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The Big Brother is Watching You
China’s social credit system “is a completely new perspective on regulating not just the economy and market but also society."
My long-awaited audiobook, “Backlash: How China’s Aggression Has Backfired,” has finally arrived. It is available on Audible.com, Amazon.com, and iTune. It was a labor of love. Since the audio sample is about a topic that many of you are interested in, China’s Social Credit System, I’m posting an excerpt from the book to show my gratitude for your support. Enjoy, and hopefully, you will order the book today!
The Social Credit System
Imagine your whole existence and your humanity has been condensed to a score, a number that is constantly being updated by an invisible system, and everything under the sun about you depends on that single score: whether you will be eligible for the next work promotion, or be able to rent a nicer apartment, or send your children to a good school, or book a flight or a train ticket to visit your parents somewhere, or even become a pet owner. In other words, a score will determine your socioeconomic status and your quality of life. Such a system is a reality in China. It is a tool the Chinese government relies on to keep 1.4 billion people behaving as it wishes. It is China’s data-driven social credit system, a tool watching them 24/7 that George Orwell’s Big Brother in 1984 would have been proud of.
The biggest fear of a one-party dictatorial regime like China is that people will wake up one day and rise up to overthrow their ruthless rulers. Therefore, since the founding of Communist China in 1949, the Communist Party (CCP) has relentlessly kept a close watch on the Chinese people by using various tools. For example, the CCP encourages family members and neighbors to become the party’s informants and report any suspicious behavior to the party. Another widely used tool by CCP is to keep a paper trail of everyone.
When I was growing up in China, every Chinese citizen had a “Dang An,” a paper record containing everything about him or her: physical appearance, social and economic background, family relations, all schools attended, all employments held, all rewards and disciplines ever received, all confessions made, all secret reports others made about them, and much more. None of us had any idea what was included in our “Dang An.” Only a privileged few could access other people’s Dang An and put information in it. Your Dang An followed you around like a dementor, that foul creature from Harry Potter. The mere mention of Dang An could generate loathing and fear.
The CCP had wanted to automate the Dang An process and digitalize data it collected since the 1980s. Since he assumed power, Xi Jinping has been instrumental in bringing the CCP’s control of its population into the digital age. In June 2014, China’s state council announced an outline for “building a government-led national social credit system to assess individuals and government agencies on areas ranging from tax payment, local government bonds to judicial credibility.” Based on this outline, China launched several regional social credit systems as a pilot in the same year and pledged to “build a national social credit system that covers the whole of society, and a related reward and punishment mechanism” by 2020.
So far, it is the social credit rating on individuals which has caught the most attention. Many in the West are familiar with credit bureaus such as Equifax and Experian, private companies that collect and maintain identification and credit information of individuals and sell the information to lenders such as banks, or employers and consumers in the form of credit scores and credit reports. The purpose of a credit score and credit report is to measure your creditworthiness, your capacity and willingness to pay back loans. So the majority of the information these credit bureaus collect is financial—your repayment history, available credit lines, public records of bankruptcy, tax liens, etc. If you have a good credit score, you can get a mortgage or credit card with a better rate than those who have poor credit scores can obtain. The credit bureaus also collect certain non-financial information such as your social security number, date of birth, previous and current addresses, etc. Therefore, employers, lenders, and government agencies sometimes rely on your credit report to verify your identity.
Like with so many things in China, the Chinese government took a perfectly innocent Western idea, sinicized it (modified it to fit China’s needs with Chinese characteristics) and turned it into an Orwellian surveillance tool. The Chinese government stated that the social credit system “uses encouragement to keep trust and constraints against breaking trust as incentive mechanisms, and its objective is raising the honest mentality and credit levels of the entire society [to] commend sincerity and punish insincerity.” Don’t let the word “encouragement” in the statement fool you. The social credit system is mandatory. No Chinese citizen can opt out (except Party officials such as Xi). The statement also suggests that unlike Western credit bureaus, which mainly collect the financial information of individuals, China’s social credit system is intended to mold Chinese citizens collectively into “good” people who follow a “moral” code of conduct sanctioned by China’s communist government.
Sebastian Heilmann, who coined the term “digital Leninism,” said in an interview that China’s social credit system “is a completely new perspective on regulating not just the economy and market but also society. It’s really comprehensive, big data enabled, for both regulations and surveillance . . . It’s going beyond what George Orwell had in his vision [in Nineteen Eighty-Four] . . . because it’s a daily update, something that constantly moves with you, a perfect kind of control mechanism.”
Here’s a close look at how the social credit system works. Each person starts at 1000 points. All behaviors are constantly monitored, collecting information on more than 800 data points for each individual. Much of the data are not financial but behavioral, such as an individual’s online shopping behavior, education history, and everyday behaviors such as smoking in a marked nonsmoking area or whether garbage is sorted correctly. Each person’s social credit score goes up or down constantly based on their behavior, and their names will appear either on a “blacklist” for punishment or a “whitelist” for rewards…
To learn more, please order the book today!