Jason Todd first discovered his school’s secret on the internet.
It was late September 2018, less than a month after high school had started. Jason was idly scrolling through his news feed on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo when he saw a trending hashtag — #ThankGodIGraduatedAlready — and clicked it.
Under the hashtag, someone had posted a photo depicting a bird’s-eye view of a classroom. Around 30 students sat at their desks, facing the blackboard. Their backpacks lay discarded at their feet. It looked like a typical Chinese classroom.
Except for the colored rectangles superimposed on each student’s face. “ID: 000010, State 1: Focused,” read a line of text in a green rectangle around the face of a student looking directly at the blackboard. “ID: 000015, State 5: Distracted,” read the text in a red rectangle — this student had buried his head in his desk drawer. A blue rectangle hovered around a girl standing behind her desk. The text read: “ID: 00001, State 3: Answering Questions.”
Jason thought the photo was a scene from a sci-fi movie — until he noticed the blue school badges embroidered on the chest of the familiar white polos worn by the students. It was exactly the same as the one he was wearing.