China's controversial social credit system isn't just about punishing people — here's what you can do to get rewards, from special discounts to better hotel rooms

GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images
  • China is rolling out a “social credit” system, which aims to monitor people’s behaviour to punish and reward people for their behaviour.
  • Many reports have detailed what people can do wrong, and how they can suffer as a result.
  • But there are also ways people can build up good social credit, as detailed in a recent study.
  • It highlights caring for the disabled, donating to college funds, and helping on a farm.
  • See the list below.

China’s social credit system, designed to reward and penalise people based on their behaviour, has become notorious for the punishments it doles out to people who don’t repay their loans or misbehave in public.

The system aims to reinforce the idea that, in the words of the Chinese government, “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful.”

One argument for this system is that many people in China still have no formal access to traditional finance and therefore need an alternative system to assess their trustworthiness.

Its punishments include being unable to secure loans, or being placed on a public blacklist which can stop people travelling on planes and trains, lead to their children’s school places being taken away.

But there are also ways people can build up good social credit, and get in the government’s good books.

China bank tellerChina Photos/Getty ImagesA woman sits between stacks of 100 yuan ($US14.8) notes. A main argument for the social credit system is that many people still have no formal access to traditional banks and therefore need an alternative system to assess their trustworthiness.

A group of researchers in Germany analysed 194,829 behavioural records and 942 governmental reports on citizens’ “good” and “bad” behaviour, and noted a list of deeds that could bring about positive credit in a report released this week.

Here’s what they are:

  • Helping take care of disabled people.
  • Donating to college funds for poor students.
  • Caring for elderly people, even when they aren’t related.
  • Missing meals to help vegetable farmers harvest their crops [it is not totally clear what they mean by this].
  • Repaying a loan even after a bank has canceled it.

The study only mentioned a few things, and the above list is incomplete. The full scope of actions that could be rewarded has not been well-defined, and could be at the discretion of many different agencies and officials.

In 2018, Foreign Policy magazine also saw positive social credit in action during its visit to the eastern city of Rongcheng, which operates its own points-based social credit pilot program.

It first assigns 1,000 points to every adult, and adds and subtracts points depending on the individuals’ behaviour.

Here’s what some of the city’s local heroes did:

  • Yuan Suoping, 55, who took care of her bedbound mother-in-law, and even insisted that she move into the house shared by her and her new husband.
  • Bi Haoran, a 24-year-old policeman, pushed students out the way of a car that crashed into a crowd one evening.

Rewards for doing good include getting discounts on energy bills and higher interest rates at banks, and being able to rent bikes and rooms at top hotels without paying a deposit, Foreign Policy reported last year.

City hall officials in Rongcheng even display the names and photos of locals who do particularly positive deeds, the magazine said.

The researchers in Germany, however, noted that Chinese authorities have appeared more keen to report punishable deeds than rewardable ones.

This could be to prevent people from gaming the system to gain rewards.

“Detailed instructions on how to win rewards could therefore lead to distribution problems since many individuals could implement them,” the report said.

The system, which is due to be rolled out nationwide in 2020, is still patchy. After the government announced its intentions for the plan in 2014, various local governments around China have rolled out their own versions of the the system.

The Chinese government has also given various tech companies, including Alibaba and Tencent, permission to monitor users’ behaviour on their platforms and respond accordingly.

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