In Jennifer Marquardt’s “The Analyst,” this week’s entry to our New Voices catalog, the narrator is a defense analyst for the Chinese government, tasked with probing into the lives of those with the potential to harbor the “mind-virus.” The horrifying implications of such a career are playing out in real time as Uyghurs in China are being surveilled and detained in internment camps. Marquardt, a professor of English Wenzhou-Kean University, sheds light on the frightening process in this new story.
“I am an analyst,” I say. I tell them the story of how I used to be a data analyst for Alibaba. It was my job to write algorithms that predicted the products a consumer might want. I love algorithms. I love instruments that offer a simple answer to the impossible question: what do you want? My algorithms gathered data from previous purchases on our platform, of course. But we also purchased data from other platforms: did consumers prefer to order take-out or go to a restaurant? Did they purchase alcohol? Did they search for pornography? What kind of pornography? Did they commute through wealthy neighborhoods or poor ones? Do they smile in their photos or were they self-conscious about their teeth? What kinds of things did they admire or disparage online? By voice? Was the object of admiration a product? Could it be translated into one?
There is a half-second when subjects adjust their faces. They open the door, all polite tolerance, expecting the small imposition of the meter reader or maybe the downstairs neighbor complaining about the laundry dripping onto her balcony.
But then I introduce myself and their expressions shift through tolerance to fear to obeisance. I don’t relish these details. It is my job.
Hasad, however, opens the door and his face actually brightens. A real Duchenne smile. He greets everyone this way. I have seen it on the cameras. But is he actually pleased to see people? He works in sales, a livelihood that depends upon people liking him. And he is successful. It is possible that he is a perfect and consistent liar. The difference is important. If he is actually happy to see everyone—mostly Han people in this neighborhood—then he is part of a harmonious society. Perfectly safe. If he is deceiving his neighbors, harboring resentment, it means he is dangerous and requires re-education.
“Please,” he says. “Come in.” He stands sideways in the doorway. His home is open.
I do not mind sending people to the Center. Many of the subjects are dangerous. Or have the potential for danger. Many of them still carry the mind-virus that caused the riots of 2009 and the massacres in 2014. It is our job to find it. And to cure it. It is for the safety of the nation. But Ming, I think, actually enjoys the convictions. And, of course, greater numbers help our files. Ming, who runs to Ms. Ling’s plant-lined office twice a week to explain why a particular subject cannot—must not—remain in society, has been promoted over me twice.
But I don’t want false convictions. We have had enough of that already. And there is the issue of resources: the Center is full. There are rumors about a scarcity of food, not enough toilets for that many people. It is my duty to be scrupulous.