How to Make the Perfect Citizen? Lessons from China's Model of Social Credit System
35 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2020 Last revised: 24 Jan 2022
Date Written: April 1, 2020
The COVID19 crisis has triggered a new wave of digitalization of the lives of citizens. To counter the devastating effects of the virus, states and corporations are experimenting with systems that trace citizens as an integral part of public life. In China, a comprehensive sociotechnical system of citizenship governance has already in force with the implementation of the Social Credit System—a technology-driven project that aims to assess, evaluate, and steer the behavior of Chinese citizens.
After presenting social credit systems in China’s public and private sectors (Part I), the article provides normative standards to distinguish the Chinese system from comparable Western systems (Part II). It then shows the manner in which civic virtue is instrumentalized in China, both in content (“what” it is) and in form (“how” to cultivate it) (Part III), and claims that social credit systems represent a new form of citizenship governance, “cybernetic citizenship,” which implements different conceptions of state power, civic virtue, and human rights (Part V). On the whole, the article demonstrates how the Chinese Social Credit System redefines the institution of citizenship and warns against similar patterns that are mushrooming in the West.
The article makes three contributions: empirically, it presents China’s Social Credit Systems and reveals their data sources, criteria used, rating methods, and attached sanctions and rewards. Comparatively, it shows that, paradoxically, China’s Social Credit System is not fundamentally different than credit systems in Western societies, yet indicates four points of divergence: scope, authority, regulation, and regime. Normatively, it claims that China’s Social Credit System creates a form of cybernetic citizenship governance, which redefines the essence of citizenship.
Keywords: Citizenship Governance; China; Social Credit System; Civic Virtue; Cybernetic Citizenship
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