China’s social credit system, designed to reward and penalize people based on their behavior, has become notorious for the punishments it doles out to people who don’t repay their loans or misbehave in public.
The system aims to reinforce the idea that, in the words of the Chinese government, “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful.”
One argument for this system is that many people in China still have no formal access to traditional finance and therefore need an alternative system to assess their trustworthiness.
Its punishments include being unable to secure loans, or being placed on a public blacklist which can stop people traveling on planes and trains, lead to their children’s school places being taken away.
But there are also ways people can build up good social credit, and get in the government’s good books.
A group of researchers in Germany analyzed 194,829 behavioral records and 942 governmental reports on citizens’ “good” and “bad” behavior, and noted a list of deeds that could bring about positive credit in a report released this week.
Here’s what they are:
The study only mentioned a few things, and the above list is incomplete. The full scope of actions that could be rewarded has not been well-defined, and could be at the discretion of many different agencies and officials.
In 2018, Foreign Policy magazine also saw positive social credit in action during its visit to the eastern city of Rongcheng, which operates its own points-based social credit pilot program.
It first assigns 1,000 points to every adult, and adds and subtracts points depending on the individuals’ behavior.
Here’s what some of the city’s local heroes did:
Rewards for doing good include getting discounts on energy bills and higher interest rates at banks, and being able to rent bikes and rooms at top hotels without paying a deposit, Foreign Policy reported last year.
City hall officials in Rongcheng even display the names and photos of locals who do particularly positive deeds, the magazine said.
The researchers in Germany, however, noted that Chinese authorities have appeared more keen to report punishable deeds than rewardable ones.
This could be to prevent people from gaming the system to gain rewards.
“Detailed instructions on how to win rewards could therefore lead to distribution problems since many individuals could implement them,” the report said.
The system, which is due to be rolled out nationwide in 2020, is still patchy. After the government announced its intentions for the plan in 2014, various local governments around China have rolled out their own versions of the the system.
The Chinese government has also given various tech companies, including Alibaba and Tencent, permission to monitor users’ behavior on their platforms and respond accordingly.
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