Transforming Society for the Better?

Why China’s Social Credit Systems are Surprisingly Popular

  • Nadja Aldendorff
Keywords: Social Credit System


In 2014, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China released a document that called for the construction of a nationwide Social Credit System (SCS) with the goal to encourage sincerity and punish insincerity. The system uses blacklists that citizens land on for various cases of misbehavior, ranging from failing to pay a fine to being caught Jaywalking. This research explains the design process behind the SCS and in particular why many Chinese citizens are embracing this form of surveillance. It focuses on three topics to answer this question: the historical roots underlying the system, the perceived lack of trust in Chinese society and the comparison with concepts from surveillance theories developed in the West. From the analysis, following conclusions could be drawn: Historically, the state has often acted as a promoter and enforcer of moral virtue. The SCS fits perfectly into this tradition. The most prominent reason for the positive Chinese reaction is the lack of institutions in China that promote trust between citizens and businesses. There is a severe trust deficit which the government had to find a solution for. Regarding surveillance theory, Foucault’s concept of ‘panopticism’ shows similarities with the SCS and underlines its effectiveness in changing and steering people’s behavior while Lyon’s notion of ‘social sorting’ is used to demonstrate the potential dangers of the Chinese system.


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