‘Total Trust’: The CCP and ‘1984’

A documentary about an illegitimate regime governing through intimidation, fear, falsehoods, and surveillance.
‘Total Trust’: The CCP and ‘1984’
Surveillance is everywhere in CCP-controlled mainland China, in the documentary "Total Trust." (Film Movement)
Michael Clark

NR | 1h 37m | Documentary, Sociology, Human Rights, | 2023

While the United States and much of Europe are currently in the shallow end of the Orwellian Big Brother dystopian pool, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is entering its seventh decade of frolicking shamelessly in the deep end and turning its citizens into a nation of sheep, victims, and Karens.

Nominated for awards at six 2023 documentary festivals and the winner of three, director Zhang Jialing’s “Total Trust” draws back the curtain to expose the abhorrent, scorched-earth policy regarding the CCP’s totalitarian surveillance operations.

Principal photography for the film began in 2021, the year that also marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP. In its typically garish, know-no-limit style, the CCP went top-heavy with self-congratulatory backslapping, festooning the country’s largest cities with nonstop fireworks displays and the projection of moving images with propaganda text on the facades of skyscrapers.

A scene from the documentary "Total Trust." (Film Movement)
A scene from the documentary "Total Trust." (Film Movement)

Harsh Contrast

Ms. Zhang’s choice of starting the film with such unchecked braggadocio and chest-thumping bluster was brilliant as it offers harsh contrast to everything that follows.

From a strategic perspective, the CCP’s multi-tentacle approach to absolute dominance of and influence over the Chinese people covers all bases and leaves nothing to chance.

The first and, arguably, the most effective weapon, which should come as little surprise to anyone, is using the bought-and-sold television media as a full-time CCP mouthpiece.

Hordes of impeccably dressed, attractive male and female anchors read from carefully composed teleprompter copy, which spew verbiage that is equal parts cherry-picked “news,” motivational bromides, and barely cloaked threats, reminding the Chinese people how magnificent their overlords are.  And, oh, by the way, voicing anything slightly resembling malcontent bad-mouthing will result in you and the ones you love living lives of relentless despair and misery.

Blanket Coverage

Controlling the media and saturating the airwaves, internet, and printed matter is all well and good, but the CCP also subscribes to a variation on the adage “all politics is local” by enlisting throngs of desperate-for-attention types to fink on their neighbors and, in some instances, their own family members.

This is done partly out of fear, wanting to present the appearance of compliance, and the desire to inflate their “social credit” score. The more you report or “rat” on fellow citizens, the higher your score—and the bar is shockingly low.

One woman is rewarded a number of points for calling out a neighbor who got lost while taking items to a recycle bin. A man is given points for documenting public-use bicycles that aren’t properly parked upright.

With just 190 ways to gain points and 1,040 ways to lose them, it’s clear the intent of the CCP is to downgrade the social status of Chinese citizens for the most trivial, harmless, and inconsequential acts. According to the film, there are in excess of 4.5 million of these “hall monitors” policing the country.

The CCP also employs citizen-use technology to expose other “questionable” individuals. In a scene shot at a Shanghai airport, volunteers are fitted with “LVision Augmented Reality glasses,” state-of-the-art eyewear that reads people’s faces to ostensibly determine if they are fugitives or previously blacklisted.

Airport scanner in a scene from the documentary "Total Trust." (Film Movement)
Airport scanner in a scene from the documentary "Total Trust." (Film Movement)

Don’t Frown

Catching fugitives would seem to be good, but people can also be reported if they appear to be nervous, scared, confused, or sad. That’s right. You can be labeled an enemy of the state if you’re having a bad day and are caught momentarily frowning.

Ms. Zhang is beyond thorough with her laying out of hard facts and figures, yet is able to impart the production with a devastating and impactful human interest thread woven throughout the entire narrative.

The fates of a journalist and two lawyers (and their families) are chronicled in great detail after all of them were targeted and subsequently detained in the wake of the “709 Crackdown.” This crackdown was a July 9, 2015, CCP action that resulted in the arrest of over 300 people, mostly attorneys, who dared to merely question the legitimacy of the status quo police state while petitioning human rights violations.

According to Ms. Zhang, the title of the movie was based on a claim made by the CCP during the start of the 2020 COVID-19 scare whereby it claimed that “98 percent of the people in China said they trust the government.” How this number was determined is anyone’s guess, but it is most certainly far lower than stated.

Before you shrug off or dismiss these scenarios taking place on the other side of the globe and having no effect on you, think again. Multiple U.S. alphabet intelligence agencies have already implemented many of the tactics that the CCP has been practicing for decades. U.S. intelligence is just better at hiding them.

Theatrical poster for "Total Trust." (Film Movement)
Theatrical poster for "Total Trust." (Film Movement)
The film is presented in Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles and opens at the Film Forum in New York City on Dec. 8.
‘Total Trust’ Documentary Director: Jialing Zhang Running Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes Not Rated Release Date: Dec. 8, 2023 Rating: 4 out of 5
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Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has provided film content to over 30 print and online media outlets. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a weekly contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on FloridaManRadio.com. Since 1995, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles. He favors dark comedy, thrillers, and documentaries.
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