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On China’s Social Credit System

  • With 2020 looming, China’s Social Credit System is worth looking at
  • The credit system works in a way where ‘good behavior’ is rewarded points, and ‘bad behavior’ removes points, therefore barring citizens from privileges and city services.

John Wick 3: Parabellum teaches us about consequences – that whatever we do or decide on will always have a consequence. In a condensed, hyper-connected society, anyone’s behavior would produce some type of ripple effect to not only their own lives but also the lives of others. But despite this, most behaviors do not wholly dictate people’s way of living, or how they should navigate their lives. 

People walk on the busy streets of Shanghai
via Technology Review

However, such is not the case with the ambitious national reputation system that China is aiming to complete. Reputation systems are not new. In fact, it is already implemented mostly in e-commerce. A good example would be how consumers patronize online shops or websites with higher stars of good reviews. The trust that people put in these shops would be greater because of their reputation. Or, conversely, if a consumer violates the rules of a particular online service, their account would be suspended. 

But while the system is not new to us as a society, there are no reputation systems as big and all-encompassing as what China is aiming to do. The system runs with what is referred to as social credit, a currency that is based on the behavior of the person juxtaposed with what the Chinese government considers as ‘good behavior’ and ‘bad behavior.’ Therefore, small acts such as jaywalking, littering, playing too much video games, would automatically have dire repercussions to all aspects of an individual’s life, such as losing the right to book a flight or a train ticket, or being denied certain goods or services.

Image result for china's social credit system
via The Nation

Citizens can earn points for good deeds like volunteering, donating blood, or attracting investments to the city; they can lose them for offenses like breaking traffic rules, evading taxes, or neglecting to care for their elderly parents. Their scores then affect their access to community welfare programs: high scorers receive benefits like free medical checkups and discounts to heating bills; low scorers lose government subsidies or get barred from government jobs.

According to the news outlet Vox, the Chinese government created the system to help ensure a society in which “sincerity and trustworthiness become conscious norms among all the people.” Already, people are feeling the repercussions of the social credit, with several cities in China enforcing the system to both large companies and people in the grassroots.

China’s social credit system has been one of the most culturally and socially controversial systems that the world has ever seen. There have been several international criticisms from the international press as well as several human rights groups. But aside from the problematic macro-perspective, the scrutiny should also be turned to the ground level – what will happen to the behavior of people once this credit system is in place? 

via Wired UK

In theory, behavior takes shape with both the culture and the experience that the individual is subjected to. Thus, once every single person learns that a certain behavior is either good or bad, citizens would most likely adapt to these conditions. Not only will this become a way for the government to control its citizens, but it will become an alarming precedent to the behavior of the future citizens of China. The future children of China might not know what it means to have the freedom or the luxury to do what they wish for fear of its consequences.

Though, the social credit system is said to incentivize lawfulness and integrity. It’s not as Orwellian as the West portrays it to be, and there is also widespread acceptance when it comes to the Chinese. There is no full and accurate idea of what the ramifications would be for the Chinese since the system has not been completed yet. But, with the targeted 2020 looming, all attention slowly points towards the communist superpower, hoping it does not transform itself into a horrific parody of a dystopian society. 

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