People in the West who read fear-mongering mainstream media reports on this subject have not much access to actual information. This is a small compendium to share some basic knowledge and understanding.
The social harmony system in the PRC, so far rolled out experimentally in limited regions with successful results, is built mainly for businesses, a bit like the rating systems on Yelp, Google Reviews, or IMDB. In this article, we will mostly focus on its functions and effects for individuals: replacing the debt-based credit system of the West with one based on the rewarding of trust-worthy and pro-social behaviour.
It is truly democratic, and affects every member of society in the same way. Honesty, dependability, responsibility, compassion, and ethical choices are rewarded equally for anyone, rich or poor. The system is mainly about fulfilling one’s financial and otherwise obligations, such as fairness in business or paying for childcare, and the punishments are mostly things such as not being able to book first class flights or travel restriction.
Everyday level individual behaviour is a minor part of the system, but it can be used to report classism, sexism, racism, corruption in the work place, slimy bosses, abuses of power by officials, all kinds of misconduct and social injustice. It can be used by the poorest person to report the richest. It can be used by women to report men. It certainly does impede freedom: the freedom to mistreat service workers, to bully the weak, to abuse spouses, to disrespect public space, to be an asshole.
Compare this to the debt-based credit rating system in capitalist states, which determines who can travel, buy property, etc., purely based on the ability to pay credit card bills and loans, disproportionally benefiting the rich and punishing the poor.
Many of the Chinese people disallowed international travel have behaved badly while abroad: I only wish countries like England would reel back their drunken hooligans who puke outside my building at 5am after shouting and singing in the streets all night.
Here is some detailed information about how the Social Harmony System works from Ian Goodrum, a journalist who lives and works in China, in which he cites and explains pages from official policy.
More than 2/3 of Chinese citizens support it, according to this study by Frei University Berlin. Last I checked, that is the actual meaning of democracy.
Despite the overwhelming fear-mongering of Western press which compares this credit system to “1984” and “black mirror”, falsely characterising it as a top-down “totalitarian” mechanism of “authoritarian” control in which citizens live in fear, every move watched by “big brother”, some Western publications with a conscience and a bit of back bone have published more balanced pieces.
Wired Magazine has published a retraction of their earlier misinformed and slanderous articles: How the West Got China’s Social Credit System Wrong
Bloomberg reluctantly, very reluctantly, admits that the system is supported by Chinese people and that it just might be a positive thing: Why Big Brother Doesn’t Bother Most Chinese
Here is even the Washington Post with a more balanced view.
What Westerners are horrified by is what this system would mean here in the West, in societies governed by corporate oligarchies, failing to imagine that it has very different functions and meanings in a profoundly different society, with a profoundly different political structure. The Communist Party of China prioritises, and drafts policy for, the well being of people instead of corporate profit, and represents the interests of the majority, instead of those of a tiny minority of financial elites.
The only thing which matters, and makes all the difference in the world, is the class composition and class character of a ruling party. Surveillance, data mining, capital punishment, nuclear power, etc. — horrible, nightmarish, and disastrous under capitalism, but can be boons to society under socialist rule. Instead of bringing more alienation, isolation, and fear, digital technology used the right way creates more empathy, trust, cohesion, connection, and harmony.