China’s Social Credit System in 2021: From fragmentation towards integration
Updated on May 9, 2022
- The Social Credit System is part of Xi Jinping's vision for data-driven governance. Government organs across regions and administrative levels should join hands to create a coherent information ecosystem. Data-sharing challenges continue to hamper this effort.
- There will not be a unified “Social Credit Score” that rates individual behaviour. An all-encompassing scoring system was not part of the original plan. Instead, efforts have been focused on the establishment of comprehensive digital files that track and document legal compliance. Pilot projects that used points-based systems to steer behaviour beyond what is legally required have been discontinued or limited to voluntary participation.
- The Social Credit System is a highly flexible tool that can quickly be applied to address new policy priorities. During the Covid-19 pandemic, government agencies rapidly issued a slew of directives to implement pandemic-related regulations.
- The flexibility of the system also comes at a cost: fragmentation. The Social Credit System is regulated by thousands of documents, but there is no clear definition of “credit” and substantial regional differences exist in implementation and evaluation standards.
- The uneven implementation presents risks for individuals and companies alike. They have to navigate various regulations, lists and rating systems. There is an acute risk of “credit” becoming an arbitrary term that can be applied with disproportionate punishments.
- The Chinese government is aware of these issues and has initiated steps to more clearly define “social credit”, establish practises and improve measures for credit repair. Work on a Social Credit Law has started, but it may take years until core mechanisms become standardised nationwide.
- The private tech sector continues to be excluded from the development of the official Social Credit System. But payment and consumer platforms like Alibaba’s Sesame Credit have created their own trust-rating initiatives.
- The Social Credit System remains the least digitised of China’s tech-driven monitoring and surveillance initiatives. It relies heavily on human investigations, reports, and decisions. This also leaves room for traditional vectors of individual and political influence.
- The party state will further build up, streamline and integrate digital monitoring and surveillance activities. More invasive domestic security platforms and initiatives have advanced rapidly and with significantly fewer limitations than the Social Credit System.
1 Sohu (2020a). “年社会信用体系建设十大重点研究方向 (Ten key directions to explore in the construction of the Social Credit System in 2020).” March, 6. https://www.sohu.com/a/378101732_777813. Accessed: Novem-ber 1, 2020.
2 Yu, Qian 余茜 (2020). ““十四五”治理有“数”开新篇 (In the "Fourteenth Five-Year Plan", governance will draw on “data” to open a new chapter).” October 28. http://theory.people.com.cn/n1/2020/1028/c40531-31908612.html. Accessed: October 30, 2020.
3 For a detailed analysis of this development see: Knight, Adam (2020). “Technologies of Risk and Discipline in China's Social Credit System.” In: Rogier J. E. H. Creemers and Sue Trevaskes (eds). Law and the Party in Xi Jinping's China: Ideology and Organization, 273-254; Trivium (2019). “Understanding China’s Social Credit Sys-tem.” Trivium Primer. http://socialcredit.triviumchina.com/what-is-social-credit/. Accessed: October 10, 2020.
4 Sohu (2020b): “习近平：要把法治工作重点放在完善制度环境上，加强社会信用体系建设 (Xi Jinping: In build-ing rule by law, we must focus on improving the systemic environment and strengthen the construction of the Social Credit System)”. February 27. https://www.sohu.com/a/298187739_100013182. Accessed: October 12, 2020.
5 Xinhua (2020). “近平在中央全面依法治国工作会议上强调 坚定不移走中国特色社会主义法治道路 为全面建设社会主义现代化国家提供有力法治保障 (Xi Jinping emphasizes need to unswervingly follow the path of Socialist Rule of Law with Chinese Characteristics at Central Committee's Work Conference on Comprehensive Rule of Law, in order to provide a strong legal foundation for the construction of a modern socialist country)”. http://www.xinhuanet.com/politics/leaders/2020-11/17/c_1126751678.htm. Accessed: November 25, 2020.
6 CCP Central Committee (2020).
7 Knight (2020); Zhang, Chenchen (2020). “Governing (through) Trustworthiness: Technologies of Power and Subjectification in China’s Social Credit System”. Critical Asian Studies, 2020, 1–24.
8 The analysis presented here and in the following sections is based on the MERICS Social Credit System data-base. This consists of 1456 documents published by national and provincial authorities between 2003 and 2020, retrieved from the Credit China and State Council document repositories. Separate to this, the database also includes around 1000 documents published by a selection of Chinese cities.
9 Laws and regulations can refer to SoCS for implementation and enforcement to varying degrees, from requir-ing information to be entered into SoCS mechanisms or explicitly outlining blacklistable offenses. See e.g.: For-eign Investment Law of the PRC (2019), arts. 34, 38; Vaccine Administration Law of the PRC (2019), arts. 23, 72; Biosecurity Law of the PRC (2020), art. 26.
10 A key recent document can be found in English at: China Law Translate, trans. (2020). "Guiding Opinions on Further Regulating the Scope of Inclusions in Public Credit Information, Punishments for Untrustworthiness, and Credit Restoration to Build Long-Term and Effective Mechanisms for Establishing Creditworthiness (Draft for Solicitation of Public Comments)". https://www.chinalawtranslate.com/en/futher-regulating-social-credit/. Accessed November 2, 2020.
11 The Paper (2020). “国家发改委：社会信用法草案正征求各地方和相关部门意见 (National Development and Reform Commission: the draft for the Social Credit Law is currently seeking opinions from local and relevant departments)”. December 15. https://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_10401166. Accessed: February 4, 2021.
12 Research by authors on Credit China portal and debt-defaulter blacklist. Knight
13 (2020); Trivium (2019).
14 Su, Alice (2020). “Threats of arrest, job loss and surveillance. China targets its ‘model minority’”. September 23. https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-09-23/inner-mongolia-china-model-minority-crackdown. Accessed: October 22, 2020.
15 Boxun (2018). “家长成老赖孩子不能上学？这所中学的招生政策火了 (Children of “debtors” cannot go to school? The enrollment policy of this middle school is drawing fiery debate)”. May, 1. https://www.boxun.com/news/gb/misc/2018/05/201805010728.shtml. Accessed: November 2, 2020.
16 Brussee, Vincent (2020). "No Credit for Culprits". Mercator Institute for China Studies. July 21. https://merics.org/en/analysis/no-credit-culprits. Accessed: October 10, 2020.
17 NDRC (2019). “国家发改委：社会信用体系建设重点领域专项治理成效显著 (NDRC: The Social Credit System construction has achieved remarkable results in issue-focused governance of key areas).” https://www.ndrc.gov.cn/xwdt/ztzl/cyzl/2019cy/cxcy/201901/t20190123_1188559.html. Accessed: October 28, 2020.
18 Lin, Junyue (2020). “On the Identification of the Nature of Social Credit System and Its Practical Significance.” Credit Reference 征信 9: 1–7; Jiang, Kaiyuan (2020). “Development and Application of the Public Credit Infor-mation Exchange Standard.” Standard Science 7: 57–61; Tang, Gui, and Haojie Chen (2020). “Innovative Research on the Construction of New Industry Credit System with Chinese Characteristics.” Exploration of Economic Issues 2020/8: 44–49.
19 Case samples collected from Credit China by authors.
20 Trivium China (2020). “China’s Corporate Social Credit System: Context, Competition, Technology and Geopol-itics.” https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Chinas_Corporate_Social_Credit_System.pdf. Accessed: January 7, 2021.
21 Xinhua (2021). ”中华人民共和国行政处罚法 (Administrative Penalties Law of the People's Republic of China)”. January 23. http://m.xinhuanet.com/2021-01/23/c_1127015256.htm. Accessed: January 27, 2021.
22 State Council (2020). "国务院办公厅关于进一步完善失信约束制度构建诚信建设长效机制的指导意见 (State Council Office Guiding Opinions regarding the Further Improving the Dishonesty Constraint System and Estab-lishing a Long Term Mechanism for Integrity Construction).“ http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/content/2020-12/18/content_5570954.htm. Accessed: January 7, 2021.
23 Ningbo Credit (2016).” 宁波市环境违法“黑名单”管理办法（试行） (Ningbo Municipal Trial Measures for the Management of the Blacklist for Illegal Environmental Actions)”. https://www.nbcredit.gov.cn/art/2016/12/23/art_14_4989.html. Accessed: December 15, 2020.
24 Department of Ecology and Environment of Jiangsu Province (2020). “江苏省企事业环保信用评价办法政策解读 (Policy Interpretation for the Jiangsu Provincial Management of the Corporate Environmental Credit Evalua-tions)”. http://hbt.jiangsu.gov.cn/art/2020/5/27/art_74111_9186767.html. Accessed: December 15, 2020; Credit Wuhan (2015). “武汉市企业环境信用评价办法（试行）(Wuhan Trial Measures for the Management of the Corporate Environmental Credit Evaluations)”. https://credit.wuhan.gov.cn/front/article/29428.html. Accessed: December 15, 2020.
25 Brussee, Vincent (2020).
26 Xinhua Credit (2020). "公共场所不戴口罩算失信？社会信用制度要防滥用 (Not Wearing a Mask in Public Places Counts as Trustbreaking? Social Credit System Should Prevent Abuse)." May 20. http://www.jinshui.gov.cn/xydt/3321286.jhtml. Accessed: November 3, 2020.
27 Tencent / Wuhan Court (2019). "武汉公布第5批失信被执行人名单：有人因欠593.55元被限制出境 (Wu-han Publishes Fifth Batch of Trust-Breakers: People Have Been Banned from Going Abroad for Owing 593.55 CNY)." October 31. https://page.om.qq.com/page/OxNwtSojeWIoadlUTuEStOsg0. Accessed: October 30, 2020.
28 Zhang C. (2020).
29 Zhang, Chenchen (2020); Sohu (2018). “’信用让生活更便利’—— 芜湖新闻频道对乐惠分应用场景进行采访报道 (‘Credit Makes Life More Convenient‘ - Wuhu News Channel Interviews and Reports on the Application Sce-nario’s of Lehui Points).” September 3. https://www.sohu.com/a/251674535_818105. Accessed: November 2, 2020; Sohu (2020). “速领！杭州试点’信用码’，持’蓝码、绿码’去景区、酒店、停车可享优惠！ (Hangzhou Trials ‘Credit Code’, Holders of Blue and Green Codes Can Enjoy Discounts at Scenic Sites, Hotels, and Parking).” April 30. https://www.sohu.com/a/392234158_160905. Accessed: November 2, 2020.
30 The only two publicly-known instances are Hangzhou-Xiamen and Hangzhou-Quzhou: Hangzhou Daily (2020). “浙江杭州、福建厦门：杭州“钱江分”与厦门“白鹭分”互认 (Hangzhou and Xiamen: Hangzhou’s Qianjiang Points and Xiamen’s Egret Points Have Become Mutually Interoperable).” April 30. http://www.bcpcn.com/articleShow?d=95456. Accessed: November 3, 2020; Sohu (2020). “速领！杭州试点“信用码”，持“蓝码、绿码”去景区、酒店、停车可享优惠！ (Hangzhou Trials “Credit Code”, Holders of Blue and Green Codes Can Enjoy Discounts at Scenic Sites, Hotels, and Parking).” April 30. https://www.sohu.com/a/392234158_160905. Accessed: November 2, 2020.
31 Sohu (2020c). "威海医保信用信息共享至社会信用管理中心，纳入'海贝分'管理 (Weihai Medical Insurance Credit Information Is Shared to the Social Credit Management Center and Included in the Haibei Points Man-agement)." August 28. https://k.sina.cn/article_5328858693_13d9fee4502000y11k.html?from=news&subch=onews. Accessed: November 3, 2020.
32 Legal Daily (2018). “苏州打造市民信用评价’桂花分’ (Suzhou Builds Citizen Credit Rating ‘Osmanthus Points’).” August 16. http://www.legaldaily.com.cn/zt/content/2018-08/16/content_7619942.htm. Accessed: November 3, 2020; Xinhua News (2017). "(市长谈信用)芜湖：五大体系推进诚信建设制度化 (Mayor Talks About Credit - Wuhu: Five Big Systems Promote Institutionalisation of Integrity Construction)." October 14. http://xinhua-rss.zhongguowangshi.com/13701/5309965205194152973/2404929.html. Accessed: November 3, 2020; CreditHB (2018). "西楚分：让守信主体拥有更多获得感 (Xichu Points: Let Trustworthy Entities Have More Sense of Achievement)." May 23. http://www.credithb.org/content/?1745.html. Accessed: 3 November 2020; Xinhua (2018). "山东荣成：让信用成为城市'金字招牌' (Shandong Rongcheng: Let Credit Become a City’s “Gold Signboard')." September 27. http://www.xinhuanet.com/politics/2018-09/27/c_1123488320.htm. Accessed: November 3, 2020; Weihai News (2019). "在威海，'海贝分'高者可享22项惠民政策 (In Weihai, Those with High 'Haibao Points' Can Enjoy 22 Beneficial Policies)." January 22. https://www.whnews.cn/news/node/2019-01/22/content_7054576.htm. Accessed: November 3, 2020.
33 Hao, Jing (2020). "论行政法视域下正当程序对信用监管机制的规制 (On the Regulation of the Credit Supervi-sion Mechanism from the Perspective of Administrative Law)." Journal of Hebei Youth Administrative Cadres College 32(5): 82–87.
34 China Law Translate, trans. (2021). Measures for Managing the List of Untrustworthy Enterprises with Seri-ous Violations (Draft Revisions for Solicitation of Public Comments). https://www.chinalawtranslate.com/en/bad-business/. Accessed: February 15, 2021.
35 China Law Translate, trans. (2020). "Guiding Opinions on Further Regulating the Scope of Inclusions in Public Credit Information, Punishments for Untrustworthiness, and Credit Restoration to Build Long-Term and Effec-tive Mechanisms for Establishing Creditworthiness (Draft for Solicitation of Public Comments)." https://www.chinalawtranslate.com/en/futher-regulating-social-credit/. Accessed: November 2, 2020.
36 National Information Centre (2020). "城市信用状况监测 推动社会信用体系建设显实效 (Urban Credit Status Monitor, Effective Results of the Promotion the Construction of the Social Credit System)." China Credit 中国信用 2020(2): 67–72.
37 State Council (2019). “国务院办公厅关于加快推进社会信用体系建设 构建以信用为基础的新型监管机制的指导意见 (Guiding Opinions of the General Office of the State Council on Accelerating the Construction of the Social Credit System and Building a New Monitoring Mechanism with Social Credit as its Foundation).” http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/content/2019-07/16/content_5410120.htm. Accessed: October 15, 2020.
38 State Council Information Office (2020). “White Paper: Fighting COVID-19: China in Action.” http://english.www.gov.cn/atts/stream/files/5edc549dc6d0cc300eea778c. Accessed: October 25, 2020.
39 For a detailed discussion of these different initiatives, see: Peterson, Dahlia (2020). “Designing Alternatives to China’s Repressive Surveillance State.” CSET Policy Brief (October 2020). https://cset.georgetown.edu/research/designing-alternatives-to-chinas-repressive-surveillance-state/. Accessed: November 6, 2020; ChinaFile (2020). “State of Surveillance: Government Documents Reveal New Evidence on China’s Efforts to Monitor Its People.” October 30. https://www.chinafile.com/state-surveillance-china. Accessed: November 6, 2020; Human Rights Watch (2019). “China’s Algorithms of Repression: Reverse Engineering a Xinjiang Police Mass Surveillance App.” May 1. https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/05/01/chinas-algorithms-repression/reverse-engineering-xinjiang-police-mass. Accessed: November 6, 2020.
40 von Carnap et al. (2020).
41 Trivium (2020).
42 Trivium (2020).
43 Xu, Yangyang 徐杨杨 (2020). “社会信用体系建设背景下的信用应用创新研究 (Research on Innovation in Credit Applications against the Background of the Construction of the Social Credit System)”. Attention 关注 2020(2): 14-15; Sohu (2020). “该立一部什么样的社会信用法? (Establish What Kind of a Social Credit Law?)”. July 10. https://www.sohu.com/a/400990633_777813. Accessed November 3, 2020; Xiao, Zhenyu 肖振宇, Houru Weng 翁后茹, and Yang Sun 孙阳 (2020). ‘县域城市信用体系建设的实践与思考 ——以江苏省昆山市为例 (Practice and Reflection on the Construction of County City Credit System — A Case of Kunshan City. Jiangsu Province)’.