The Social Credit System (Chinese: 社会信用体系; pinyin: shèhuì xìnyòng tǐxì) is a national credit rating and blacklist being developed by the government of the People’s Republic of China.[1][2][3] The program initiated regional trials in 2009, before launching a national pilot with eight credit scoring firms in 2014.[4][5] It was first introduced formally by then Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, on October 20, 2011, during one of the State Council Meetings.[6] Managed by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), and Supreme People’s Court (SPC),[6] the system was intended to standardize the credit rating function and perform financial and social assessment for businesses, government institutions, individuals, and non-government organizations.[1][7][8][9][10][11][12]

The social credit initiative calls for the establishment of a unified record system so that businesses, individuals and government institutions can be tracked and evaluated for trustworthiness.[13][14][15][16] There are multiple, different forms of the social credit system being experimented with,[17][18] while the national regulatory method is based on blacklisting and whitelisting.[5][19] The credit system is closely related to China’s mass surveillance systems such as Skynet,[20][21][22] which incorporates facial recognition, big data analysis, and artificial intelligence.[23][24][25][26][27]

The Social Credit System is an extension to the existing financial credit rating system in China.[28] The origin of the system can be traced back to the 1980s when the Chinese government attempted to develop a personal banking and financial credit rating system, especially for rural individuals and small businesses that lack documented records.[29] The Chinese government aims to enhance trust in the society with the system and regulate businesses regarding issues such as food safety, intellectual property theft, and financial fraud.[28][29][30]

Supporters claim that the system helps to regulate social behavior, improve the “trustworthiness” of citizens (which includes paying taxes and bills on time), and promote traditional moral values.[31][32][33] Critics of the system claim that it oversteps the rule of law and infringes the legal rights of residents and organizations, especially the right to reputation, the right to privacy as well as personal dignity, and that the system may be a tool for comprehensive government surveillance and for suppression of dissent from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).[34][35][36][37] Aside from controversies and concerns, the Social Credit System also generated a large amount of misreporting and misconceptions in the media due to translation errors, sensationalism, conflicting information, and lack of comprehensive analysis.[17][38][39][40] The prominent example includes widespread misassumption that Chinese citizens are rewarded and punished based on a numerical score assigned by the system.