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Social Credit Systems: The Death of a Free Society

A visual of how society would be like with the social credit system. PHOTO/ Kevin Hong

By Edmund Zhen

Published: September 26th, 2018

The Chinese government recently rolled out a test drive of a social credit system in a few of its cities such as Roncheng, a city in Eastern China. This Orwellian system advocates for a mandatory behavior code that aims to regulate the behavior and actions of its citizens.  This system could be a response to the poor reputation Chinese citizens accumulated over the years in foreign countries.

Similar to America’s three-digit credit system that determines your credibility, China takes that idea to the extreme, tracking and calculating your score based on your purchases, your habits, and your actions. Citizens are monitored by 200 million cameras that are ubiquitously spread out all over the country. In addition to that, China has been deploying facial recognition technology – a power scanning program equipped with the capability to scan and search its database of the entire population of China in a matter of seconds. Hiding from the government is just virtually impossible.

There are multiple ways in which a citizen’s social score is affected by their actions; good deeds will boost up scores and infractions will inevitably lower them. Infraction consists of offenses such as bad driving, smoking in non-smoking zones and even playing too much video games. It is vital that Chinese citizens be wary of their score because it is the thin line that separates succeeding or failing in society. Some benefits of having a high social score include booking a hotel without paying a deposit, speeding up travel applications, boosting profiles on social sites, and having better interest rates and discounts on utility bills. Disadvantages of a low social score would include having slow internet speed, banning you or your kids from getting into good schools or jobs, being publicly shamed, and revoking your travel rights.

Some people may feel strongly about this surveillance system and believe it’s an infringement on people’s rights. But with China being a communist state, it’s hard to say which rights are really theirs. Everything is owned by the government, including the people as well. With China catapulting from near-isolation to re-engaging with the world in such a short time, it has failed its citizens in helping them catch up with the norms and customs of the world. Although this may seem like a good plan to manifest higher principles and proper conduct for generations to come, it would be a total disaster for any chance of Chinese society becoming a free and open one.

The reason why I described it as an “Orwellian system” is because this system could potentially pave the way to a totalitarian rule. The first step has already been achieved with President Xi Jinping abolishing presidential term limits. (Term limits were previously set by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982 to prevent the repeat of chaos and catastrophe under Mao Zedong.) In addition to an omniscient system and the people’s fear of punishment, a Machiavellian society will inevitably arise. People will have the incentive to become whistleblowers, and prejudice will reveal itself. All this could cause China’s attempt to teach its citizens courtesy and credibility to backfire and increase the amount of corruption in the government. There are also rumors that China intends to expand this social credit system outside its borders, rating companies with the same system. If this is true, it would be very hard for foreign companies who wish to expand their markets into China to function as they normally would and thus cause China to lose valuable revenue.

With the trajectory China is heading towards, it is obvious that the government wants to establish absolute control of its citizens and outsiders who have any sort of influence in its country. Whether China is trying to repeat history by ruling with an iron grip like Mao or if Xi Jinping is trying to establish his own legacy through other means, it only spells trouble for Chinese citizens. Abide by the rules or suffer.

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