TIME

The fight for our faces

EVERY MORNING, MRS. CHEN DONS HER BRIGHT PURPLE TAI CHI pajamas and joins the dozen or so other members of Hongmen Martial Arts Group for practice outside Chongqing’s Jiangnan Stadium. But a few months ago, she was in such a rush to join their whirling sword-dance routine that she dropped her purse. Fortunately, a security guard noticed it lying in the public square via one of the overhead security cameras. He placed it at the lost and found, where Mrs. Chen gratefully retrieved it later.

“Were it not for these cameras, someone might have stolen it,” Mrs. Chen, who asked to be identified by only her surname, tells TIME on a smoggy morning in China’s sprawling central megacity. “Having these cameras everywhere makes me feel safe.”

What sounds like a lucky escape is almost to be expected in Chongqing, which has the dubious distinction of being the world’s most surveilled city. The seething mass of 15.35 million people straddling the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers boasted 2.58 million surveillance cameras in 2019, according to an analysis published in August by the tech-research website Comparitech. That’s a frankly Orwellian ratio of one CCTV camera for every 5.9 citizens—or 30 times their prevalence in Washington, D.C.

Every move in the city is seemingly captured digitally. Cameras perch over sidewalks, hover across busy intersections and swivel above shopping districts. But Chongqing is by no means unique. Eight

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