Why China, Why?
For the Chinese, keeping trust is a virtue, and breaking it is a sin. This is the exact piece of ideology that serves as the guiding thread of this initiative, as outlined in a 2014 government document.
Let’s put it in mind that as the Chinese economy took off in recent decades, the people’s living standards improved as well. But alongside with progress comes the growth and proliferation of new crimes like fraud and other technology-driven economic misconducts.
Aside from this, the world’s second largest economy has also been dealing with rampant corruption within the ranks of its government offices. In the private sector, we have financial scams as well as corporate scandals.
The social credit system then is China’s solution to raise standards and promote good moral behavior among its people. Restoring trust means upholding even to the most basic of laws which, unfortunately, are often ignored or broken.
How Does the Social Credit System Work?
According to an NPR report, every citizen starts off with a perfect score of 1,000. It is his/her duty to uphold or prevent any loss of this credit score.
Points rank specifically as follows: 1,000 down to 960 is graded A; 955 down to 850 is a B; 840 to 600, C; and scores below is rated D, which designates the person as “untrustworthy.”
Although the program is intended for nationwide implementation, there’s not one absolute way on how to enact the policy. It varies from place to place and local/regional government units can chime in their own set of mechanics tailored fit for their community.
For example, in the city of Hangzhou, the capital of China’s Zhejiang province, the council give credit scores to pro-social activities like donating blood and doing voluntary community work.
In Yiwu, one of China’s densely populated trading centers, the ruling bodies recognize humanitarian acts such as giving care and support for the elderly.
Other things that could help improve one’s social score include paying bills on time, patronizing Chinese-made products, establishing connections with other high credit scorers, making donations to charities, and more others.
Common infractions such as bad driving, jaywalking, not paying debts, refusing to carry out compulsory military service in schools, spending too much time on video games, and even proliferating fake news on social media, etc. can lower a person’s credit score.
What is its Current Status?
Beta versions of the system are now being tested in more than a dozen cities nationwide. Each of these pilot scoring programs follows different types of grading systems but they are all based on four distinct segments prescribed in the blueprint. These are:
1. Government trust system
2. Commercial credit system
3. Social trust system
4. Judicial trust system
The purpose of running these trial schemes is to identify and explore the boundaries of the system before it transcends to a national level.
What are Its Pros and Cons?
The immediate advantage of the Social Credit System to the Chinese society would be for the government to easily identify and monitor deviant acts of its constituents. By harnessing the power of technology (social media, mobile payment systems, CCTVs, etc.) the country would be able to ensure that the law-abiding citizens are protected from those who belong to the opposite side of the scale.
The people themselves view the system rather favourably. A lot showed support to the program as they see it as a means to promote good morals in society.
Regardless, there are still questions being raised against this policy. One of the main concerns coming especially from the international community is the possibility for the system to be used as a mass surveillance tool which is a direct violation of personal privacy. There’s also the fear of how it could give the government too much power over the lives of its people.
Does it Ring Any Bells?
Observers are often quick to pick out on these supposed negative sides of China’s social credit system. It’s understandable, in a way, since outsiders are mostly given with a biased view on how the country’s authoritarian society works.
However, the West (and the rest of the globe) may have overlooked the fact that this system is actually based on the very same credit scoring concept that has been used for a very long time around the world.
Sure, social behaviors like texting while driving doesn’t factor into US credit scores, for example, but it works in the same vein, such that a person’s financial history directly correlates to his/her trustworthiness. This factor alone could affect an individual’s quality of life in America.
Clearly, China’s Social Credit System is still a diamond on the rough and it has its own share of issues that need to be addressed. But for all intents and purposes, there’s more to the system than what the Western world’s hysterical vision of a dystopian society suggests.