From shopping online to renting bikes, Chinese citizens are contributing to the fabric of their own supervision

On June 1, the PRC’s new internet safety law, requiring users of all internet services in the country to register under their real name, took effect with barely a passing mention in the mainland media. Instead, the main story was about the opening of China’s first automated convenience store, BingoBox, in Shanghai, and the similar ventures that followed, nicknamed “viral enterprises” by a rash of tech and commerce publications.

Coincidence? It’s hard to say. Either way, the events of last summer are a crash course in Chinese governance in the digital age. Laws, regulations, and a surveillance infrastructure from above are deemed almost irrelevant, compared to the innovations of private companies, many of which have convinced consumers to hand over their personal data willingly—even enthusiastically.

The BingoBox automated store, for instance, operates using steps that are, by now, second nature to most cellphone users in China: Users scan a quick-response (QR) code and register with their government-issued ID number to open a BingoBox terminal, and pay with WeChat or Alipay apps, both systems that require real name registration. Tao Café, the automated outlet of e-marketplace Taobao, adds face-scanning, expediting the process by simply charging the shopper’s Taobao or Alipay account for items as they walk out.

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author Hatty Liu

Hatty Liu is the managing editor of The World of Chinese, and an award-winning communications researcher. Born in China, and raised in China, Canada, and the US, she leverages her cross-cultural identity to create more empathetic knowledge across national boundaries.

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