China is developing a national pilot plan for its social credit system, according to the official Xinhua news agency. Doctors and public servants will be among the first professionals to register for the ratings system, which will punish and reward citizens depending on their behaviour.

The first test zone for the system is planned for the Yangtze River Delta region and includes the city of Shanghai, as well as Jiangsu, Anhui and Zhejiang provinces, the agency reported on Monday.

East Nanjing Road in Shanghai. Photo: Wikicommons.
East Nanjing Road in Shanghai. Photo: Wikicommons.

The government is using big data to develop the social credit system, which is envisioned as a national database compiling information about its citizens and ranking them based on the trustworthiness of each person. It plans to fully implement the system by 2020.

Critics such as Zan Aizong, a Hangzhou human-rights activist, have called the system “Orwellian” and say it could be used for broad social control.

Under the national pilot plan, entrepreneurs and individuals with good credit records will be rewarded. The plan will “help nurture a sound business and social environment in the region and regulate individual behaviour based on credit records,” Xinhua reported.

The State Council also issued guidelines on Friday setting out its priorities in building the system.

Real name registration 

The government plans to speed up the creation of personal credit records by promoting real-name registration in online services, postal services, telecommunications and financial accounts to build personal credit records. Traffic violations and taxes will be the first to affect the credit scores of individuals, and doctors and public servants will be the first to register their credit profiles.

Those with higher scores will be given advantages in education, employment, and starting businesses, and those who fail to pay debts or taxes, fundraise illegally, participate in fraud, or violate traffic regulations will be punished. It also encourages parties collecting data to publicise serious wrongdoing on a national website.

The Shanghai Municipal People’s Congress deliberated draft regulations on a social credit system in the draft’s first reading last week.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.