News and Analysis

Chinese Media Brags About Kindergarteners ‘With QR Codes Hung Around Their Necks’ In Queue For COVID Testing
This photo taken on July 30, 2018 shows a QR code for payment on a smartphone and a receipt with booking information at the ROBOT.HE restaurant in Shanghai. - The little robotic waiter wheels up to the table, raises its glass lid to reveal a steaming plate of local Shanghai-style crayfish and announces in low, mechanical tones, "Enjoy your meal."
-/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese-state media bragged over the weekend over a video that showed young children in line with QR codes hung around their necks waiting to be tested for the coronavirus, writing that it was “cute and brave!”

“Cute and brave! Self-discipline and hard-working are keys to why China can defeat rounds of COVID-19 outbreak,” Chinese propagandist Hu Xijin, editor of China’s state-run Global Times, tweeted. “Even kids from kindergarten, with QR code hung around their necks, queued in an orderly manner for nucleic acid test.”

Notable responses to the disturbing tweet included:

  • Dr. Jordan Peterson: “Maybe we could thoughtlessly copy a totalitarian state again….”
  • Ian Miles Cheong, journalist: “The future of America if Biden has his way. Dystopia.”
  • Harminder Singh, free speech activist: “More like psychological child abuse.”
  • Andrew Tillett, journalist: “This is a little disturbing…”

The Global Times is known for being a jingoistic publication that often makes more extreme statements than the Chinese Communist Party. Quartz reports:

That’s not exactly a mistake, the paper’s longtime editor says. The Global Times often reflects what party officials are actually thinking, but can’t come out and say, editor-in-chief Hu Xijin explained during a long interview with Quartz in his drab Beijing office in the People’s Daily compound. As a former army officer and current party member, Hu said, he often hangs out with officials from the foreign ministry and the security department, and they share the same sentiments and values that his paper publishes. “They can’t speak willfully, but I can,” he said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping began pushing for a global tracking system last year using QR codes to monitor people and any potential exposure to the coronavirus, which originated in China.

“China mandated the widespread use of QR-based health certificates earlier this year. The system, which uses an electronic barcode to store a person’s travel and health history, has been credited with helping to curb the spread of the virus,” CNN reported. “The code issues users with a color code based on their potential exposure to the novel coronavirus. The colors are like traffic lights — green is safest, then amber and finally red.”

Xi, who has religious minorities locked up in concentration camps, made the remarks at the virtual G20 leaders’ meeting on Saturday, saying [emphasis added]:

While containing the virus, we need to restore the secure and smooth operation of global industrial and supply chains. We need to reduce tariffs and barriers, and explore the liberalization of trade of key medical supplies. We need to further harmonize policies and standards and establish “fast tracks” to facilitate the orderly flow of personnel. China has proposed a global mechanism on the mutual recognition of health certificates based on nucleic acid test results in the form of internationally accepted QR codes. We hope more countries will join this mechanism. We also support the G20 in carrying out institutionalized cooperation and building global cooperation networks to facilitate the flow of personnel and goods.

An investigation from The New York Times found that the tracking software used by China “does more than decide in real time whether someone poses a contagion risk.”

“It also appears to share information with the police, setting a template for new forms of automated social control that could persist long after the epidemic subsides,” the report added.

“The Times’s analysis found that as soon as a user grants the software access to personal data, a piece of the program labeled ‘reportInfoAndLocationToPolice’ sends the person’s location, city name and an identifying code number to a server,” the report continued. “The software does not make clear to users its connection to the police. But according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency and an official police social media account, law enforcement authorities were a crucial partner in the system’s development.”

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