What Chinese Citizens Think of China’s Social Credit System

Contrary to what many in the West think, many Chinese citizens appreciate the social credit system for instilling a sense security and certainty in the society.

The News Lens
Date: 2019/12/18
By: Xinyuan Wang

Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

The Chinese social credit system has been given an unequivocally negative reception by the media in the West. Set to be rolled out nationwide in 2020, the system has even been described by one journalist as China’s “most ambitious project in social engineering since the Cultural Revolution.”

On the surface, this reaction is understandable. Once the system is fully implemented, Chinese citizens will be given a social credit score based on their deeds. For example, failure to pay a court bill or playing loud music in public may cause a low score. This score can dictate what rights people have. Those on the “blacklist” are prevented from buying plane or train tickets, for instance, as well as working as civil servants or in certain industries.

The fact that big data and facial recognition technology will be applied for the purpose of monitoring citizens raises various human rights concerns. Not surprisingly, the scheme has been described as a “digital dictatorship” and a “dystopian nightmare straight out of Black Mirror.”

But what these accounts lack is a sense of how the system is perceived from within China, which turns out to be rather complicated. My 16-month ethnographic study found that ordinary Chinese people perceive and accept the system differently — and most of them seem to welcome it.
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