'Rule of Trust': The Power and Perils of China's Social Credit Megaproject

36 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2018 Last revised: 26 Mar 2019

See all articles by Yu-Jie Chen

Yu-Jie Chen

Institutum Iurisprudentiae, Academia Sinica; New York University (NYU) - US-Asia Law Institute

Ching-Fu Lin

National Tsing Hua University

Han-Wei Liu

Singapore Management University - Yong Pung How School of Law; Monash University

Date Written: April 30, 2018


Emerging as a comprehensive and aggressive governance scheme in China, the “Social Credit System” (SCS) seeks to promote the norms of “trust” in the Chinese society by rewarding behavior that is considered “trust-keeping” and punishing those considered “trust-breaking.” This Article closely examines the evolving SCS regime and corrects myths and misunderstandings popularized in the international media. We identify four key mechanisms of the SCS, i.e., information gathering, information sharing, labeling, and joint sanctions, and highlight their unique characteristics as well as normative implications. In our view, the new governance mode underlying the SCS — what we call the “rule of trust” — relies on the fuzzy notion of “trust” and wide-ranging arbitrary and disproportionate punishments. It derogates from the notion of “governing the country in accordance with the law” enshrined in China’s Constitution.

This Article contributes to legal scholarship by offering a distinctive critique of the perils of China’s SCS in terms of the party-state’s tightening social control and human rights violations. Further, we critically assess how the Chinese government uses information and communication technologies to facilitate data-gathering and data-sharing in the SCS with few meaningful legal constraints. The unbounded and uncertain notion of “trust” and the unrestrained employment of technology are a dangerous combination in the context of governance. We conclude with a caution that with considerable sophistication, the Chinese government is preparing a much more sweeping version of SCS reinforced by artificial intelligence tools such as facial-recognition and predictive policing. Those developments will further empower the government to enhance surveillance and perpetuate authoritarianism.

Keywords: Social Credit, information and communications technologies, governance, social control, human rights

Suggested Citation

Chen, Yu-Jie and Lin, Ching-Fu and Liu, Han-Wei, 'Rule of Trust': The Power and Perils of China's Social Credit Megaproject (April 30, 2018). Columbia Journal of Asian Law, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2018, pp. 1-36, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3294776

Yu-Jie Chen (Contact Author)

Institutum Iurisprudentiae, Academia Sinica ( email )

128 Academia Sinica Rd., Sec. 2
Taipei City, 11529

HOME PAGE: http://www.iias.sinica.edu.tw/en/member_post/1109?class=12

New York University (NYU) - US-Asia Law Institute ( email )

139 MacDougal Street
New York, NY 10012
United States

HOME PAGE: http://usali.org/people/#usali-affiliate

Ching-Fu Lin

National Tsing Hua University ( email )


HOME PAGE: http://chingfulin.net/

Han-Wei Liu

Singapore Management University - Yong Pung How School of Law ( email )

55 Armenian Street
Singapore, 179943

Monash University ( email )

900 Dandenong Road
Caulfield, Victoria 3145

HOME PAGE: http://scholar.google.com/citations?user=37GMiZcAAAAJ&hl=en

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