China’s Social Credit System Complexity

A steady stream of Western media reports, published in dozens of outlets over the past few years, paint China’s Social Credit System as a dystopian nightmare straight out of Black Mirror. But how accurate is this?

A planning document released by China’s chief administrative body five years ago called for the establishment of a nationwide scheme for tracking the trustworthiness of everyday citizens, corporations, and government officials. The Chinese government and state media say the project is designed to boost public confidence and fight problems like corruption and business fraud. Western critics often see social credit instead as an intrusive surveillance apparatus for punishing dissidents and infringing on people’s privacy.

With just over a year to go until the government’s self-imposed deadline for establishing the laws and regulations governing social credit, Chinese legal researchers say the system is far from the cutting-edge, Big Brother apparatus portrayed in the West’s popular imagination. “I really think you would find a much larger percentage of Americans are aware of Chinese social credit than you would find Chinese people are aware of Chinese social credit,” says Jeremy Daum, a senior research fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center in Beijing. The system as it exists today is more a patchwork of regional pilots and experimental projects, with few indications about what could be implemented at a national scale.

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