How to ‘Disappear’ on Happiness Avenue in Beijing
On a busy Monday afternoon in late October, a line of people in reflective vests stood on Happiness Avenue, in downtown Beijing.
Moving slowly and carefully along the pavement, some crouched, others tilted their heads towards the ground, as curious onlookers snapped photos.
It was a performance staged by the artist Deng Yufeng, who was trying to demonstrate how difficult it was to dodge CCTV cameras in the Chinese capital.
As governments and companies around the world boost their investments in security networks, hundreds of millions more surveillance cameras are expected to be installed in 2021 – and most of them will be in China, according to industry analysts IHS Markit.
By 2018, there were already about 200 million surveillance cameras in China.
And by 2021 this number is expected to reach 560 million, according to the Wall Street Journal, roughly one for every 2.4 citizens.
China says the cameras prevent crime.
And in 2018, the number of victims of intentional homicide per head of population in China was 10 times lower than in the US, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
But a growing number of Chinese citizens are questioning the effect on their privacy.
They also wonder what would happen if their personal data was compromised.
It is rare for Chinese citizens to stage protests against government surveillance.
And it is not without risk.
But creative types such as Deng are coming up with innovative ways to bring the issue out into the open.
Before the performance, he measured the length and width of Happiness Avenue with a ruler.
He then recorded the brands of the 89 CCTV cameras alongside it and mapped out their distributions and ranges.
And finally, he recruited volunteers online.