The growing importance of China’s Social Credit implementation is a hot topic in the media – both in- and outside of China.
Ever since the Chinese government announced its first plans in 2014 on the construction of a nationwide Social Credit System to be rolled out by 2020, media coverage on the issue has seemingly been growing month on month.
According to the official government website, the system (or policy) is meant to “assess individuals and government agencies on areas ranging from tax payment and local government bonds to judicial credibility,” and focuses on credit in the areas of (1) administrative affairs, (2) commercial activities, (3) social behavior, and (4) the judicial system.
Part of the Social Credit plan is the implementation of blacklist systems that punish the “untrustworthy” behavior of companies or individuals through various measures. Already in 2013, China’s Supreme Court launched its online publicly available ‘blacklist’ with the names of people that have an effective court order against them.
In 2017, there were more than a hundred regions in China where local governments worked with blacklists. Earlier this year, Chinese media published reports claiming that more than 9,5 million people were blacklisted nationwide in 2017. Those on these lists could face a hold on their loans or travel bans, and will have to deal with a range of other restrictions in their daily lives until they comply with court orders.
The cartoons that are published together with news reports on social credit also clearly show the big differences in how the social credit implementation is perceived in foreign media versus in Chinese media.
Below, on the left, is Financial Times‘ Ingram Pinn’s illustration which was featured in a 2018 article discussing both private credit scores (e.g. Sesame Credit) and the national social credit implementation (for the difference between them, please see our “Open Sesame” article). On the right is a cartoon by state media outlet Xinhua – the same illustration is regularly posted across dozens of news sites when featuring social credit-related stories.
While the cartoon on the left illustrates people as carrying the heavy burden of their ‘credit score’ (note that only commercial programmes such as Sesame Credit actually have these scores), the cartoon on the right shows the social credit as flying over a group of cheering people.
In general, the illustrations on Social Credit in Chinese state media roughly present China’s nascent Social Credit implementation in two ways; (1) as punishing individuals for bad behavior and (2) as benefiting the collective, which builds on a more harmonious society together.
This cartoon above was used in a local government post about social credit and shows people dressed as construction workers literally ‘building’ on the characters for ‘honest’ and ‘trustworthy’ (诚信).
The idea of literally ‘building’ on a Social Credit System together is also illustrated in other cartoons used by Chinese state media, such as the one above by Xinhua that shows a person waving a flag that says “construction,” standing in front of a number of blocks that form the term “personal integrity system” (个人诚信体系).
The applauding and cheering keeps coming back in other cartoons, such as the one above that is published across multiple news platforms. The characters in the flying heart say “chéngxìn” (诚信) , meaning ‘integrity.’
Besides the illustrations propagating the benefits of the Social Credit system for the collective, there are also many which emphasize the downsides for individuals who get blacklisted. This illustration, published on on the Economic Weekly zhonghongwang.com, shows a person on the left that has a heart on his chest saying ‘keeping trust’ (or: ‘trustworthy’), and the text above his head says “I can go anywhere” (路路通). The person on the left has a ‘lose trust’ black heart on his chest; this ‘blacklisted’ individual sees “limits” on all the signs around him and the cloud text above his head says: “I’m blocked everywhere” (处处受限).
This illustration published on Party newspaper People’s Daily shows an individual being punished through a pillory which has the term for “blacklisted person” on it. The man’s thinking cloud says: “Lose your trust in one place, and there’s no place to go” (“一处失信、处处受限”), which is a slogan that is recently applied a lot by Chinese media writing about the Social Credit system.
To be fair, the illustration above was not published by state media outlet but by various commercial sites, but I still wanted to include it here; these illustrations travel from news article to news article and it is not always easy to detect their origin. This cartoon shows a big ball and chain, the ball says “Social Credit System,” which is tied to the chain which holds a “Resident Identification Card” (official ID of the PRC) and is then tied to the individual.
This Xinhua illustration, also published on the official government Credit site, shows a man caught in a “black list name” confinement for tax evasion, with the cloud saying: “I can’t move a single step!” (寸不难行). On the flying carpet that says “honor list for paying tax” is another man who holds a “legal tax paper” in his hand and who says: “I can go wherever.”
This widely circulating illustration shows four individuals from A to D, standing on a block that says “Trust credit levels.” The A man holds a sign that says “special treatment” (or: “favored”), whereas the number D man is put a dunce on his head that says “constrained,” while he falls into a black whole.
The cartoon above, by state media outlet Xinhua, shows a computer that has the term “government information sharing” on it, and says: “[We] unite in taking disciplinary measures!” He holds a big net that is titled “Social Credit Web,” and captures a man with a briefcase who is “blacklisted,” and also says, as we’ve seen in previous illustration, that there is “no way to go” for him.
All in all, the message these various illustrations propagate is straight-forward: those who stay off the black lists and behave like good citizens are free to go wherever they want, those who do not will be caught and lose their freedom of movement. They further emphasize that the Social Credit System is a combined effort, that will, allegedly, benefit the collective and make China a safer and more harmonious place.
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