Why China’s Social Credit System Is Worse Than You Think

Why China’s Social Credit System Is Worse Than You Think


This exploration was made possible by CuriosityStream, The year is 2084. A Chinese citizen with an authentic Chinese
name, Winston Smith, has decided to venture from his apartment to a seedier part of the
city. But he isn’t looking for a typical dark
alley product or service. No. He’s purchasing a forbidden blank paper
book, a journal to write down his true thoughts on his life, on the party. He’s going to commit ‘thought crime’
against the state on the privacy of a page. Many of you may have recognized this as a
reference to George Orwell’s 1984, when the main character Winston Smith goes and
buys a book to write in, and begins his journey of questioning society, away from the spying
telescreens of the state, away from the stare of Big Brother. Fortunately for that Winston Smith in 1984,
he doesn’t live in a world of digital surveillance. Unfortunately for our Winston Smith in the
year 2084, as soon as he searched for blank books on China’s largest shopping site,
Alibaba, the system flagged him. The same happened when he searched China’s
largest search engine, Baidu, for nearby bookstores. His phone tracked his GPS movements on his
way to the store. And the state made note of the bank transaction
when he finally purchased the book. So he’s immediately arrested and taken to
prison room 101 for reeducation. The point is that even George Orwell only
imagined a world where your TV spied on you, not our world of all-encompassing digital
surveillance. Ok, that was an over exaggerated example. Let’s look at something that actually happens
today. You’re in China, and you’ve been working
without a day off for the past few months, and decide that you want to take a vacation. You go to an airline’s website, enter your
personal and financial details. You’ve been approved a few days off work,
your credit card is paid off, and you’re looking forward to visiting friends in another
city. But when you hit the purchase button, the
online system rejects you, referring to the Supreme Court as the reason why you are unable
to purchase a ticket. Evidently, you’re blacklisted. Now this scenario has actually happened in
China. 23 million people have been barred from purchasing
domestic flights due to their low social credit scores, according to official government statistics. (“Once discredited, limited everywhere”)
(2). Now what is social credit? What distinguishes social credit from say,
just a credit score, like we’re accustomed to in the West? In the West a credit score, at its most basic,
is a number representing how worthy you are of a loan, how much debt you can take on and
pay off. It’s financial. Social credit includes the financial stuff,
but also much more than that. Imagine if your credit score was also affected
by the people you chose to associate with, your political affiliation, how many kids
you had, how many hours a day you gamed or browsed social media, your volunteer work
(or lack thereof), your faith. All your spending habits, all your day to
day behaviors amalgamated into a single number that not just some company can see, not just
the government can see, but all your friends and family, all your nosy neighbors. Imagine the pressure and the consequences
something that could have. That’s what we’re going to explore today. China’s infant, yet developing social credit
system. Because the social credit system is not what
Orwell imagined, at least not yet. Part of that is because the system is not
fully operational, and probably won’t be for another few years. In fact, the current system is not unified
at all; it’s several different regional and private pilot projects working independently
from one another. (3)
To understand the rationale behind the social credit system, we have to take a look at the
various ways that the Communist Party of China has sought to control its citizens since it
took control of the country in 1949. This branch of digital social credit may be
new, but it’s roots are old. The collectivization of farms under Chairman
Mao meant that individuals were measured as part of a group- members who did not pull
their weight were penalized and pressured by others in the commune to do more, and to
do better. (4)
The Danwei, or “Work Unit” system provided a similar structure but for urban workers. Individual danwei were basically work communes,
and became the central organizing unit in urban Chinese society beginning in the 1950s. Danwei were ranked by the Party based on their
political standing, and the ranking of a danwei would determine the amount of publicly rationed
goods that the group would receive. (5)
Each danwei maintained a personnel file on their members, which included things like
work history, social background, and political attitudes. Promotions and other rewards were tied to
these files, and each danwei was expected to work in concert with national security
organizations in policing the activity of their members. Those who held the wrong political beliefs
or did not pull their weight at work could be kicked out of the danwei and blacklisted
from joining another, preventing access to public goods and to other work. (5)
The danwei system evolved into the hukou, or housing registration system in the 1980s
following the death of Mao and the slow transition to a capitalist economy. The hukou system tracked where people lived,
worked, or went to school, but broke down as urbanization rapidly increased. (5)
The range of methods that the Party has employed to try and control its citizens is best viewed
through the lens of the cultural revolution, which lasted ten years from 1966 until 1976,
and turned Chinese society completely on its head. The goal was to reinforce the presence of
the state in citizen’s private lives. Newspaper, radio, and bulletin boards were
used to broadcast the messages of the party, mobilizing thousands to wave Mao’s book
of quotations and reeducate so-called ‘reactionary elements’ of the party. Thousands were prosecuted- tortured, from
developed urban centers to remote, rural areas, and armed conflict broke out between the Red
Guards, other organizations, and regular army units. The impact of such intense state-sanctioned
civil violence on Chinese society is hard to measure. What can be safely said is that the scars
of the cultural revolution are still present, and that has manifested itself in a general
distrust of authority, particularly distrust in the Party. (7;8)
During the 1990s, the Party sought to extend control over the newest frontier, the internet,
through the Golden Shield – or Great Firewall – that blocks sites, filters results, and
censors certain topics, all the while monitoring the online activities of Chinese citizens. (6) Check out my video “How China Controls
the Internet” to learn more about that. And now comes the social credit system, the
“Big Brother”-esque monitoring network that will track all sorts of data, from the
items you purchase to the hobbies you dedicate your time to, all to determine how good of
a citizen you are. The Chinese government argues that the social
credit system will be a way to increase trust and accountability within Chinese society-
(9) to “make trustworthy people benefit everywhere and untrustworthy people restricted
everywhere” The system will work to enforce laws and court
decisions, and encourage good behavior. Officials say it’s a necessary step because
of China’s rapidly developing economy; government monitoring is required to prevent crime and
ensure a smoother transition to an urban, developed population. (10)
The Party has outlined its plans for a finished system, which will be divided into four separate
categories, the performance and good behavior of local governments, commercial enterprises,
local judicial systems, and finally, citizens themselves. (9)
In 2014, the Chinese government authorized eight tech companies, including well-known
names like Alibaba and Tencent, to begin creating their own commercial pilot programs. Many regional governments have done the same. The government is analyzing the data from
these pilots as it plans it own integrated system for the future. Alibaba’s program is called Sesame Credit,
which analyzes all activity across Alibaba’s platforms – shopping, entertainment, internet
use and messaging- financial and online payment programs – to develop a single numerical
score. Doing things like playing video games constantly
or not paying your bills on time will drop your score, whereas making “responsible”
purchases, like diapers, or donating to charities will raise it. (11)
A high enough score allows access to discounted tickets, deposit waivers on hotel rooms and
car rentals, and even a priority visa application process. (12)
Baihe, the largest dating site in China, has linked its service to Sesame Credit, giving
those with better scores more prominent placement within its network. Many people are choosing to publicly disclose
their Sesame Credit score to potential lovers as an indication of their good standing within
society. (13)
The end goal of these pilot programs is to create a centralized database that encourages
trust. The party argues that this is necessary because
while the Chinese Central Bank has financial data on most of its citizens, the majority
lack a traditional credit history. (3)
The government’s official narrative also highlights fraud and crime reduction, since
people will no longer be able to take advantage of China’s size and large economy to move
from region to region peddling fraudulent activity. (14)
And to a certain extent, the government’s narrative is true. Regional governments have set up these pilot
social credit systems, and have had moderate success in encouraging the kind of behaviors
they want. Like the pilot programs tech companies set
up, these regional governments measure a range of different activities. Getting a traffic ticket will lower your score,
while a drunk driving case will cause it to plummet. Volunteering and charitable donations will
raise your score by a set amount, and doing truly exemplary things in your personal life,
like caring for your elders, can greatly increase your standing. Every aspect of your life is monitored, and
will affect your score. (10)
And as you may have noticed, this is mostly a rewards-based system, at least for now. High scoring residents in some towns have
their pictures shown in public places, and rewards are handed out to those with the highest
ratings – including discounts on heating bills and better terms on bank loans. It is the threat of losing points, and thus
access to these rewards, which encourages people to change their behavior. And so part of the efficacy of the program
so far is in linking rewards to this giant monitoring system – it’s governance with
the carrot, and not the stick. And yet that really doesn’t tell the whole
story because the government definitely still has a big stick to hit people with, even if
they’re not trying to flaunt it. The ambiguity of the social credit program
gives party officials a great deal of unilateral power in deciding who has behaved in an undesirable
way, and then punishing them for it. So as you would expect, some arbitrary decisions
have already been made, serving as a canary in the coalmine, warning of the initial abuse
within the social credit system. For example, Li Xiaolin, a lawyer, was blacklisted
in 2016. A written apology he had submitted to a court
the previous year was deemed insincere. The court found his apology insincere partly
because it was dated April 1st, as in ‘April Fools’, and the court didn’t even notify
Mr. Li of this peculiar conclusion. (16)
A similar decision was handed down to an investigative journalist, who was fined by a court. Though he sent the payment, it was not received,
and he was not notified until he tried to purchase plane tickets, and was unable to
do so. He couldn’t remove his name from the blacklist,
and has found no recourse in appealing to the court. (16)
Further, according to Human Rights Watch, while some regional governments name their
best citizens in order to hold up good role models, they also post the complete personal
information of those with the lowest ratings – including pictures and addresses – in
order to place social pressure on them to alter their behavior. Over 7 million citizens were “named and
shamed” in this way by the end of 2017. The Supreme People’s Court of China has
also blacklisted over 170,000 people from holding senior positions in private companies
because they have defaulted on their debts. These people are also prohibited from purchasing
plane and train tickets until their debt has been repaid. (18)
An app developed in a province in Northern China maps, in real time, the location of
debtors. Users are encouraged to follow debtors around
and determine if they are living “outside their means” and are able to repay their
debts, providing an avenue for users to blow the whistle on complete strangers. (17) As China’s State Council explained,
“the new system will reward those who report acts of breach of trust”. You can imagine by now how this could all
slowly get out of control, or rather, into full state control. So, yes, maybe by linking rewards and positive
outcomes to a monitoring system, the social credit system can seem benevolent at first-
rewarded persons with high enough scores, it may have a positive impact on their lives. But the mass data collection, and the arbitrary
nature in which punishments can be meted out, represent a very real threat to citizens’
financial security, privacy, and overall well being. The government can bar political opponents
from being able to travel, access housing, financial or employment resources. The potential for abuse is readily apparent. Now, some Western experts and journalists
have said that concerns about the social credit system this early in its development are overblown
and premature. It’s not a unified system. There are some abuses, but they’re not that
bad, yet. And other people are down in the comments,
you may have already seen them. saying, “What about US privacy violations
and big data mining?!” to which I say, “Yes. Good example”. Social media companies, YouTube, Twitter,
Facebook- they’re trying to change your behavior. They’re trying to keep you on their platforms
for as long as possible, even if it means addiction. The longer you’re there, the more ads they
serve for clothes and gadgets, and the more data they can mine from you to sell to other
companies, so they can sell you more clothes and gadgets. All the while, you see beautiful people and
friends with clothes and gadgets, so you’re even more primed when the top google result
is for a camera you just happened to email your coworker about. You’re being nudged. China’s social credit system is also decentralized
nudging at this point, but the goal isn’t just to distract or to increase stock prices,
it’s a holistic attempt to influence all aspects of behavior in a way that reinforces the centrifugality
of the party. The social credit system is not a jackbooted
crackdown on citizens like the Cultural Revolution. Instead, it is designed to give wide lateral
to companies, cities, and neighborhoods implementing the pilots- space to develop both punishments
and incentives to push conformity- to change both the actions and thoughts of the Chinese
population, not through violence or force but through the process of gradual normative
behavioral change. The primary purpose of the social credit system
is not to punish those who have committed crimes: it is to alter the way that individuals
think, so they would never even consider committing a crime in the first place. “We are not interested in those stupid crimes
that you have committed. The Party is not interested in the overt act:
the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change
them.” (1)
Of course, if Big Brother were to come out of 1984 and into China, he would tell all
citizens to spend time educating themselves. He even might tell them to watch a documentary
on CuriosityStream. CuriosityStream is a streaming service that
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society, and lots of history. If you want to keep learning about modern
china, I can recommend a series called, “Curious Minds: China” a 7 episode deep-dive into
China’s past, present, and future. After that, take a look through CuriosityStream’s
history section, which has ancient history, biographies, prehistory, even niche history
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and nonfiction series. Later guys.

100 thoughts on “Why China’s Social Credit System Is Worse Than You Think

  1. It is not worse then most think. Most here think it is a nightmare.
    Government has everyone by the balls.
    They decide:
    -What to think
    -What to do
    -When to do
    And you get punished severly by dropping too many points. This shit is scarier then nightmares.

  2. The scariest part is that a bunch of people would happily go along with such a program.

    Great job!

  3. China adopting an Orwellian world is both an admission of defeat on the hearts and minds level, it signifies the end of the CCP. China is the only country in the world adopting this, so the number of (best and wealthiest) people leaving China will quickly reach exodus proportions. It already is huge. Who the hell wants to live at the total whim of a despotic super-state with unlimited monitoring capability and unlimited power? Not even the Chinese.

  4. The bigger threat for humanity than climate change and mass species extinction altogether. It’s China.

  5. I wonder if you ever played metal gear solid 2. When the ai is telling the player about internet content but lack of context. Reminds me of that.

  6. I bet that the demand for diapers is going to explode.

    Eventually…
    Chinese citizens will figure out which products rise up their score, and they will buy those products even without any need. This might lead to system where the producers notice the benefits of producing the "good" products and bribe the politicians to change the system to their benefit (as if the survailance is going to include the political elite). Eventually they will most likely slip from the idea of system providing good to system dictating what to buy. Chinese have proven themselves in skills of ruthless capitalism before, why not now. Or maybe the Government just sells the credits directly to those with power or enough money…

  7. To be fair China is pretty fucked right now, the legal system doesn’t work (100% conviction rate, but not all cases go to court) and society is bursting at the seams with people pulling scams and behaving badly. Sure the Social Credit system seems dystopian, but what alternative is there? How do you create a system which works for one of the most collectivist societies on the planet? It’s easy to shit on China, but at least they make an effort to be civilized unlike some countries cough poo in loo cough .

  8. as a chinese, i don't know what to say…
    it's like a chinese man tell me that amercian have sex on the street and after the sex they shoot eachother….

  9. This is especially messed up because you want people TO DO GOOD THINGS. But obviously, forcing people to be nice is more fake than anything and definitely more Kafka-esque – especially when its being nice or YOUR WHOLE LIFE DOWN THE SHITTER.

  10. This is really stupid. The fact that you are using smart phones mean most of your activities and whereabout are traceable. Don't blame China and be hypocritical when it's right under your noses.
    Your facebooks, whapsapp , Twitter, Google maps etc sucks in tons of your data, and why don't you guys act on it, but only talk about the situation in China.

  11. Except that a person's credit score is used for more than just credit in the US. It can be used when applying for a job, when getting car insurance, and several other instances that are similar. Its reach has grown over time.

  12. Am fost în China continentală. În plus față de sistemul de credite sociale, videoclipul este exagerat, iar restul sunt în principiu corecte …

  13. That’s how you manage a country of 1.4 billion ppl. Governments pick up effective methods instead of humanitarian methods when it comes to creating a better transportation environment (some people really shouldn’t travel by trains). what we are afraid of is rather the abuse of this kind of system like PRISM by NSA for example. Btw, what is the ministry of truth in 1984 based on in reality?

  14. A Chinese private company made a credit system for their customers, oh the humanity! WW3 DEFCON 1 NOW!!!

    US and the west have had credit scores, criminal records, NSA spying etc. for decades now, faggots like you sleep.

    Blatant anti-Chinese propaganda.

  15. Anyone watch Black Mirror? Seen the episode named "NoseDive"? If so, you'll get the relevance of this comment…

  16. America has a social credit system too, its called your facebook profile and your twitter feed. Anything you said or have had an opinion on can be used against you. And yes you can lose your job because of what you posted too.

  17. Chronology.. technology of more than 30 years late.

    the transaction made doesn't seem to benefit Krakatau Steel

    normally the code to operate is handed over. the area was provided , payment done in credits but operation amputated and controlled (manipulated). technology transfer is zero. i had to train the MCC CERRI chinese how to manage and operate. simplify the system. provide alternate processes. they hardly even understood the system they introduced. the step codings. which was absolutely ignorant towards implications and applications of ISO standards. so they had to fake it. went through the contract copies and all statements regarding quality tests seems to be monopoly. non {qualified} international standard. architecture design by them have a probable liability of less than the next 5 years. next time hire idiots, much easier to bluff. if a proper audit was executed it'd close the damn place in no time.

    what kind of stupidity is this? and that's the last time we should ever be acquainted with the chinese government. the Indonesian government has been scammed.

    a prime example of unfair trade

    on a side note: had to endure abuse, threats and humiliations by their incompetent Chinese staffs. does working for government institution means we have to endure tyranny?

  18. the West thought that tech will inevitably liberalize China, who knew that they would create the world's first technocratic dictatorship

  19. There is no social credit in China. Since US is a trust-first society, China is a not-trust first society…

  20. China should focus on the education of people and teach them what is good and bad ,behaviour and then they dont need any social credit system. This system will punish only poor people because if you are a rich person you can get your credit back up with money spending and so on.

  21. wait,talk about spying on everything,it's not what U.S government are doing now? at least China told you the rule instead of send creepy FBI knock your door

  22. I would not be surprised if many western progessive governments will start applying this process in the name of preventing "hate speech".

  23. out of china may makes you blind.have a look gona be better choice .how a country with so many promblems but still ranning with this speed.don't treat everyone as a fool.that means a lot,not only respect.

  24. Thank you. It’s all true. To bad there are so many people that think china is so nice and cuddly. So much the diamond of the world. It’s a shit hole.

  25. The difference between the West and China isn't as large as it might seem. In China, it's enforced as a matter of law. In the West, it's enforced through the proxy of private businesses who aren't constrained by the same standards of legality as the government is.

  26. I would liken China's spin on this idea more to The Lottery than 1984. They want their citizens to feel as rewarded as possible, keeping them entranced until they are completely desensitized. Only then will most realize, as the mother in The Lottery does, that following the herd may not be such a good idea after all.

  27. If I was Chinese I’d have my family packed in my car and off we go. When my family asks “ “what country are we are going to ?” My answer would instantly be “ANYWHERE” !

  28. 3:52 Formosa is the name for Taiwan which is today the de facto remnant of the Republic of China. So not the People’s Republic of China. This news real is thus incorrectly used.

  29. This is the plot of the anime called psychopass. I recommend you watch it. It takes this social credit to the extreme and the government uses it to create a minority report to arrest people before they commit crimes

  30. Short version for any Chinese audience with a VPN/SS service who potentially already plummeted their social credit scores by a very large number:

    The Cultural Revolution was a totalitarian socialist attempt to control the people.
    The Social Credit System is to be a totalitarian capitalist attempt to control the people.

    I am losing about 750 social credit scores just by posting this comment, so make it worth.

  31. so this the future? thank fuck I will be dead soon thank fuck I don't have any children I wouldn't bring a child into this world to face living in a hell like this

  32. its sad cause 1984 is happening faster in china than it is in the states which is sad and scary as shit but the guy who wrote 1984 saw this shit coming decades ago and he knew that governments would abuse the power of technology and try to force us to change our minds but its impossible cause history has proven that to be a failure and it will happen again

  33. Tbh this is no different to the western monetary system. The more loyal you are to capitalism, the more money you can make. It’s just more explicit

  34. They want to influence the way you THINK!
    Cut.
    This video was sponsored by curiosity stream…

  35. Anyone else thinks the whole Huawei issue and their new OS will actually reinforce China’s goverment power over their citizens and even people from around the globe?

    Thats messed up 🤔

  36. It's actually more likely that only state-approved books will be in the bookstore and that paper notebooks don't exist

  37. thank you for doing a video on this i think it's something that should be coverd by alot more on media platforms

  38. Coming to a town near you all soon…
    Revelation 13: 15-18 And there was granted it to give breath* to the image of the wild beast, so that the image of the wild beast should both speak and cause to be killed all those who would not in any way worship the image+ of the wild beast.16 And it puts under compulsion all persons,+ the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the slaves, that they should give these a mark in their right hand or upon their forehead,+ 17 and* that nobody might be able to buy or sell except a person having the mark,* the name+ of the wild beast or the number of its name.+ 18 Here is where wisdom comes in: Let the one that has intelligence calculate the number of the wild beast, for it is a man’s+ number; and its number is six hundred and sixty-six.*+

  39. There might be some bugs to iron out hence why the whole thing's not rolled out yet, but the social credit system is ultimately a good idea. It pains me to see such videos invoking 1984 (a fictional novel) as though it's a valid argument against punishing malicious malicious people in a society and rewarding the good ones.

  40. What an awesome coverage! I am all for social "credit" systems. As long as the "stick" does not hit those who are not able to follow that code! And, yes – "western" media also does kind of a credit system – it just hits you on consumerism instead.

  41. Thank you so much for subtitles, 😊 english isn't my mother tongue so i struggle with oral comprehension and I'm more confortable with writing.
    This subject is very interesting thank you so so much

  42. Now the Chinese MMA fighter wiped the floor with the shaolin masters. That was against the ideals of the government. His Social Credit score got axed and basically life as he knows it, is over. He's going to Australia.

  43. One is forbidden to buy airline and train ticket because of a low social credit score. A giant prison?
    The next may be to forbid to seek employment, to rent a house, or to buy food. So those with low score
    are to be eliminated. Will this policy spread to the whole world?

  44. I don't even want to finish watching this after the first 50 seconds. Good luck and hope you fun,my ridiculous, opinionated, ignorance and credulous white pig opponent。

  45. If you lose all your points,you are basically in a hole,of which it would be very difficult to get out of,as far as I understand it.

  46. The problem is that after you have enough people working the score, you don’t have enough benefits and it switches over to harsher punishments for failure to meeting the required goal.

    Edit: like the Bible says you won’t be able to buy or sell anything without the mark…..

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