Not-so-candid camera

In China, if you get the feeling that you’re being watched, you probably are. There are cameras everywhere here. I know of other cities in the world under constant surveillance (London, for example), and I know that there are security cameras in places like elevators and parking garages in the U.S, but I’m not sure any country can claim as many cameras as China.

Some places tell you that you’re on camera. Others don’t. Some places where you’d expect to find no cameras, you will find cameras. For example, when we took a group hike to the top of Nanyang Mountain last week, Andy spotted a very obviously fake evergreen tree whose trunk was actually just a pole with lights and a camera attached. (See photo below.)

Riding along in a bus or taxi on highways means you’ll be photographed. There are cameras with bright flashes evenly spaced on the roads, and these are especially noticeable at night. This is one of my only memories of the 36 hour voyage to live here in September: flashbulb after flashbulb on the two hour trip from Shanghai to Suzhou. I was so jet lagged that all I wanted to do was snooze a little in the car, but I couldn’t because of those constant flashes.

See that unnatural looking tree in the middle of the photo? It’s a surveillance tree.


Frankly I have nothing to hide, living here, because I don’t intend to do anything that requires government action outside of filing taxes, making currency exchanges, and getting my passport stamped. But it is a little unnerving to know that basically everywhere you are, there is a camera there to watch you.

I’ve paid attention to whether or not there were cameras in sensitive places like the locker room at my gym, the examination room at the doctor’s office, and bathrooms. No cameras there. But every bus, taxi, elevator, store, hallway, street corner, and even some classrooms have a camera.

I’ve wondered to myself where all this footage goes. Is anyone reviewing it? (Some say there are people paid to watch footage, but I can’t find any information about that.) Is it stored somewhere? How long is it kept? Under what circumstances is it reviewed, if it isn’t reviewed regularly or randomly? Watching American police dramas has taught me that not all cameras work properly or keep footage very long (this part makes me crazy watching Law & Order SVU!). But this is a different place with different reasons for filming, so I presume there may be different observation policies.

Here’s a news article to acquaint you with the details of the cameras in Beijing:


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