Identity in the age of bureaucracy, continued

And apropos of our recent discussion about ‘bureaucracy and alienation in American life’, here is a footnote from China, just for perspective (my emphasis):

Chinese parents’ desire to give their children a spark of individuality is colliding head-on with the Chinese bureaucracy’s desire for order. Seeking to modernize its vast database on China’s 1.3 billion citizens, the government’s Public Security Bureau has been replacing the handwritten identity card that every Chinese must carry with a computer-readable one… The bureau’s computers, however, are programmed to read only 32,252 of the roughly 55,000 Chinese characters, according to a 2006 government report. The result is that Miss Ma and at least some of the 60 million other Chinese with obscure characters in their names cannot get new cards – unless they change their names to something more common.

What would Kafka say now?

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2 thoughts on “Identity in the age of bureaucracy, continued

  1. I recently read a book, ‘China Road,’ by Rob Gifford. I learned about “old hundred names” as a way of referring to the common folk. The idea is that there are are only about a hundred different last names in China anyway (my words, not the author’s).

    In contrast to this, scientific publications in the U.S. are moving to the use of Chinese characters (for Chinese authors) to help sort out citations. So many Wangs…

    • Yup, my wife has one of the hundred. Her mother had … the same one (a 1% chance, if my math is correct). So she can’t really use her mother’s maiden name as a password. And now, from my point of view, there are cousins, uncles, aunts on both sides, ALL sides, stretching out as far as I can see, all with the same name….

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