China’s Surveillance: Totally not Totalitarian

What do rubbish bins, classrooms, public bathrooms and pig farms have in common?

All involve garbage and waste – be it fed to a waste bin, swine, or the unsuspecting next generation.

The actual answer? Surveillance. That’s right. You can’t even poop now without Big Brother knowing your location. China has officially done away the sanctity of the bathroom.

But it’s not all bad. Now you can take a shit, be treated like shit, and shit yourself at the same time.

Three cheers for total(itarian) coverage and improved multi-tasking. Who’s with me?


– George Orwell, Animal Farm

Rubbish Bins

Picture: The Beijing News

Since late 2019 rubbish bins in China’s residential areas have been outfitted with cameras sporting facial-recognition AI technology. These cameras are by no means an unfamiliar sight. Public spaces all around the country already have these systems installed: to catch jaywalkers, fare dodgers, and (of course) criminals.

According to this article by South China Morning Post, this serves two purposes:

[1] Preventing strangers from following residents into the complex and [2] preventing residents from subletting their apartments.

‘Why is China using facial recognition on garbage bins?’ (2019) by Karen Chiu, South China Morning Post.

Residents are also required to scan their faces upon arriving at the residential gates, and can only enter after automated verification.

The plus side is that these smart bins will weigh each garbage bag and tell if you’re mixing up different categories of garbage: be it dry garbage, wet garbage (kitchen waste), recyclables or hazardous waste.

Corresponding gift credits or cash rebates are assigned to you if you’re on top of categorising your waste.

Think flybuys, but instead of by spending money you get points by just taking out the trash. However, if you don’t sort it correctly, you will be identified to the authorities.

It’s unclear whether there’s any punishment for being sloppy, but it likely won’t be doing your ‘citizen score’ any good.


As if introducing ‘intelligent uniforms’ to monitor students’ locations wasn’t enough, surveillance cameras have been installed in Chinese classrooms as part of the “Class Care System” (first piloted in 2017).

The cameras are about the size of an orange, but they’re capable of recognising all 50 students’ faces in a classroom. Even with resolutions as low as 640 x 480 pixels, faces can be identified from just one picture.

The Class Care System maps each student’s performance in a graph, visualising how much time was spent concentrating, sleeping, or talking during lessons.

Students’ weekly scores are sent to their parents via a mobile app. “Losing” your shame-inducing semester report card is no longer a viable option.

Picture by Fu Xiaofan, Sixth Tone

Public Bathrooms

Bathrooms in China feature facial-recognition cameras their toilet paper dispensers to combat toilet paper theft.

Picture: BBC

(These are cameras perfectly legal: but let’s not forget about the countless hidden cameras used by peeping toms, uploaded to porn sites.)

A completely necessary, real time mini-map of the bathroom is also displayed near the entrance so you know which urinals/toilets are taken.

Screenshot from Abacus News Youtube Video. Original video footage: CCTV

Pig Farms

Yes, facial recognition is being used in pig farms (surprise: it’s not only China). The technology is being used to assess the emotional state of pigs. Their facial expressions are read to figure out their core emotional state (content or distressed).

Picture: Yingzi Technology

Major Chinese tech companies like Alibaba and are also using these to detect symptoms of disease.’s facial technology detects if a pig is sick and attempts to diagnose the specific illness, then notifying the breeder for further action.

Hansen (a researcher at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory) and his team were able to train a model to identify 10 individual pigs with a 96.7% accuracy rating (from a series of 1,553 images).

According to Chen Haokai of SmartAHC in an article published last year in the NYTimes, the cost of mapping a pig’s face is $7USD, versus $0.30 for tagging a pig’s ear. He mentioned that his products were used by four pig breeding companies at the time.

Published by Tech Neck Nick

I'm a cybersecurity major postgrad student from Sydney, Australia. Support my fight against Writer's Block.

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