China’s facial-recognition cameras keep catching fugitives at this one pop star’s concerts

“He came to listen to my concert, I gave him a pair of handcuffs.”
“He came to listen to my concert, I gave him a pair of handcuffs.”
Image: Reuters/Tim Chong
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A friendly reminder to Chinese fugitives: Just don’t go to Jacky Cheung concerts.

On Sunday (May 20), police captured a fugitive at a concert by the Cantopop legend, held in Jiaxing, a city in eastern Zhejiang province. It was the third time in two months that facial recognition technology led to the arrest of a wanted person at one of Cheung’s concerts.

The suspect, identified only by his surname Yu, was spotted by surveillance cameras at a pre-concert security check and apprehended by police while leaving the concert, according to local media reports (link in Chinese). He is accused of not paying for about $17,000 worth of potatoes he had bought in 2015, and has since been living under a pseudonym and running a small hotel in Jiaxing.

“Wearing a smile as he came to see his idol, he hadn’t realized that he was already being watched,” said Jiaxing police on its official account (link in Chinese) on social media app WeChat. A local police officer was quoted as saying they were alerted by the suspect’s presence minutes after he passed through the security gate.

Yu was not the first fugitive who failed to blend in a crowd of tens of thousands due to facial recognition tech—and to be arrested at a Cheung concert. In April, a 31-year-old man, who was on the wanted list for “economic crimes,” was arrested not long after the pop star’s concert kicked off in the southern city of Nanchang. Earlier this month, police nabbed another male suspect, whose wrongdoings were not specified, at a Cheung concert in nearby Ganzhou city.

China is leading the world in the use of surveillance technology, with plans to install 400 million new CCTV cameras (video) nationwide in three years, and to build a facial-recognition database that can identify any Chinese citizen within seconds. In Zhengzhou, a central Chinese city, police began to wear sunglasses equipped with facial-recognition tech to catch suspects earlier this year. The growing state surveillance has raised concerns about the violation of privacy rights (paywall) and the use of the technology to control ethnic minorities.

Cheung is known as the “God of Songs,” and one of Hong Kong’s “Four Heavenly Kings,” the singer-actors who rocked the pop culture world in Asia in the 1990s. Now his unwitting involvement with a string of captures has won him a new nickname on China’s internet: “The Nemesis of Fugitives.”

It’s also inspired a new meme on Chinese microblogging site Weibo (link in Chinese), inspired by the lyrics of Cheung’s hit “She came to listen to my concert.” It goes, “He came to listen to my concert, I gave him a pair of handcuffs.”