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China’s Growing Community Worker Force: Surveillance, Stability, and Economic Realities

In early April, Li Jing from Jiangsu Province encountered community workers visiting her home for the tenth time since early 2023. Following the routine inquiry about household members, they casually mentioned her son working in the United States. Li Jing revealed that she was planning to visit the US in May to see her son and daughter-in-law. The workers were curious about her plans, politely wished her a safe journey, and reminded her to beware of scams abroad.

Recent directives from the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council emphasized strengthening the “community worker workforce.” Official media have covered this topic extensively, highlighting the government’s continuous efforts to upgrade “grassroots information collection and supervision.”

Li Jing described her encounters with the young community workers who asked detailed questions during their visits. She regretted disclosing her son’s recent marriage and job details, sensing heightened interest from the workers afterward.

In another region, Han Yue, working as a community worker in Qingdao, shared a story about his employment situation — he had changed from working a sales job to doing community work due to economic instability. Despite being a contractual job, the community work offered stability compared to fluctuating sales income. Han Yue described his job as varied, involving mundane tasks as well as monitoring overseas relations and familial visits.

Recruitment of community workers has intensified amid China’s economic downturns, with young people seeking stability. These workers handle various tasks, from overseas relations to mundane chores, reflecting the government’s multifaceted approach to “grassroots stability and information collection.”

The recruitment of community workers reflects China’s extensive surveillance apparatus, involving millions of informants. While advanced technology like the Skynet surveillance system exists, the real strength of China’s surveillance apparatus lies in the complex organizational structure and large workforce involved in monitoring the populace. This workforce includes various roles, from part-time informants to full-time government staff, contributing to a formidable surveillance network aiding different government departments.

Source: Voice of America, April 24, 2024