The Chinese Social Credit System

Between social acceptance and political repression

Term Paper, 2021

11 Pages, Grade: 1,0


List of contents

1. Introduction

2. Chinese political culture in the 21st century
2.1 The principle of the Mass Line
2.2 Social anomie as an explanation of the eroding traditional culture

3. The Chinese Social Credit System (SCS)
3.1 Primary objectives and role of the SCS in behavioral change
3.2 SCS as a political instrument for enhancing political obedience
3.3 Accomplishments of the SCS on enhancing trustworthiness among Chinese society

4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

After nearly a century since the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the government apparatus continues to adapt to the rapidly changing reality in order to solidify its rule and legitimacy. In light of vast technological developments and with the expanding economic impacts in the Chinese social structure, trust has been eroding and the traditional set of principles of values that once gave way to some of the most important social revolutions in Chinese history is being gradually replaced by normless behavior. Thus, the CCP sees itself confronted with new challenges for ensuring social governance and well-being, while guaranteeing the party’s almighty power.

This paper aims to explore to what extent might the Chinese Social Credit System (SCS) be regarded as a socially accepted programme for facilitating social governance by the Chinese Communist Party while reinforcing Chinese tradition and social trust, which might be threatened through a possible moral crisis that exacerbates in light of the expanding socio-economic modernization. To this effect, the paper will examine the primary principle of Chinese political culture and analyze how the concept of social anomie results crucial in the understanding of the SCS’s nature. Subsequently, a review of the logic of the government-run SCS will help, on one hand, to expose the reasons for which the SCS might be characterized as a political instrument for ensuring obedience to the CCP, and on the other hand, to assess the SCS’s most important accomplishments that may be reflected in the general social acceptance of the programme.

Although the Chinese Social Credit System is a newly introduced programme, there is a broad state of research on the topic. Tang (2016) explores the primary elements of Chinese political culture and how its leading principle has shaped the ruling of the Chinese Communist Party heretofore. On the other hand, Su et al. (2018) rather thematize the disruption of social norms and behavior by introducing the concept of social anomie. While both authors set a crucial groundwork for the present paper, only the work of Creemers (2018) establishes a linkage between the nature of the Social Credit System and the state’s desire of enhancing trustworthiness among the society, in which morality and trust have been eroding for years. Albeit Creemers’ research explores the system in­depth, it rather lacks comprehensive research of the Chinese social acceptance towards it. Kotska (2018), Kotska/ Antoine (2019) on the other hand, manage to address both the behavioral changes in the light of the initiative’s implementation and the social acceptance among individuals that were subject to the government-run programme. This, however, without deepening in the repression dynamics on the part of the CCP to reinvigorate its legitimacy. In this sense, the present paper intends to link the logic of the Chinese political culture and tradition with the newly introduced SSC, by examining how this initiative might have indeed contributed to, on one side, reinforcing trustworthiness among Chinese citizens, and on the other hand, to strengthening repression dynamics by the CCP in order to promote political obedience and facilitate social governance.

2. Chinese political culture in the 21st century

2.1 The principle of the MassLine

The concept of political culture encompasses a broad series of elements linked to the own identity to the country, the level of confidence in political institutions, respect for authority and law, core values in interpersonal relationships, as well as to the belief in political participation (cf. Tang 2016: 5). Deepening into the logic of Chinese political culture and tradition results thus crucial in order to understand the Chinese Communist Party’s aim of building a society based on mutual trust by means of the SCS. Chinese contemporary political culture is based on the principle of the Ädass Line, which portrays the masses as essential for the correct leadership of the CCP. In other words, the masses are intended to internalize and propagate a set of ideas that, translated into action, will guarantee a proper party leadership (cf. Tang 2016: 5). The aforementioned principle has heavily shaped the state-building process, policymaking and economic development of communist China since the leadership of Mao Zedong, which has materialized primarily through the launching of several political campaigns intending to consolidate the regime. Ever since, the A dass Line has been attempting to build a direct link between the state and society with limited involvement of intermediate organizations and institutions, mobilize the masses in political participation and establish a solid political support basis for the political apparatus, whose legitimacy relies entirely on the masses (cf. Tang 2016: 6; 9). Xi Jinping, the head of the CCP since 2012, is as well a loyal advocate of the A dass Line and has denoted it as the fundamental work principle and lifeline of the party (cf. Xi 2014: 50f).

2.2 Social anomie as an explanation of the eroding traditional culture

The socio-economic modernization has brought along several social challenges that, to some extent, challenge the dominating moral framework of values and principles heretofore. The economic shift in light of the market-based economic reform of 1978 has been accompanied ever since by a marked social differentiation. Furthermore, social conflicts and civil unrest have intensified and the traditionally leading principle of collectivism has shifted somewhat towards a more pronounced individualism (cf. Su et al. 2018: 59). In this context, social anomie might help to understand the nature of the moral crisis that currently motivates the CCP to reinforce traditional values through the SCS. Social anomie - a concept introduced by the French sociologist Dürkheim - refers to the phenomenon of the disintegration of traditional social norms and values shaping social behavior (cf. Su et al. 2018: 62). As a direct consequence of social anomie, Chinese society has witnessed a weakened adherence to law, which ever since, has begun to manifest in increasing criminality rates and the decline of social and interpersonal trust (cf. Su et al. 2018: 59). The decrease of traditions, a disrupted social structure, the widening disparity between rich and poor, as well as the increasing public dissatisfaction account for some of the effects of social anomie in China (cf. Su et al. 2018: 77). Thus, the central government plays a vital role in reinforcing moral standards based on the Chinese tradition, while continuing to boost economic modernization and social progress.

3. The Chinese Social Credit System (SCS)

3.1 Primary objectives and role of the SCS in behavioral change

Especially in the 21st century, shaped by an accentuated globalization and with the latent risk of a sort of cultural alienation - impulsed by the augmenting influence another (western) ideological, political and cultural architecture - the CCP aims to reinforce this political culture and consequently its regime legitimacy. Globalization, however, does not necessarily translate into a threat to the regime’s stability, but also means an opportunity to restore trust by making use of the advancing technological developments. A novel governance mechanism, merged with an increasingly powerful security state, builds therefore the raison d’etre of the Chinese Social Credit System. Its inherent purpose is to establish a culture based on trustworthiness, raising the sincerity consciousness of the entire society. The SCS goes beyond mere adherence to law and combines additionally economic, social and political conduct, meaning the moral aspect of individual actions (cf. Creemers 2018: 2). This goes hand in hand with one of the key premises of Mass Line, the direct connection between state and society. Hence, the state assumes an all-encompassing role, which transcends legal authority, but also converges with the state’s responsibility of fostering social morality. The close connection between morality and authority lies at the core of China’s political tradition and is carried forward through the CCP and its ambition to builda virtuous society (cf. Creemers 2018: 5f). “Illustratively, the 4th Plenum denoted ‘governing the country by virtue’ (vide zhiguo) as equal to ‘governing the country by the law’ (yifa zhiguo)” (Creemers 2018: 6). In this sense, the SCS might be regarded as a governance instrument to reinforce moral standards that are consistent with the Chinese political culture, but essentially correspond to the ideology of the CCP. In the same vein, untrustworthy, immoral and inadequate behavior - translated into political disobedience and criticism towards the government - is subject to certain punishment.

SCS was originally focused on market economic concerns related to financial creditworthiness. Local initiatives deepened, however, into the social management component, like in the case of Suining (Jiangsu). In 2010 the county introduced a mass credit programme that scored individual conduct, which rewarded and punished certain behaviors. Driving drunk, for instance, led to losing 50 points, and having a child without family planning permission 35 points. Based on the resulting scores, citizens were grouped into four categories (A-D). A-class would bring along benefits at accessing employment opportunities, while low-ranked citizens were subject to intensive examination requirements at the time of appointing as public officials; applying to low-cost government housing or basic social welfare; soliciting business licenses or requesting government subsidies, loans and government-sponsored skills training (cf. Creemers 2018: 10).

Considering that SCS has had a rather fragmented nature and has not been introduced unified throughout the Chinese territory, the 6th Plenum of the 17th Party Congress in 2011 called for the gradual construction of a credit system nationwide, which would also concentrate on enhancing social and political morality among Chinese citizens. By 2014, the Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System put forward a timetable until 2020 that set a common legal and institutional framework, highlighting the initiative’s role in government affairs and social services. The main objective should be to increase transparency, enhance lawful administration, build trustworthiness for government actors and portray the CCP as a role model for virtuous conduct, as well as to reinforce trust in health care providers and to introduce a proper online conduct (cf. Creemers 2018: 12f). This roadmap consists additionally of a Joint Punishment System, based on a blacklist system that punishes certain actions with a corresponding restriction, being this reflected in the limitation of economic opportunities, job offers, loans and subsidies, and even consumption preferences (such as traveling first class or on high-speed trains; visiting star-rated hotels, luxury restaurants, resorts and nightclubs; going on foreign holidays; purchasing some high- value products or buying a new house, among others). According to the NationalDevelopment and Reform Commission, which oversees the implementation of the punishment-scheme, over three million train and 9 million plane ticket sales had been blocked through the system by March 2018 (cf. Creemers 2017: 15).

Industry associations, financial institutions, news media, social organizations and individual citizens are encouraged to report misbehavior and become therefore an additional tool for the central government to exert control (cf. Creemers 2018: 17). For the purpose of collecting data on Chinese users, the state and private organizations workjointly. Regarding everyday conduct, data collection encompasses liquor purchases, bought literature, social media content, among others, (cf. Cata Backer 2019: 211). In this sense, the purchasing of certain products - directly linked to specific behaviors - leads to a lower or higher score. Buying diapers, donating blood, or doing voluntary work for instance, could increase the score, while playing video games and listening to loud music in the train would rather reduce it. Discount on utility bills or better chances of getting ajob interview account for some of the benefits resulting from a high score (cf. Cata Backer 2019: 213).

Since the focus of this paper lies on the government-run SCS, it results crucial to highlight that following the 2014 Planning outline, approximately 43 local governments have introduced pilot programmes, which are mandatory for every citizen (cf. Kotska/Antoine 2019: 4). According to a study on behavioral change within the context of SCS, approximately 950 out of 2.209 respondents were taking part in a local government-run SCS. Drawing from the study’s conclusions, the two more common changes in individual behavior were linked to adjusting shopping patterns and following traffic regulations in order to avoid negative scores. 18% of respondents also changed their behavior on social media and 38% stated that a sudden drop in a friend’s social score would lead to a change in their interpersonal relation (cf. Kotska/Antoine 2019: 11-14). Participants in government-run SCSs are more likely to engage in volunteer activities, donate money, and even unfriend people from their social networks in order to improve their scores or avoid a drop in scores (cf. Kotska/Antoine 2019: 15). The research concludes that respondents that changed their behavior across a wider range of activities tend to have a higher education level and income and it suggests that incentives indeed encouraged respondents to adapt their conduct in diverse aspects (cf. Kotska/Antoine 2019: 18f).

Given the comprehensive nature of the blacklist system, the SCS manages to expand the fluidity between the political sphere and daily life to the extent that self-censorship and self­discipline turn into the new normality. Accordingly, individuals foster - consciously or unconsciously - the set of values and principles that the Chinese tradition aimed to spread. Being the punishment system directly linked to a sort of social reproach, citizens might consciously abstain from socially unaccepted behavior and change individual conduct patterns in order to behave according to social expectations. According to Kotska/Antoine (2019:21), maintaining high social scores is associated with the desire for social recognition and with the public condemnation of misbehavior. This reflects in the fact that jaywalkers are exhibited on public screens, for instance. Furthermore, it seems that higher scores often result in higher chances of financial stability, since they translate into discounts, or simply into better chances of entering the job market. As a result of this, one might expect that a broad culture of individual conformity gains strength despite the increasing interference of the state in daily behavior and decision-making.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


The Chinese Social Credit System
Between social acceptance and political repression
University of Regensburg  (Lehrstuhl für Internationale Politik und transatlantische Beziehungen)
The Chinese Communist Party at 100: Constructions of Authoritarian Power
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
Chinese Communist Party, Social credit system, social anomie, political obedience, political repression, social governance
Quote paper
Daniela Forero Nuñez (Author), 2021, The Chinese Social Credit System, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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