When Chen picked up his phone to vent his anger at getting a parking ticket, his message on WeChat was a drop in the ocean of daily posts on China’s biggest social network.
But soon after his tirade against “simple-minded” traffic cops in June, he found himself in the tentacles of the communist country’s omniscient surveillance apparatus.
Chen quickly deleted the post, but officers tracked him down and detained him within hours, accusing him of “insulting the police”.
He was locked up for five days for “inappropriate speech”.
His case — one of the thousands logged by a dissident and reported by local media — laid bare the pervasive monitoring that characterises life in China today.
Its leaders have long taken an authoritarian approach to social control.
But since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012, he has reined in the relatively freewheeling social currents of the turn of the century, using a combination of technology, law and ideology to squeeze dissent and preempt threats to his rule.
Ostensibly targeting criminals and aimed at protecting order, social controls have been turned against dissidents, activists and religious minorities, as well as ordinary people — such as Chen — judged to have crossed the line.
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