years that will be the norm. 2.) QR code vs credit card. I have used QR codes, in this smartphone era QR codes are damn convenient as for tracking, you think the govt can't track your finances via credit card? As for Chinese great wall, as you yourself pointed out the solution VPNs. There are pros and cons in living in China just like any other country.

  24. Naming THEM says:

    Build That Wall

    No more illegal aliens I'm America

  25. Cyber Security University Student says:

    So it seems that, China are making their own equivalent of social media… whats wrong what that? not everyone agrees with the social media resources that the rest of the world are using, such as, Google (who track your purchases), Face Book, that also track you, WhatsApp, that also track you and want total control of your mobile contacts if you are going to use their platform. So, whats wrong with china using their own resources… nothing, in my opinion, and stop making a big issue about it…

  26. dc_hello_1 says:

    I like Visa because no money is directly taken out of my account. So I can dispute a charge if need be without already paying.
    If what they say about wechat is true and the government can directly take your money, then that is very scary.

  27. Jack Specht says:

    someone is a tad bit jellies 😛 get over yourself China is number one the USA is a shell of what it once was. No clown in a ten K suit as president can change that 😛

  28. TobyRecorded says:

    You mean Shenzhen the utopian? I have been there, I loved it

  29. TobyRecorded says:

    Reporter: China don’t accept my dated Amex platic!
    Dystopia China!

  30. TobyRecorded says:

    “I jaywalked and I was fined!”
    Don’t jaywalk!

  31. Benjamin Elkanem says:

    Well come to communist China.

  32. Oscar van der Hooft says:

    Bloomberg: fake concern for workers abroad while peddling propaganda for american billionaires at home. This is simple and naive journalism for simple and naive people.

  33. Launchpad 72 says:

    "Something called a VPN" ….. This obviously was written by someone over 35!

  34. Jason Smith says:

    when China goes to war with the USA, because they want to rule over all, they will launch a nuclear attack because they're losing the conventional war, and all of that electronic infrastructure will go down. and, they won't have any material currency as a replacement. they didn't think about that, did they…? – they'll just compound the problem with 'crypto currencies'…

    the latter is an example of top-down planning; the top doesn't take dissension, or criticism, so they're allowed to make mistake after mistake…and then, one day, it all comes calling…
    the PLA doesn't know how to wage war; their experience is limited to war games…

    as per the Taiwan issue, the moment Taiwan is able to supply itself with enough weapons to push back, China won't stand a chance at invasion; there are too many Western allies with potent navies, that will sink every last Chinese warship.
    and then, a naval blockade. and a land blockade…

  35. Jonathan Brown says:

    We should celebrate change and marvel at what has been done

  36. Jason Jones says:

    He is misinformed. Cash isn't history. They still use it as a backup. Credit card they never used it much there anyway.

  37. Brooklyn Herve says:

    That’s the most inaccurate description for a VPN I’ve ever heard

  38. Seven says:

    Coming to a country near you!

  39. Wisdom Treeof says:

    Corruption runs deep down in China!!! Will take only G-d's move to uproot!!!

  40. Gdurant says:

    Totalitarian states don't last folks they only collapse with a lot of people dying in the end.

  41. Radomire B says:

    yea if I got a jwalking ticket automatically withdrawn from my account I would immediately QR scan a bus ticket out of that fucking place

  42. mozu zeng says:

    how many people use VPN in China? it's over 200 million.

  43. Anyfantis says:

    pfff look who's talking about surveillance

  44. Ar Chi says:

    China is great!

  45. Alan Deacon says:

    UK doing just the same thing: they're just not telling you about it…

  46. Brain Storm says:

    Now I think Chinese are in the right track, build up solid credits background. They will be the most welcomed the people cause they don’t do jaywalking which prevents the traffic accidents, they don’t smoke on the streets which protects non smokers benefits, and they don’t spit, and they recycle in accordingly and etc. What is wrong with that? If there’s the discredit system everywhere the world, the world will be more safer! Less violence, less offensive behaviors, and less people died.

  47. jaykay415 says:

    I thought you were going to say the dashboard dog was…a camera.

  48. rohit varude says:

    Anybody advice which background sound track starts @ 09:03?

  49. Ghastly_Grinner says:

    China is Fucked!

  50. kelly washington says:

    I see people who've grown accustomed to controlling other people freaking out and soft core vilifying other people for doing the exact same things they've been doing for decades but slightly better. While also growing beyond the one parties ability to control even with a stranglehold on oil and currency and overwhelming military might.

  51. Dorothee P. says:

    why would you trust any culture that ADMIRES tricks, deception, and exploitation??? to them it is CLEVERNESS not criminal. yuck

  52. james dunn says:

    Well I enjoyed that read…. China eavesdropping as well. Who'd have thought.

  53. klamath1016 says:

    The Democrat-Socialists of the US along with their crony capitalists partners Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook…. appear to be mirroring the China model. To subjugate and control the citizenry and political apparatus of the country. Dystopian indeed.

  54. Edward C Tullis says:

    All stolen

  55. glowingnut says:

    Please hire some more professional dudes to do vids like this…
    things don't go by my way, then it is dystopia… looks like a thinking pattern of 5 year old.

  56. Biggg Swole says:

    Remember to keep comments respectful and to follow our community Guidelines…..Equals Dont spout conservative and/or Christian principles or we will censor, shadow ban or ban you outright

  57. Raymond Payette says:

    This insidious intrusion is unacceptable in Western societies where individuals have rights.
    What looks like a dashboard dog is really a Chinese fox that monitors you in your car.

  58. Will Jacobs says:

    1984 is here, apparently.

  59. Toasty667 says:

    I tend to switch off and not respect the opinion of someone who over uses 'like'. Stop it.

  60. Jayson L. says:

    welcome 2 the NEW CHINA, a 21st century modern CHINA, and a future CHINA.

  61. I.A. Woien says:

    You could have mentioned all the buildings standing vacant, all the factories standing empty, all the workers already feeling the toll of the automatisation already…
    Dystopian, obscurantist society…

  62. Churchill says:

    Where can I buy Bloomberg's China-Spy-Chip?

  63. Celine CR says:

    Europe is the place to be!

  64. Joe Krebs says:

    Hopefully these robots replace more humans.

  65. Tim Hong says:

    The interviewer sounds a bit careless about this whole thing. Yes, I get that you want to get the news out there, but showing real names and people's faces can be really dangerous for your sources. For example, I tried to look up more info on Diane Ding Laren (the lady he met up with at the robot restaurant). She's literally disappeared from all social media since 2018.

  66. Johan Cuicas says:

    China's cities are so cyberpunk. I think that's how will looks worldwide cities in the future.

  67. Never Mind says:

    Send China 100 Million Black Africans, 100 Million Latinos and 100 Million Muslim From Middle East then let see what happen………Imagine Communist Red China becoming the "Most Diverse Nation in the World" : oh my goodness

  68. Todd Thomsen says:

    China is Southeast Asia…China does not have unemployment lines…WeChat must be the model for Facebook's and Google's direction and business model

  69. Alexander Mineev says:

    The guy from Australia does not have Aussie accent. Strange.

  70. Sean Work says:

    gnarly bro

  71. Pedro Fox says:

    5:37 better not have n secret evil twin then that will create fines for you 🙂

  72. Ye Hang Yeo says:

    Absolutely in love with the 1984 references.

  73. John Taylor says:

    Rather live their than Downtown L.A.
    Sad what democrats have done to a once great city.
    Worse they want to export the misery nationwide.

  74. Chris Duane says:

    QR Code = Mark of the Beast

  75. Lord Azreal Lais says:

    The enemy of my enemy is still my enemy

  76. glancedUp says:

    Hello Friend. Hello Friend..

  77. John Otvos says:

    The Chinese will eventually realize, too late, that if you don't pay workers enough to purchase what they make, then the economy will fail. It was Henry Ford's true legacy.


    I mostly have seen China as a very ethical country. Now I see where rules are being enforced for public safety with a concern that certain moral principles rather than general ethics may be imposed, limiting personal freedoms.

  79. Pseudo Nym says:


  80. Rockers From Hell says:

    Different to when I want there, stick that barcode payment where the sun dont shine. I thought of that personless food shop years ago but thought against it because in a western country you know it would get wrecked.

  81. miriam tiuseco says:

    Some people are too stubborn to follow the law,like jaywalking law, so a fine is really needed to teach him a lesson

  82. Yip Choong says:

    Pompous reporting

  83. Canary InTheMachine says:

    Outsourcing. Sweatshops. Replacing workers with robots. "Quick, blame COMMUNISM!!!" Remarkable propaganda.

  84. MichaTheLight says:

    Mainland China has perfected all the negative traits of capitalism this combined with the remains of a former stalinist regime it is a ferrocious combination. Producing like hell and in the same breath no human rights, no privacy, no trade unions, no workers rights. Who is still believing that China has something to do with communism is terribly wrong. China is now an totalitarian capitalist system. That why so much members of other elites around the world are so intrigued by that country.

  85. J M says:

    lmao the fact that credit cards are out dated over in china is hilarious .

  86. phil stabler says:

    Surface mount been automatic insertion be over 25 years tech old

  87. phil stabler says:

    Face news

  88. SOOOOL says:

    Why are there always commnets under videos that expose other countries full of people bashing the US? Like children honestly

  89. CHN.人定胜天 says:


  90. Charlie X says:

    Hey man your credit card not working just because most those small shops they don't accept credit card with amex, visa, etc. ONLY(which we call a foreign card). Fancy restaurants or deluxe stores would accept, since they have different circuit. But most stores would only accept credit card with UnionPay(clearance system by Chinese banking system). But, still, most people prefer to use mobile pay even they have credit card, which more convenient.

  91. TheAxisOne says:

    The dog is not happy anymore.. it's already in someones stew.. considering it's China.

  92. Gitana Maldita says:

    For northern americans: calm down, you're being monitored and scanned by the NSA & CIA more than you'll admit being drunk. And oh yes, they spy other countries, Merkel had a bad time with Obama administration remember for what it was?

    Also: what government doesn't spy their citizens??? the way they do it can be obvious or very cautious, but they do it without shame. In Argentina there was the Proyecto-X, thanks to the Kirchner's.
    It was a shameless and mediocre project (aimed to not being a secret), so people can live knowing they are being spied. Most tiranic form of oppression. Letting you know you're being spied and can do nothing. I remember chatting with an US citizen and she was OK with the CIA spying all the citizens, ''because, national security''. That's dumbest and submissive af thing I've heard in years. She was happy being scanned to the level of ''what underwear you're wearing now''…''I have nothing to hide!!''.

    You have nothing yours and intimacy is being sold, that's the other part of the story.

  93. Lezo brown Frown The guy says:

    Seems like hell . What are million of ppl going to do, to eat !! Eat the rest that do .

  94. John Warner IV says:

    1984 is already here. Less vendors take cash more and more here in the USA. Why is that, ask yourself? 5G is a dangerous A.I. system. We will be China sooner than you think.

  95. Gold And Bitcoin Investors Group says:

    Is that chicken??? LMAO!

  96. C w says:

    If I visit China and made it back stateside my account would be in the double negative. Just saying. Jaywalking? Really?

  97. Michael Post says:

    Funny to see all the Chinese bots and gov workers replying to this video in the comments 🙂

  98. Ricky says:

    This is just American anti-China propogranda, I see nothing wrong with this

  99. Paul van Dijck says:

    Only in China, not in America, Japan or an EU-country? Keep dreaming!

  100. Margaret Edwards says:

    I'm British and wouldn't buy anything from China ,Japan or Israel!!

Leave a Comment

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