From Datafication to Data State: Making Sense of China’s Social Credit System and Its Implications

35 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2022

See all articles by Anne S. Y. Cheung

Anne S. Y. Cheung

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Law

Yongxi Chen

ANU College of Law

Date Written: July 15, 2021

Abstract

We live in an age of datafication wherein nearly all aspects of our lives can be transformed into data and evaluated. The authors seek to make sense of the heightened datafication-enabled social control under China’s Social Credit System (SCS) by developing the concept of the data state. A “data state” is defined as a governance model enabling the state to comprehensively monitor, evaluate, and control its subjects through datafication, leaving them little room to defend their autonomy. We identify the multiple functions of the SCS in its development up to 2020 and analyze its inherent defects, including the decontextualized evaluation of individuals and the semi-automated imposition of disproportionate punishment. We argue that, if the SCS were to fully integrate its functions and connect to other data-driven governance initiatives, it would eventually allow the data self, carefully groomed by the state, to dominate the bio-self and turn China into a data state. Whereas China’s SCS may be unique and not easily replicated elsewhere, understanding its intricacies helps to enable the citizens of democratic societies to guard against the relentless growth of datafication that may result in an invincible and irreversible ecosystem for the emergence of a data state.

Keywords: social credit system, data self, punishment, decontextualization, scoring, profiling

JEL Classification: K23, KE42, G28

Suggested Citation

Cheung, Anne S. Y. and Chen, Yongxi, From Datafication to Data State: Making Sense of China’s Social Credit System and Its Implications (July 15, 2021). University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2022/02, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3997747

Anne S. Y. Cheung (Contact Author)

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Law ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Hong Kong
China

HOME PAGE: http://hub.hku.hk/rp/rp01243

Yongxi Chen

ANU College of Law ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200
Australia

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