Apple Once Warned About an Orwellian Dystopia, Then It Embraced China's Dystopian Surveillance Dictatorship

"Apple Store@IFC Mall" by SoQ錫濛譙 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


In 1983, Apple launched the now iconic "1984" TV commercial for the Apple Macintosh personal computer.

The ad shows two lines of people marching through a grey underground corridor. They are wearing uniforms and act like automata, as if they had no will of their own. They enter a large hall, at the end of which is a giant screen. A speech by a dictator-like figure is being broadcast.

"Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives," the man says. "We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology - where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory thoughts. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause ... We shall prevail!"

A lone female runner disrupts the scene of oppressive conformity. She is wearing red athletic shorts, running shoes, a white tank top with a picture of Apple's Macintosh computer, a white sweat band on her left wrist, and a red one on her right. She races through the hall, between the rows of benches where the people are sitting, As she is chased by police in riot gear, she hurls a hammer towards the screen, smashing it.

The commercial concludes with the words: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984."

The ad was a reference to George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, and, according to the Computer History Museum, also a veiled attack against rival IBM, which at the time dominated the PC market.

In hindsight, the commercial seems ironic.  No longer opposed to Orwellian dystopias, Apple has embraced one of the biggest dystopian dictatorships of all: the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Apple's supply chain is heavily dependent on the PRC. According to a 2021 report, Apple CEO Tim Cook pledged to invest more than $275 billion in China over five years, both to cut costs and to "curry favor with Beijing."

In its latest show of compliance with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Apple recently removed the social media app Damus from China’s App Store, two days after the app was approved by Apple.

Tech Crunch reported on February 3 that the app was removed from the China App Store at the request of the country's authorities because it "includes content that is illegal in China." The article points out that all social networks in China "have censorship tools baked in to eliminate illegal content or information banned by the authority. Anonymity is non-existent as user signups are linked to people’s real identities."

As Kai Strittmatter wrote in 2019, citing the case of popular Chinese blogger and author Murong Xuecun:

"[In 2012] Party newspapers identified the internet as an ‘ideological battlefield’ where ‘the hostile forces of the West’ were running riot: ‘He who wins the battle of the internet will win the war’, wrote the Shanghai CCP paper Liberation. In August 2012, Xi Jinping gave the order to ‘win back the commanding heights of the internet’. And in November a deputy propaganda minister reported that the mission had been accomplished: ‘Our internet is clean again.’ [...].

"The Party had brought out its old weapons: intimidation, censorship, propaganda. Polished up and cleverly adapted to the times. The initial offensive was led by intimidation: first, the Party deleted the accounts of bloggers that were making it feel uncomfortable; Murong Xuecun was the first. When his accounts were deleted, and four million readers were wiped out at the click of a button, he felt as if he were ‘being pushed back into isolation’. The spreading of fear is the autocrat’s core competency. Faced with a machine that can squash an individual – and his family – with a snap of the fingers, only a few people will ever possess the heroic courage required to fight back. The reconquering of the internet in the summer of 2013 – and beyond that, the successful exploitation of the internet to promote the aims of the regime – demonstrated how efficient the system was once it had identified the enemy. It might be uncharted territory, but the state apparatus still worked" (Strittmatter 2019, p. 59).

Apple CEO Tim Cook has cultivated good relations with the CCP over the years. In December 2014, Lu Wei, the Director of China’s Cyberspace Administration, met Cook during his tour of  the United States. In November 2020, The New York Times reported that Apple was among the companies that lobbied the US Congress to water down the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which was aimed at barring US companies from relying on the forced labour of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang region. The companies argued that the ban was too broad and would disrupt the global supply chain.

In 2022, Apple reportedly asked Taiwan-based suppliers to label their products as being produced in “Chinese Taipei” or “Taiwan, China”. The PRC views Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to use force to annex it.

Corporations have proven over and over again that they will aid and abet dictatorships as long as they can make a profit. If the next coup succeeds in the United States, will Apple be as "apolitical" and compliant as it has been in China? Will it take orders from the government and execute them meekly? 

Apple warned the world about an Orwellian dystopia. Then it decided that if Orwellian dystopias are good business, they're actually fine.


  1. "Apple has embraced one of the biggest dystopian dictatorships of all: the People's Republic of China"?? Come, come! With 96% home ownership, the world's best education (100% free) and the most trusted media and government on earth, China is hardly a dystopia. In fact, there are more prisoners, slaves, hungry children, drug addicts, poor, suicides, executions, and illiterate, homeless Americans than Chinese.

    And as for "The PRC views Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to use force to annex it," Taiwan also regards the PRC as part of its territory and often threatened to use force to annex it. (As did Tibet, btw, which used to rule half of China, too.

    1. You have come here to lie. The PRC is a one party dictatorship that silences dissent. Economic development or stability are no excuse for a government to treat people like serfs and tools.

      "China’s authoritarian regime has become increasingly repressive in recent years. The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to tighten control over all aspects of life and governance, including the state bureaucracy, the media, online speech, religious practice, universities, businesses, and civil society associations, and it has undermined an earlier series of modest rule-of-law reforms. The CCP leader and state president, Xi Jinping, has consolidated personal power to a degree not seen in China for decades."

      If there's one thing to criticize about the US, is that the far right is as authoritarian as the CCP and is trying to make the US more similar to China and Russia.

    2. When it comes to Taiwan, it would have already changed its name or at least amended the constitution to change the territory which it controls if the CCP didn't threaten to start a war over it. As usual, the CCP is using as "proof" a situation it uses threats of violence to determine.


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