China’s terrifying ‘social credit’ system, which is a rating assigned to each citizen based on government data regarding their economic and social status, has effectively blocked more than 11.14 million flights and 4.25 million high-speed train trips at the end of April, according to a senior government official.
Government officials first announced the proposal for a social credit system in 2014 — where each Chinese citizen would be rated according to their online, social, financial, and legal behavior. Misdeeds, such as late credit card payments, criminal record, jaywalking, using fake IDs, refusal to sign up for required insurance, and failing to pay taxes, could result in a travel ban for an extended period. The penalty for misdeeds went into full effect in May.
China’s Social Scoring System
The government decides who gets these goods and services:
It is still unknown which misdeeds the government cracked down on to induce such a large number of travel bans within the country. Former deputy director of the development research center of the State Council, Hou Yunchun, is quoted by the Global Times as saying the system needs a few more tweaks so that “discredited people become bankrupt.”
“If we don’t increase the cost of being discredited, we are encouraging discredited people to keep at it,” Hou was quoted by Sina Finance at an annual credit development forum in Beijing on Saturday.
In addition to blocking the flights and trains, the Global Times noted that the names of 33,000 companies which violated laws had been shamed on a public list, said Meng Wei, spokeswoman for the National Development and Reform Commission, via news website chinanews.com. Those on the list could be denied loans, grants, and other forms of government assistance, Wei added.
“Hou’s phrase that the ‘discredited people become bankrupt’ makes the point, but is an oversimplification,” Zhi Zhenfeng, a legal expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times.
“How the person is restricted in terms of public services or business opportunities should be in accordance with how and to what extent he or she lost his credibility.”
“The punishment should match the deed.”
“Discredited people deserve legal consequences.”
“This is definitely a step in the right direction to building a society with credibility.”
Since the launch of the ‘social credit’ system, state media has reported that pilot tests have been successful. There is even chatter about a China-wide social credit system expected in the early 2020s. In the meantime, senior government officials plan for eight more pilot credit systems, including the continued testing of Sesame Credit, an Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial, that deducts credit points off people who default on court fines.
A screenshot from the Sesame Credit app, showing score 729 on a scale from 350
Many observers have likened China’s ‘social credit’ system to that shown in Netflix’s Black Mirror episode ‘Nosedive’ in which a world where people can rate each other from one to five stars for every interaction they have.