Set to be rolled out by next year, the scheme is the nation’s most ambitious project in social engineering since the Cultural Revolution. Whether it eventually creates an Orwellian dystopia, or an honest, harmonious society, as intended, remains to be seen.
Sleepy Yangqiao village sits among tea bushes and pomegranate trees in eastern Zhejiang province. It is also at the forefront of China’s most ambitious social-engineering project since the Cultural Revolution, which spanned 10 years from 1966.
Posted by every front door in Yangqiao is a sign ranking the household on a scale of one to five stars for courtyard tidiness, observance of laws, recycling and rubbish disposal, financial credit and “family values”. These ratings feed into a score assigned to each resident – from 0 to 100 points – available via a digital dashboard in the village hall, where people can report themselves and their neighbours for “good” deeds (ardent dedication to your job earns three points) or “bad” ones (littering in the river docks incurs the loss of five points).
Citizens who conduct themselves in the approved manner can benefit from on-the-spot loans and better job prospects. Those found guilty of infractions can find themselves blacklisted and denied high-speed train tickets or denounced in public.
China is deploying the apparatus to engineer a society that, as the propaganda puts it, will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”. But is this, as some believe, the beginnings of a digitally organised police state in which those who fail to conform find their rights and freedoms severely curtailed?
Village officials say the system is not designed to assert greater control, but rather to encourage residents to aspire to be better people. The programme, called “morality bank”, reminds people that goodwill and moral values are built up over time.
Farmer Wu Yugen, 58, tore down his rating sign shortly after it was pasted outside his front door. “It’s disgraceful,” he says over lunch, smiling. “When we do good things, we should do them out of our own conscience.”
“China is massively expanding the idea of credit beyond ‘Should you get a credit card?’ and moving it into some sort of personal-evaluation system,” says Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington-based think tank. “It’s potentially a whole new way to govern a country.”
In 2014, China laid out an ambitious blueprint for a nationwide social credit system: across a vast country of 1.4 billion people, it aims, by the end of next year, to have established the parameters to eradicate everything from poor driving to government corruption.
To create this system, the authorities are amassing what could become the world’s largest data set, pulling together information held by the government and private companies to track behaviour and jointly administer rewards and sanctions.
The average Chinese person knows he or she is being watched.
Travel bans are not uncommon. Government propaganda has crowed that transgressors were blocked from buying plane tickets 17.5 million times last year. Others were barred 5.5 million times from purchasing train tickets, and 128 people were prevented from leaving China due to unpaid taxes.
Gambling (which is illegal, except for lotteries and licensed betting at government-sanctioned venues) also hasn’t gone away – there are at least two mahjong parlours operating in broad daylight just a few doors down from the village chief’s house.
“They give small incentives like free soap to people who report and do ‘good’ things, but who is short of soap?” asks Wu. “Seriously, it’s a joke that a few officials can decide if you are ‘moral’ or not … They can boast about it however they like; people here just carry on living their lives.’
#RobertReview (China’s Social Credit System): 0 | 10
BLACK MIRROR SYSTEM IN CHINA. Chinese should reject China’s “1984 Big Brother” Social Credit System.
Published: 20th June 2019.
The village testing China’s social credit system: driven by big data, its citizens earn a star rating
China will never make Hong Kong great again. For 4,000 years the Chinese have always removed every Emperor Dynasty until Puyi. Hongkongers will be Catalysts for Change and Democracy in China – not USA.