Life Inside China’s Social Credit Laboratory

from Foreign Policy

Rongcheng was built for the future. Its broad streets and suburban communities were constructed with an eye to future expansion, as the city sprawls on the eastern tip of China’s Shandong province overlooking the Yellow Sea. Colorful billboards depicting swans bank on the birds — one of the city’s tourist attractions — returning there every winter to escape the Siberian cold.

In an attempt to ease bureaucracy, the city hall, a glass building that resembles a flying saucer, has been fashioned as a one-stop shop for most permits. Instead of driving from one office to another to get their paperwork in order, residents simply cross the gleaming corridors to talk to officials seated at desks in the open-space area.

At one of these stations, Rongcheng residents can pick up their social credit score.

In what it calls an attempt to promote “trustworthiness” in its economy and society, China is experimenting with a social credit system that mixes familiar Western-style credit scores with more expansive — and intrusive — measures. It includes everything from rankings calculated by online payment providers to scores doled out by neighborhoods or companies. High-flyers receive perks such as discounts on heating bills and favorable bank loans, while bad debtors cannot buy high-speed train or plane tickets.

By 2020, the government has promised to roll out a national social credit system. According to the system’s founding document, released by the State Council in 2014, the scheme should “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” But at a time when the Chinese Communist Party is aggressively advancing its presence across town hall offices and company boardrooms, this move has sparked fears that it is another step in the tightening of China’s already scant freedoms.

But it has been hard to distinguish future promises — or threats — from the realities of how social credit is being implemented. Rongcheng is one place where that future is visible. Three dozen pilot systems have been rolled out in cities across the country, and Rongcheng is one of them. According to Chinese officials and researchers, it’s the best example of the system working as intended. But it also illustrates those intentions may not be as straightforward as they like to claim.

More here.

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2 Responses to Life Inside China’s Social Credit Laboratory

  1. Jacob Abel April 27, 2018 at 2:08 pm #

    The system described in this article is something out of Orwell’s 1984 and is the ultimate example of big brother. Whether or not this system is effective is beyond the point as from a Western perspective this is very disturbing. While the system makes sense in terms of Chinese values as the article notes, it will be interesting to see if this becomes one system throughout China. China does have a long history with trying to implement programs which seek to improve the behavior of individuals. Confucian writings have long outlined the importance of filial piety and the importance of taking care of those in ones community. This is why it is often said that the rise of communism in China is not as shocking as some may think.
    The tying of this system to peoples financial futures is something that I think reflects how far reaching this program actually is. The anecdote about the design in which the government bureaucracy is located I think perfectly reflects the reality of this situation and shows the enormity of the Chinese government. The reach of this program is so unparalleled in the modern world and the scary part is that it seems to be working it places that it is being implemented. As the article notes the goal is to stop people from breaking laws and tying so much of peoples lives to this system will probably make them more conscious of their decisions. It seems as though the system will only get bigger as it has been in development since 2010 with a mixed record.
    Seeing as many US citizens struggle with Facebook using their data I can only imagine how they would react to this system. As the article notes the Chinese government is already using big data throughout the country to keep track of people. It will be interesting if this development in China is able to gain traction in other parts of the world.

  2. Donald J. Ross IV May 4, 2018 at 8:57 pm #

    animal = “cat”

    func soundFor(animal: String) -> String {
    switch animal {
    case “cat”:
    return “Meow!”
    case “dog”:
    return “Woof!”
    case “cow”:
    return “Moo!”
    case “chicken”:
    return “Cluck!”
    default:
    return “I don’t know that animal!”

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