by Gregory Hood, The Unz Review:
China is notorious for a “Social Credit System” that controls the lives of citizens, rewarding what the authorities want and punishing what they don’t. The United States has a social credit system, too, even if we don’t call it that. And ours is worse.
The Chinese system tries to build social trust. Ours destroys trust. The Chinese system defends the interests of the Han, the ethnic group that built and sustains Chinese civilization. Our system hurts whites. The Chinese system encourages charity, good citizenship, and patriotism. Ours incites hatred and spreads bitterness and division.
The Chinese government’s goals are clear: According to a 2014 planning document, the state wants to build a “social credit environment of honesty, self-discipline, trustworthiness, and mutual trust.” Despite the reputation of the Chinese Communist Party, there is no central system of control, but that is only because the government lacks the capacity. According to the 2014 plan, by this year, China should have “basically” completed “a credit investigation system covering the entire society with credit information and resource sharing.”
Vox reports China has a grading system for people from A to D. Ds are “untrustworthy.” “Citizens can earn points for good deeds like volunteering, donating blood, or attracting investments to the city,” said the MIT Technology Review in 2019. “They can lose them for offenses like breaking traffic rules, evading taxes, or neglecting to care for their elderly parents.” Taking seats on public transportation reserved for old people or doing anything the South China Morning Post called “uncivilized behavior” can also cost points.
You can lose points for playing video games too often, buying too much alcohol, arguing at check-in counters, boarding a train without a ticket, getting into a fight, posting stickers hostile to the government, or letting chickens out of their coop. You can lose your dog if you walk it too often without a leash or if it bothers people. NPR reports that “if you spread rumors online” you could lose points, and even “spending frivolously” can cost points. The system punishes some things just as we do in the United States. If you drive drunk in China, you lose points. If you drive drunk in America, you can lose your license.
How does the system find out all this about you? The Chinese track people through a combination of cameras, facial recognition software, spies, and data from tech and social media companies. There are an estimated 626 million security cameras in China, capturing all sorts of behavior. The Straits Times reported that cameras caught a citizen jaywalking, recognized her face, and immediately put her photo up on a video screen above the street, along with her name and past infractions. The Chinese use drones disguised as birds.
There are groups of paid government informers. In one case, a group of senior citizens called the Chaoyang Masses supposedly tracked behavior, though some people thought the group was questionable. This could be a feature of the system; you don’t know who is watching. The New York Times reported in 2019 that the government uses students to track professors.
Companies such as Alibaba and Tencent track your online activity, and you can lose points if you publish political opinions without permission or talk about certain issues such as Tiananmen Square. You also lose points if your friends commit infractions; collective punishment helps isolate dissidents and discourage others. However, you can gain points if you parrot the government line. Some of this is self-reported and checked against data held by the government, tech companies, and surveillance records. There is an app called Sesame Credit that lets you track people’s scores. It is voluntary for now but will eventually be mandatory.
“Trust-breakers” go on an online “blacklist” that anyone can search. “Trust-keepers” go on an equivalent “redlist.” Everyone’s behavior is public, and the authorities encourage citizens to compete with each other to get good scores.
Good citizens can get discounts on energy bills, better returns on bank deposits, and can rent bikes or hotel rooms without paying deposits. Local officials praise them publicly. In Suzhou, “trust-keepers” get cut-rate public transportation.
Depending on the locale, if your credit score reaches 600, you can take out an instant loan of about $800 without collateral when shopping online. At a score of 650, you can rent a car without a deposit. At 700, you get priority for a Singapore travel permit, and at 750, you are on the fast track for a coveted Schengen visa for 28 European countries.
Punishments include banning you or your children from top schools, barring you from top jobs and the best hotels, and preventing you from buying high-speed train or air tickets.
Businesses also get grades on, for example, whether their advertising is deceptive. If their grades are too low, they can’t issue bonds or bid in land auctions.
There’s a financial aspect to the system. It costs points if a person or business fails to repay a loan. We have credit scores, too. The difference is that the Chinese government can — and does — deduct points for political reasons. It could cut a business or family out of normal activity for saying the wrong things. Your social credit “grade” could wreck your life.