In July, the Cyberspace Administration of China, a powerful internet regulatory body, released a new law that regulates generative artificial intelligence products and requires them to promote core socialist values. Recently, the malfunction of Xiaomi’s AI assistant “Classmate Xiao’ai” raised questions about whether the company was taking the new regulations too seriously. On September 14, users reported that “Classmate Xiao’ai” repeatedly asked “Is China a democracy?” or quoted a speech from 2021 by former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Yucheng, stating, “History and reality have proven that China’s democratic model is well-suited to its national conditions. It has the support of the people and is a genuine, effective, and successful form of democracy. China is truly a democratic country.” A screenshot of the conversation shows Xiao’ai discussing democracy instead of playing a popular children’s song as requested.
Many people on Weibo speculated that the product may have been hacked. Some joked that Xiao’ai might have experienced an “explosion of Party Spirit” as an explanation for the malfunction. When searching for the hashtag #ClassmateXiao’aiDemocracy, a notice appeared stating that the topic’s content was not displayed due to violations of laws, regulations, and policies. A manual search only resulted in two posts, with one questioning why no posts were showing up. However, these posts and videos on Bilibili discussing the malfunction were censored on both platforms. Some Chinese Twitter users sarcastically congratulated the Party for incorporating Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics into artificial intelligence.
LuoShiHistory: Your excellence, congratulations! You have achieved the unprecedented feat of driving an AI insane.
BetterCallVG: Chairman Xi has penetrated its thoughts, emotions, and core.
ddd12951695：Household appliances miraculously transformed into propaganda machines. [Chinese]
Xiao’ai’s malfunction may have been suppressed due to its display of “low-level red,” which is seen as vulgar patriotism and a mockery of true patriotism. China has used its powerful propaganda resources to promote its “whole-process people’s democracy,” which claims to be a more genuine form of representative government that does not rely on popular participation in elections and referendums. Despite democracy being one of the 12 Core Socialist Values, it is sometimes censored online by algorithms, leaving only 11 values. Those who publicly advocate for democracy are often arrested and sometimes even disappear. There are potential paths for China to become a democratic nation. In a surprising perspective, Yasheng Huang argues in Foreign Policy that repeated purges may lead Party elites to support democracy as a means to protect themselves.
The Rawlsian principle presents a means to appeal to the self-interest of the elite individuals in China. It is worth noting that the Chinese political system has been harsh towards some of its own elite members, as seen during the Anti-Rightist Campaign in the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. Since 1989, Chinese politics has once again become unstable. One moment, an individual may hold great power and privilege, but the next they could disappear without a trace.
Can the principles of Rawls apply to China? This will largely depend on the stability and predictability of Chinese politics. Lin Biao, who was known for his unpredictable nature, recognized this and wrote a letter to Mao expressing his concerns. In the letter, Lin suggested a “four no” policy, which included no arrests, detentions, executions, or firings of current and alternate members of the Politburo and top regional military commanders. Although Lin himself may have fit into one of these categories, his words likely reflected the fears of many other political elites in China at the time.
It is possible that the widespread attack on the Chinese upper class by Xi could lead to a situation similar to the one following the Cultural Revolution. In this scenario, it is hoped that more individuals, including those currently in positions of authority, will realize the importance of limiting power as a means of self-protection. The concentration of power in the hands of a single ruler or group within the government is inherently risky. [Source]