Hej from Copenhagen. My name is Kai. I grew up in a little village in the Bavarian alps, went on to study Chinese and ended up devoting more than half of my life to the study and observation of China, many years as a reporter in Beijing for the German national daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Over the course of more than 30 years I have made invaluable friendships in China, eaten the best food in the world and seen the country change, for the better and for the worse.

The past seven years under the leadership of China’s strong man Xi Jinping have been especially remarkable. Repression and censorship are as strong as they haven’t been for decades, ideology has crept back. At the same time Xi Jinping is reinventing dictatorship with the means of AI and Big Data, he is giving autocratic rule a digital update. All the while China is growing more assertive on the international stage. Competition of systems is back - and it comes at a time when liberal democracy finds itself in the midst of a deep crisis.

For me this challenge we have to rise up to was the main reason to write my book, We Have Been Harmonized.

So go ahead and ask me anything: about the new China, about the new us, about reporting from China, about the best noodles on the planet, why everybody should learn Chinese or why I started working on my book the night when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.

You can find more details on the book here: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/we-have-been-harmonized-kai-strittmatter?variant=32117516238882

Proof: https://i.redd.it/1qf4mt9v2gj51.jpg

Comments: 81 • Responses: 12  • Date: 

kaistrittmatter26 karma

Thanks for your questions everybody, I'm calling it a night!

( And in case you're looking for the best noodles in the world, watch this, this comes close:


Mandolinorian20 karma

What is the goal of the digital campaign against the people? What do they hope to accomplish?

kaistrittmatter40 karma

The survival and eternal rule of the Communist Party. The Party was in a big crisis when Xi took over 2012: huge corruption, social inequality, the loss of an ideological compass. China had become freer and more diverse in the decades of "reform and opening"-policies before Xi. But the Party felt it had lost control over big parts of society and the economy. Xi wants to regain total and absolute control. So on the one hand he has made China more repressive again, that's a little bit like going back to the 1950s. And at the same time he's stepped into the future with the use of 21st century information technology, AI and Big Data. It's the old dream of any authoritarian leader: total control over the subjects. For the first time in history in China this dream might come true

nightcheese200014 karma

how do you see China playing into the US presidential election this year?

kaistrittmatter49 karma

I think Donald Trump uses China policies as an election campaign strategy, he needs an outside enemy and the Russians probably don't really work for him. He wants to be seen as the man that stood up to Beijing. When you look closely though you'll find that at least until recently there were voices inside China's communist party hoping for Trump's reelection. For a long time for the CCP Trump was a gift that didn't stop giving: Most importantly with his erratic and distructive foreign policies (cancelling Trade agreements, pulling out of international institutions) he weakened the alliances of democratic states and opened up a lot of room for China's ambitions on the international state.

Poobeard766 karma

Hi Kai,

I’m a big fan of your work.

My question is this:

Who do you think would win in a fight: One 20-foot-tall Chairman Mao or 20 1-foot-tall Donald Trumps?

kaistrittmatter21 karma

But it's interesting that you should put the two side by side ... Some peoiple & newspapers have called Xi Jinping the "new Mao". But that comparison doesn't hold: Mao loved chaos and eternal reolvution. Xi Jinping wants control and stability. If you reall were looking for a world leader who resembled Mao, it would have to be someone with a penchant for polemical excess and xenophobic paranoia, an erratic, power-hungry egomaniac with deeply authoritarian traits. A volatile and unpredictable ruler who not only wants to overthrow the traditional order but also sweeps aside the establishment in his own party. An autodidact who treats everything that smells of education and expertise with suspicion, even contempt ...

kaistrittmatter5 karma

are they erecting statues for Trump already?

Chtorrr5 karma

What is the most interesting thing you have found in your research?

kaistrittmatter59 karma

There's a lot of stunning things going on in China. The Social Credit system for example that rates not people's financial history but also their social and moral behaviour. Or the events in Xinjiang where not only there is now a huge network of reeducation camps for the Uigur people but it has turned into a laboratory for the high-tech surveillance state. But for me the most interesting thing probably was a study done by a Stanford university researcher together with a profeesor from Beijing. They gave 1800 students from Beijing's top universites free access to the global internet via VPN's - basically a tunnel underneath China's Great Firewall. a way to get around censorship. And the amazing thing was: Less than 5 percent of the students wanted to use it. Not because they were afraid. But because they just didn't think there was anything interesting outside of China's internet universe. Propaganda had worked, censorship had worked

Gemmabeta30 karma

But because they just didn't think there was anything interesting outside of China's internet universe.

Look, if I was a Chinese student in this situation and a stranger with a clipboard shows up one day to ask me to do subversive shit and give subversive answers (and my answers will later be published on a public journal), I ain't taking that bait.

I get the vague impression that a lot of the "ignorance" of the Chinese people that the Western media (as it were) constantly harps on is more attributable to who the average Zhang Q. Public from Beijing is not going to spill all their honest inner most feelings about the government to some random journalist from god knows where to plaster all over the 5-o'clock news.

kaistrittmatter45 karma

The researchers thought of that and did follow up experiments to check whether the reason for the meagre initial 5 per cent outcome was fear or not: They told the students that there was a quiz and they could win prizes. To answer the questions in the quiz though - some of them politicial - the students had to access independent outside information (like for example the chinese language websites of the New York Times or the FT). And it turns out that after a series' of those quizzes suddenly 40 per cent of the students accessed non-censored conent out of China. And the interesting thing was: They then becsme loyal readers of some of those sites. The conclusion of the researchers was then that in the beginning it wasn't fear that kept them from visiting those sites: it really didn't occur to many of them that there actually was valuable or relevant information to be found out there that they couldn't have found at home

TA_faq435 karma

Do you have any observations between what Chine went through and what’s going on in the US now in regards to spread of propaganda/loss of press objectivity?

kaistrittmatter31 karma

I think that's two different things: loss of press objectivity and propaganda. Propaganda is state ontrolled. That being said I indeed noticed some disquieting similarities in the developments of China and some of our western societies, especially the United States and they do have to do with the workings of propaganda and one of its main preconditions: the loss of truth. In fact the book really came to life for me the night Donald Trump was elected US President in November 2016. While many of my friends in the States or in Europe were stunned by all the lying, all the "Fake News" and "Alternative Facts" stuff I actually recognized a lot of what was going on as time tested mechanisms of autocrats and would-be autocrats. In a world full of lies where there is no truth only power counts. Trump isn't a "pathological" liar, he is a systemic and strategic liar, and his lies are not there to convince people, they're out there to confuse and to subdue. It's a huge problem when "alternatvie facts" replace facts: It does away with reason and judgement and in the end with the foundations of democracy

kaistrittmatter19 karma

And of course all this is nothing new. Others like George Orwell and Hannah Arendt have described those mechanisms with astonishing clarity and vision already more than 70 years ago

Chtorrr3 karma

What is the very best cheese?

kaistrittmatter16 karma

no cheese for me. I'm like the Chinese in that respect. Even though I come from the Alps, from a famous cheese producing region, I always hated cheese ... Sorry

JACKinbigletters3 karma

You've indicated your work started due to the political climate rising in the US, but I was wondering what your opinion was in relation to China and the EU in a general sense, their current and future relationship for example.

Also, how do you think China will react to the EU seemingly strengthening its relationship with Taiwan?

kaistrittmatter23 karma

Thanks for that question. Of course as a European I am probably first and foremost concerned about the future of Europe, the EU. The election of Donald Trump was just one sign of the troubles beleaguering democracies. Liberal democracy is in a crisis, Europe is in a crisis. There are the challenges coming from the midst of our own societies: Trump or right wing populists all over Europe are a sign of that. And then there are the outside challenges: Russia and China. So when I started writing the book everybody was talking about Trumo, right-wing populism and Russia - but not many people were speaking about China. Thankfully that has changed, not least because of the events of the last year (Corona, Hong Kong, the camps in Xinjiang)

I say thankfully, because there has been a lot of naivitè and ignorance in the past years and decades about China, an unwillingness to recognize the nature of the political system there. I am not saying, we should not do business with China or not do academic exchanges. On the contrary. But we need to do all that with a clear recognition of the kind of system we are dealing with: It is after all a leninist dictatorship and it is one that is trying to extend it's influence all over the world. So we need to see China for what it is. And then we need to define our values and norms and draw red lines. And the thing is: we can only do this effectively in Europe if we stand together. One example of that unity would be the German foreign minister critizizing his Chinese colleague for attacking the Czech delegation to Taiwan. Those were clear words. If EU countries stayed united on issues like Taiwan I don't think China would and could do a lot. Europe is too important a trading partner. The problem being of course: China has only been too succesful in dividing the European states in the past. Hopefully this will get less easy in the next years as more and more people and politicians realize that they harbored wrong illusions about China. In the end competition of systems is back. (And China actually was the first one to say that and to identify the West once more as an ideological enemy in internal publications already in the beginning of Xi Jinping's reign)