Beijing monitors senior citizens

THESE days, when people over 80 in Beijing (北京) take a bus, see a doctor or spend money, their activities are digitally tracked by the government, as part of an effort to improve services for the country’s rapidly ageing population.

The data amassed with each swipe of the multi-purpose ‘Beijing Connect’ (北京通) old person’s card goes into a massive database of the elderly in the capital. City authorities hope the information will enable them to better cope with their burgeoning population of over-60s, which already stands at three million.

Though geared towards senior citizens, the programme demonstrates how China is using big data more broadly to better direct the deployment of government resources for the country’s 1.4 billion people.

Beijing’s strategy is to use new technology and its heavily censored internet to innovate and propel China’s transformation to a services-based economy – a strategy that Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) has said “will trigger a new Industrial Revolution”.

In a sophisticated example, Beijing’s municipal government is collecting the disparate data on the elderly in order to predict what services will be needed in the future.

This is to make sure it has the necessary budget and services in place, by taking into account, for example, people’s decreasing mobility, said Bai Qiang (白.), vice president of Beijing Community Service Association (北京市社區服務協會), a city government agency.

“All of the data we are collecting now, including visits to parks, the use of public transport and (number of) shopping trips, will help us to predict whether the elderly will become disabled in the future,” Bai said.

The government can then judge what the disability rate will be in future and prepare a budget plan in advance, Bai said.

(This article is published on The Student Standard on 2 June 2016)

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