Public informants play an increasingly vital role in aiding China’s law enforcement arms
In China, there’s another rising star — the “Chaoyang public”, which the Chinese jokingly refer to as “the fifth largest intelligence agency in the world”.
The phrase “Chaoyang public” made a recent appearance last week, when the Beijing Chaoyang district police announced that they had detained renowned pianist Li Yundi on suspicion of patronising a sex worker. Prostitution is illegal in China.
In the notice, the police wrote that they received “a tip-off from the public that some people were resorting to prostitution in a Chaoyang residential compound” and had investigated, leading to Li’s detention.
There has long been a tradition of “qunfang qunzhi”, or “prevention and governance by the public masses” in China. The phrase was coined by Chairman Mao and other officials in 1949, according to the People’s Daily.
In Beijing, the tradition has been encouraged in official propaganda for years, using volunteers not only in residential communities but also in cyberspace.
Starting in 2014, Beijing cyberspace police recruited volunteers to assist in finding internet scams, pornography, online gambling, drug use and stop the spreading of rumours, and by 2015 more than 3,000 people had joined.
The mysterious term [“Chaoyang public”] first started getting mentioned in official reports in the 2010s. In 2013, Beijing police said in a statement that thanks to tips from the public, they caught Charles Xue Biqun, also known by his alias Xue Manzi, a billionaire venture capitalist and one of the most active investors in the Chinese internet, for using a sex worker.
Since then, “Chaoyang public” has become a popular phrase when referring to public informants. They went on to help catch one celebrity after another, including Jaycee Chan, the son of Jackie Chan, for smoking pot in 2014. Other busts with help from the public included illegal firework storage areas and unregistered drivers who robbed passengers.
“The police will protect the privacy of informants, so please don’t ask who they are,” Beijing police said on Weibo. “But police work relies on public support and cooperation. No matter if it’s tips, or check-up on transportation, fire safety and security risks, everybody can be a member of ‘Chaoyang public’.”
In 2015, the Beijing Youth Daily visited one such community in Chaoyang district, which has more than 200 informants.
“They are all enthusiastic residents wearing red sleeves, or shop owners. When they are buying food or out walking, whenever they spot something suspicious, they would report it immediately to community police,” the article said.
There’s even a 24-hour patrol team consisting of 70 people that are alert to everything in the community.
In 2017, the Beijing police launched a mobile phone application called “Chaoyang Public”, which allows residents to upload pictures and descriptions with one click and allows the police to send alerts and notify people of other cases being investigated.
According to a 2018 article by the Beijing Municipal Political and Legal Affairs Committee of the Communist Party of China, there are roughly 190,000 volunteers in Chaoyang district that serve to protect public security, which is roughly 5 per cent of the district population. Together, they provide more than 20,000 tips to the police every month.