China’s state-run Global Times newspaper reported on Monday that over 11.14 million instances of individuals not being able to board flights – and 4.25 million similar incidents on trains – had occurred “by the end of April.”
Since the same person could attempt to board a flight or train and have officials deny them more than once, it is likely that the number of individuals banned from traveling is slightly lower than the number of instances in which the government has blocked travel.
The Global Times proclaims the millions of cases of government officials using the “social credit system” to ground travelers a success of the system, which closely monitors the behavior of all individuals, assigning a numerical value to how beneficial to the Chinese communist state each person is. People considered loyal, law-abiding members of the Communist Party are assigned high social credit scores, while those who violate the law, behave in irritating ways in public, or are suspected of engaging in dissident activity are assigned lower scores.
China has not yet made clear how the numerical system works or where the cut-off score is to be prevented from flying or riding trains.
According to Hou Yunchun, former deputy director of the development research center of the State Council, who the Global Times quotes as having celebrated the system on Sunday, a social credit score is necessary because “if we don’t increase the cost of being discredited, we are encouraging discredited people to keep at it.”
Hou insisted that it was necessary for social harmony that “discredited people become bankrupt.”
Zhi Zhenfeng, a government-friendly legal analyst, also told the Global Times in the piece published Monday that he believed it was necessary for the Communist Party to pass sweeping national laws to “gauge the correct punishment” depending on the nature of the transgressions documented.
China first announced the creation of a social credit system in 2015, initially intended to be used online. The internet social credit system would monitor what each individual does when he or she goes online and assign a positive or negative score for each person determined by what websites they visit, what they purchase, and the nature of the comments and postings they leave on social media.
China has since expanded this project to the real world, where “crimes” like jaywalking, returning library books late, possessing frowned-upon religious or political materials, or insufficient “patriotism” could result in a low score. In March, Chinese officials revealed the first known victims of the social credit system: 17 soldiers drafted into the military who “were unable to handle army life and tried to quit multiple times before being expelled.” The men were reportedly “blacklisted;” Chinese media did not specify what the punishment for blacklisting was at the time.
The Global Times subsequently revealed that those with low social credit would no longer have the ability to purchase and successfully use tickets for train or airplanes.
The universal application of the credit system and the seemingly endless ways a Chinese citizen could hurt their score has led to many comparisons with the British science fiction program Black Mirror – specifically the episode “Nosedive,” in which the imposition of a national social media credit score drives the protagonist to madness. The Global Times, often the nation’s most belligerent and forward of the many government publications, embraced the comparison in a March editorial titled “Black Mirror Comes to Life.”
“China’s introduction of a ‘social credit’ system has raised dark comparisons to George Orwell and the dystopian television series Black Mirror (2011-),” the column read. “The social credit system is making the world more like a small town again, with everybody knowing everyone else’s business.”
“In a small town, everyone knows who is a good lover, who cheats on their spouse, who has money problems, who drinks too much and everyone’s salary. We are moving into a world where all this knowledge will be readily available to everybody,” the article claims, ultimately concluding that putting this power in the hands of the Communist Party is preferable to private corporations like Facebook having such control.
“It’s incredibly sinister,” Charlie Brooker, the creator of Black Mirror, said of China’s social credit system in 2016. “Am I right in thinking that your ranking is affected by your friends, so if you hang with the wrong crowd, your social ranking will go down? Wow. It’s completely mental.”
This month, the Global Times published a piece arguing that the system is necessary because the nature of the Chinese people is untrustworthy, and they must be disciplined into proper behavior.
“In today’s Chinese society, trustworthiness is not highly honored. That’s why we see corruption, expired vaccines, commercial fraud, tax dodging and academic cheating from time to time,” the Global Times argued, adding that, in contrast, the United States suffers from far fewer traffic violations, for example, because “the cost of violating traffic laws is very high.”
The Global Times did not offer any evidence that the rate of traffic offenses in the United States is lower than that of China.