China Change, April 3, 2023
Last week, China’s Ministry of Public Security released the “Three-Year Action Plan for Strengthening Public Security Police Stations in the New Era (2023–2025).” This comes as a continuation of a similar three-year action plan (2020–2022) released in 2020. China is continuing to strengthen its long-standing efforts to deeply integrate police forces into the grassroots and involve them in every aspect of people’s lives. Notably, these practices are similar to those that began in Uyghur and Kazakh communities in Xinjiang more than a decade ago.
The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) has not released the full text of this action plan, but the press release and interpretations (here and here) published by the Ministry and law-oriented media outlets provide us with some key details.
Police stations are the most basic units of China’s police system, spreading across cities and villages. The plan calls for more police forces to be assigned to police stations and officers to be integrated into grassroots social governance, including: police officers assuming the positions of vice principals to primary and secondary schools; putting police station chiefs on leadership teams in township (rural) or residential committees (urban), and community police officers sitting on leadership teams in villages and urban communities; achieving full coverage of “one police station for each village (or grid block)” (“一村(格)一警”) nationwide by the end of 2025.
The plan also calls for the development and high level of coordination with non-police law enforcement associations and vigilante organizations such as “Security Protection Committees” (治安保卫委员会) and “voluntary police” (义警). According to the action plan, this series of practices is geared toward “shifting the center of gravity, police force, and security downward, and making an all-out effort to strengthen the grassroots foundation of national security and social stability.”
The “one police station for each village (or grid blockl)” began to be implemented in Xinjiang in the years leading up to 2014, and by 2014, it had achieved full coverage in Xinjiang and reached a density of one police officer per household. Now such a model is being implemented across the country.
In China, the number of people involved in police work is huge. By official count, there are 2 million police officers on the civil servant payroll. However, Hu Xijin (胡锡进), the notorious former editor-in-chief of the ultranationalist tabloid Global Times, once remarked that one third of civil servants in China are police. Whatever the actual number is, it points to the colossal structure and network of the Chinese police state.
In addition to the regular police force (编制内警察), there are “auxiliary police officers” (辅警), and “police hands” (协警), and government-organized “voluntary police.” The regular police officers are recruited through the national public security examination and are national civil servants. Auxiliary police officers are recruited directly by local public security bureaus but are contracted workers. Police hands are security personnel recruited by local public security bureaus, often through security guard manning companies, on a temporary basis to work under the guidance of police officers or auxiliary police officers according to current needs.
Recent years have also seen the emergence of voluntary police. They are mobilized, organized, and trained by the government, with participants consisting of residential building managers, store managers, property managers, and corporate security guards. According to a report in 2017, Shenzhen’s Bao’an District (深圳宝安区) organized a team of 100,000 “voluntary police officers” in 29 days, mainly engaging in anti-drug, fire and burglary prevention. When working, they wear uniforms with red-and-blue police shoulder lights, and are armed with batons in hand or slung across their backs. Bao’an District has a population of four and a half million people, which means that in addition to police officers, auxiliary police officers, and police hands, there is one voluntary police officer for every 45 people.
Taking into account the number of people performing various police duties, the so-called “police sighting rate” (见警率) is virtually everywhere. The Ministry of Public Security’s press release called it “one million police officers entering ten million homes” (百万警进千万家) and it may not be just rhetoric. According to the Three-Year Action Plan, you can expect uniformed law enforcement personnel, of every description, to descend on your homes for all sorts of reasons, including “intervening in family conflicts and emotional disputes.”
Security Protection Committees, led and organized by local governments and public security organs, are in every institution, factory, enterprise, school, neighborhood committee, and village. They are the “red armbands” often seen patrolling China’s streets, and their main job is mobile surveillance and reporting. Beijingers have nicknames for them, one is “Chaoyang Masses” (朝阳群众) and the other is “Xicheng Aunts” (西城大妈). Over the past decade or so, countless people have been reported on by the “Chaoyang Masses” and Xicheng Aunts, including pop musicians, internet vloggers, TV hosts, film and TV actors, pianists, and others. These community minders have also received special praise from Xi Jinping.
This structure of integrating police with average people is called “prevention by the masses and governance by the masses” (群防群治), but it’s not for just anyone of the masses. The Ministry of Public Security emphasizes that the policing masses must be “red, organized, informationalized, and young.” In other words, it is mainly for young Party members, highly organized by the government, and utilizing the capabilities of China’s police databases and information technology.
To keep up such a multi-layered multitude of police forces is costly, to put it mildly. A civil servant police officer is paid 180,000 to 200,000 yuan a year, higher than that of average civil servants and twice the Chinese GDP per capita. In Hangzhou, a government hiring ad for three auxiliary police officers says the annual salary is 150,000 yuan, including insurance and social security benefits.
This is just the regular police units. We have yet to describe the Chinese state’s armed police forces.