Alright, I will be honest, the motivation for this article is from after watching Extra Credits’ take on the issue, which did an okay job on explaining the basics of the system and the dangers it pose on society through manipulation. If you haven’t watched the video and don’t intend to watch the video, you could read this BBC article instead. But to put it very briefly, China’s social credit scheme is China trying to quantify people’s loyalty to them in numbers. Your number (score) is affected by your everyday doings such as purchases or internet activity and in turn this score affects belonging in the society.
Just a reminder, Sesame Credit, is only one of the eight credit programs that the Chinese government has sanctioned,before a permanent one comes into being in 2020. Sesame Credit is run by Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company.
How it’s Marketed
Alibaba’s own announcement of the program touted that “芝麻信用可為中國人帶來全新的信用名片” (Sesame Credit brings a new credit business card for Chinese) in some ways saying that Sesame Credit could be the new start for you, in that it will change your life. Alibaba lists the five angles that can affect your Sesame Credit Score:
- 信用歷史：過往信用賬戶還款記錄及信用賬戶歷史 (Credit history)
- 行為偏好：在購物、繳費、轉賬、理財等活動中的偏好及穩定性 (Purchase Behaviour)
- 履約能力：享用各類信用服務，並確保及時履約 (Performance Reliability)
- 身份特質：在使用相關服務過程中，留下足夠豐富和可靠的個人基本信息 (Personal Information)
- 人脈關係：好友的身份特徵，以及與好友互動程度 (Social Connections)
All five of these are really broad and they nearly cover a huge facet of anyone’s life. I mean social connections, is pretty important, this could be how 1984 starts, with kids spying on their parents, but enough of my hyperbole, you can make up your own mind on the dangers, as well the vagueness of these five criteria.
There’s been a nice series of infographics that I’ve found while surfing the web, they’ve appeared on various sites and they are quite simple and nice, sadly I could not find their original source (the watermarks all put in there by the current sites I’ve poached them from) but if someone does, please tell me who so I can credit them. Nonetheless the infographics are quite simple and nice. I will translate some of these infographics to give an insight on what Chinese people see, as well how Sesame Credit wants to be seen.
The Second Infographic details the benefits of Sesame Credit, I will translate each benefit by row order due to space issues:
Person/yellow background: For domestic workers use Sesame credit, find the right person right away, you can categorise your nanny’s maid by how many points they have and be guaranteed to get them.
Shopping trolley/blue background: Taobao, TMall (both online shopping giants). Buy first, pay later.
Couple/orange background: Use sesame credit for relationships. Don’t get married to a zhannan (Guy who has a bad career/flirts too much).
Cash notes/blue background: Get the best exchange rates.
House/orange background: If you’re going to co-rent, you need to use Sesame Credit.
Hotel/blue background: Don’t pay bonds on car rentals or booking hotel rooms.
Mail Package/pink background: People with high credit ratings, do some delivery jobs and earn some money on the side.
Airplane/green background: Enjoy the quick refunds you get on returning airline tickets, no longer you have to wait a whole week.
World/red background: No need for a visa when departing, travel the world.
Nametag/green background: On job seeking websites, show your Sesame credit and get ahead.
For the first infographic, the grading score is begrudgingly similar to something you’d see on a primary (elementary) school test instead of the usual AAA or BBB you see in credit ratings on the news. Then there’s the part where they try to use the world ‘international’ to make it seem credible and incredibly normal to have your social network and purchasing options analysed.
In terms of the benefits infographic, you can see that having a well maintained and high Sesame Credit would put you quite ahead of people who do not. I mean being ahead of someone in the job market is crazy enough, but in terms of dating as well? Wow, I guess they only want obedient citizens to have the prospects of marriage, not to mention it already targets media weak straight men of China. You’re going to even have issues moving out if you don’t have a good score. Oh and that guy there, paying a bond for something? he is probably a bad person as well. Anyway, this is most likely going to carry onto becoming attached to the meaning of Face in China, I mean, you could argue that this entire system is merely an extension of what already exists inside Chinese society.
Due to the benefits, many people just see this Social Credit thing as a tool you can use to get ahead of others in life, I mean that seems pretty standard in China, given the population and the amount of competition for everything. Users have been trying to take advantage of the Credit system by ‘manipulating’ or pretty much playing into the game the government wanted. People are advertising their various Sesame Credit Networks on sites like Tieba (Chinese Reddit).
I’ve translated the top thread that has been trending the highest around Christmas time and it pretty much details how the thread creator is trying to use the sex sales method to gather more higher rated members into his group with the promise of ‘beautiful girls’. These type of things are just widening the social gap that already exists within Chinese society, since there are already tens of millions of single men running around.
The whole issue of manipulating society that West has been bringing up, of course has not been talked about within China, or maybe such ideas have been repressed behind the Great Firewall and ‘Ministry of Culture’, but people are really buying this as a way to get ahead. It’s definitely going to have a bigger effect in the future, once Chinese citizens will be all forced onto the program, if they haven’t already due to the lucrative benefits. Anyway, this is just a quick brief look.