Face Off: Is China’s social credit system beneficial to the country’s development?

Face Off: Is China’s social credit system beneficial to the country’s development?

Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week …

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Photo: Handout

Joy Lee, 15, South Island School
Despite the controversy, the social credit system may actually be good for the mainland’s development. 

First, we need to understand how the social credit system works. Citizens are rewarded on a points-based system. They can gain points for doing activities deemed good or helpful towards society, and lose points if they engage in activity that is thought of as bad. Incentives, such as fast train or airline tickets, are used to motivate people to gain points.

While this “carrot and stick” approach may seem questionable at first, at its core it can be viewed as a successful way to encourage citizens to make small but necessary changes to the way they live. Activities such as volunteer work, environmental friendliness, respect between citizens, and honesty is encouraged through this system. With most of the population taking part in such a scheme, the benefits are widespread and can help with the country’s societal development, which prompts change – for the good. 

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The system just isn’t as Orwellian as journalists make it out to be. Some may argue that it is immoral, but many of the ways to lose points are already written into the law as bad – corruption, breaking traffic rules, tax evasion, or disrupting contracts, for example. They are all things people should  be punished for doing. The idea that people are being monitored and having their privacy taken from them is another myth of the system.

As of today, the system is being tested only in small cities, and those taking part report it is effective but doesn’t intrude into their daily lives. In an article by South China Morning Post, shopkeeper Liu Huayang comments that: “My face is the best credit. The government’s rating is merely a gesture on paper.”

To conclude, the social credit system is likely to be beneficial to the country’s development. It is a new and original way to both enforce existing laws and reward people who do things that benefit society. In the end, the mainland can only learn from this experience – and while it may not be the best solution to their societal problems, it’s an idea that will help lead to more progressive solutions in the future. 

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Joy Chan, 16, Hong Kong International School
Although the mainland’s social credit system intends to mould “good citizens”, its systematic flaws have effects that instead create disingenuous, or fake, “good citizens”. The credit system is subjective; points are awarded and removed based on claims that do not have to be backed up.

If you look through the opinion section of any political magazine or newspaper, you’re bound to find a piece that describes how the justice system has failed any number of people in any number of cases. That this occurs even with the presence of judges, juries, evidence, and testimony from defendants themselves points towards the unreliability of a social credit system. 

While the stated objective of the credit system is to make the country’s citizens trustworthy, the system has the unintended effect of cultivating a sense of entitlement. If someone is punished for lacking manners, such as not offering a bus seat to an elderly person, for example, this shifts the purpose of being kind and having manners. 

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There is a type of learned behaviour in psychology called “operant conditioning”. It’s a method of learning that occurs when there are rewards and punishments for behaviour. When the stimulus – in this situation, the awarding/removing of points – is taken away, the response ends. Thus, citizens are being conditioned to act as “good citizens” because of their fear of punishment and their desire for a reward, rather than for the more wholesome purpose of improving their society and genuinely wanting to help those in their community.

If you compare the mainland’s credit system to the United States’ financial credit system, the former system’s flaws become apparent. While the United States punishes its citizens who exploit finances for their own gain, China punishes its citizens for making daily life mistakes on top of making financial blunders. There is good reason to regulate financial affairs – but once regulation infringes on individual privacy unnecessarily, it merely becomes legislation that exists solely  to control individuals, and it doesn’t drive development.

Edited by Ginny Wong

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Face Off: Is China’s social credit system beneficial to the country’s development?

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2 Comments

Kerry Hoo

16:39pm