“Big Brother” in China: The “Personal Health Index” App


By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 27 May 2020, www.thecommunists.net




Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis the RCIT has repeatedly explained that the ruling class utilizes the pandemic as a cover to dramatically expand the police and surveillance state. In our recently published essay as well as in our new book “The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution” we have shown a number of concrete examples how the ruling class all over the world is rapidly deploying new technologies in order to suppress democratic rights. [1]


At this point we will not repeat our extensive analysis. Here we will limit ourselves to report about another, particularly drastic example of the current global shift towards state bonapartism. According to various media reports from yesterday, the authorities of Hangzhou, a Chinese city with a population of 10 million, announced their plan to turn a coronavirus app into a permanent health tracker by the end of June. [2]


According to an official social media account this app will create a “personal health index” for every citizen. The users’ status would be colour-coded on the basis of a 0-to-100 score based on how much they sleep, how many steps they take, how much they smoke and drink and other unspecified metrics. The city’s health commission said the proposed system would be a “firewall to enhance people’s health and immunity” after the pandemic.


Unsurprisingly, this plan has provoked outrage among citizens reflected in numerous negative social media comments, despite the sophisticated censorship by the state authorities. Hence, it remains to be seen if the authorities of Hangzhou can introduce their “personal health index” app.




Multiple possibilities to monitor the population via apps




However, this is not an isolated example how China’s ruling class utilizes the pandemic to massively develop their surveillance methods. Guangzhou, another city of 11 million people, has expanded its health code platform so that citizens can make online consultations with local hospitals and buy face masks. Fujian province has said it wants to expand its QR codes to encompass medical treatment and drug purchases. Shanghai, China’s second largest city with more than 24 million people, wants its app to become a digital assistant for accessing local services of all kinds, not just medical ones.


Another possibility to apply such apps can be seen in Tiantai, a county in Zhejiang Province. Local Communist Party officers developed a tool which they called the “honesty health code”. The code represents party members’ degree of uprightness and diligence in carrying out party work. “It’s about whether your party spirit is healthy, not whether your body is healthy,” said Xu Yicou, the party secretary of the village of Shitangxu. Like the original health codes, the honesty codes come in green, yellow or red. Naturally, such apps can be applied not only to party members but to all other people. China’s notorious “social credit system”, introduced in 2018, was already such a step in this direction. [3]


It does not need explanation that such apps drastically expand the surveillance system which is already substantial in China. It allows the state machinery to know day-for-day not only the actual location of all its citizens but also their medical data, what they are consuming etc. Likewise, such “health apps” allow capitalists to better select their workers and to control their current status (and sack them if they are not sufficiently fit).


In addition, as we did already report in past works, such apps allow the state apparatus nearly complete control as citizens can enter a train, a park, a restaurant or a shopping mall only if they have such a “health app” showing a “green code”.


To give an example: Earlier this month, the Hangzhou police announced that they had apprehended a man who had been on the run after committing a murder 24 years ago. “Without a health code, he couldn’t work or find a place to stay, the police said. After wandering the streets for days, he turned himself in.[4] Needless to say, such methods can be turned against any oppositional activist.


In this context, we refer to the importance of defending the pro-democracy mass movement in Hong Kong which has already faced massive repression in the past 12 months and which is actually threatened by a new draconic National Security Law. [5]


No doubt, China is in a highly advantageous position to implement such a massively expanded bonapartist state apparatus with widespread surveillance of all their citizens. As an emerging imperialist Great Power ruled by a Stalinist-Capitalist dictatorship, it possesses both vast material means as well as an experienced bureaucratic state apparatus. [6]


However, it would be naive to imagine that it is solely China’s bourgeoisie which is working hard to expand the police and surveillance state under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis. As we have shown in our works, many other ruling classes all over the world are also deploying new technologies aimed at controlling and monitoring their population. In short, we are experiencing a global shift of the capitalist rulers towards state bonapartism.




A development foreseen




Marxists have repeatedly warned against this development in the new era which began in February/March. In the RCIT Manifesto on the COVID-19 Counterrevolution, published in late March, we warned: “With one stroke, “Big Brother” is here, openly and without any attempt by the capitalist state to conceal it. The massive surveillance techniques will soon be the new normal worldwide.” In our book “The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution” we predicted such a development: “Anyway, it is clear that important elements of such state of emergency and control measures over the population will remain in place for a long period – all of this under the cover of containing and preventing a pandemic. In fact, we see already the ruling classes preparing the population for the “necessity” to continue the surveillance of the population indefinitely. (…) In other words, the ruling class can and will use the threat of pandemic as justification for an indefinite period of expansion of the repression apparatus, surveillance of the population and state of emergency. In summary, we currently see the formation of chauvinist state-bonapartist regimes – of an “all-powerful state“, to put it in the words of a Bloomberg commentator. [7] And in our recently published survey we demonstrated that these were not “alarmist” statements but rather a pretty accurate assessment of the current development.


Marxists should not be surprising to see that the ruling capitalist class tries to keep power and wealth by any means necessary. Their system is in a midst of historic crisis characterized by a gigantic depression of the world economy, a dramatic acceleration of the rivalry between the Greet Powers and an explosive political instability which resulted in late 2019 in the emergence of a global pre-revolutionary situation with class struggles and popular uprisings from Hong Kong to Chile, from Iraq to France and from India to Catalunya.


The current global counterrevolutionary offensive is a desperate attempt of the ruling class to confuse and pre-emptively strike against the rebellious popular masses. Such policy is in the nature of the monopoly bourgeoisie. Despite all this, most opportunist leftists preach trust in the capitalist state and support its lockdown policy. So, while this Lockdown Left claims to be democratic, progressive or even socialist, they fall in the trap of the ruling class and support the expansion of chauvinist state bonapartism. Clearly, such leftists have become social-bonapartists who have crossed the Rubicon and serve the enemy, not the workers and oppressed!


It is crucial that all authentic revolutionaries unite in order to purge the workers and popular movement from all supports of social-bonapartism, social-imperialism and social-chauvinism!


[1] Michael Pröbsting: The Police and Surveillance State in the Post-Lockdown Phase. A global review of the ruling class’s plans of expanding the bonapartist state machinery amidst the COVID-19 crisis, 21 May 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/police-and-surveillance-state-in-post-lockdown-phase/; Michael Pröbsting: The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution: What It Is and How to Fight It. A Marxist analysis and strategy for the revolutionary struggle, RCIT Books, April 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/the-covid-19-global-counterrevolution/. The RCIT has analyzed the current crisis extensively since its beginning. Starting from 2 February we have published nearly four dozen documents which are all collected at a special sub-page in our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/collection-of-articles-on-the-2019-corona-virus/. In particular we refer readers to the RCIT Manifesto: COVID-19: A Cover for a Major Global Counterrevolutionary Offensive. We are at a turning point in the world situation as the ruling classes provoke a war-like atmosphere in order to legitimize the build-up of chauvinist state-bonapartist regimes, 21 March 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/covid-19-a-cover-for-a-major-global-counterrevolutionary-offensive/.

[2] See e.g. Raymond Zhong: China’s Virus Apps May Outlast the Outbreak, Stirring Privacy Fears, 26 May 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/26/technology/china-coronavirus-surveillance.html; Helen Davidson: Chinese city plans to turn coronavirus app into permanent health tracker, 26 May 2020 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/26/chinese-city-plans-to-turn-coronavirus-app-into-permanent-health-tracker; Arjun Kharpal: Chinese city proposes permanent health tracking with a score based on drinking and exercise habits, 26 May 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/26/chinese-city-hangzhou-proposes-permanent-health-tracking-app-with-score.html

[3] Raymond Zhong: China’s Virus Apps May Outlast the Outbreak, Stirring Privacy Fears

[4] Ibid.

[5] See on this e.g. the latest RCIT statement: China / Hong Kong: Down with the National Security Law! Organize and mobilize against the looming counter-revolutionary onslaught by the Stalinist-Capitalist regime! 23 May 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/china-hong-kong-down-with-the-national-security-law/.

[6] On the RCIT’s analysis of imperialist China see the literature mentioned in the special sub-section on our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/china-russia-as-imperialist-powers/. In particular we refer to the book by Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, January 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/anti-imperialism-in-the-age-of-great-power-rivalry/. In addition, we refer readers in particular to the following works by the same author: The China-India Conflict: Its Causes and Consequences. What are the background and the nature of the tensions between China and India in the Sikkim border region? What should be the tactical conclusions for Socialists and Activists of the Liberation Movements? 18 August 2017, Revolutionary Communism No. 71, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/china-india-rivalry/; The China Question and the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, December 2014, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/reply-to-csr-pco-on-china/; China‘s transformation into an imperialist power. A study of the economic, political and military aspects of China as a Great Power, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 4, http://www.thecommunists.net/publications/revcom-number-4

[7] Michael Pröbsting: The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution (chapter II), p. 46