“China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep; for, when she wakes, she will move the world.”
|NB. China’s Social Credit System has no relation whatsoever, except the coincidental use of the words “social credit”, with the movement in Western countries and the theory of Major C.H. Douglas which argued for governments issuing unlimited credit and for tax to be restricted to tax on land.|
In recent decades, China has been rapidly modernising. But that is far from akin to Westernising. China is a curious combination of communism and hyper-capitalism, with the Government maintaining strict control of its people while allowing economic liberalisation.
The sleeper wakes.
On ABC TV’s Foreign Correspondent (September 18), viewers had a chilling vision of China’s rapidly developing digital dictatorship, which appears like dystopian North Korea on steroids.
Over the last decade, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been working on its “Social Credit System”, meant to be fully operational by 2020. Its aim: “to allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”. Originally meant to “restore market order” by policing the financial creditworthiness of individuals and businesses, the system has vastly expanded to assess every facet of daily life.
Using China’s 200 million CCTV cameras, each movement, each decision of each citizen is monitored and evaluated. If you buy diapers, you may gain points for responsibility; if you purchase too much alcohol or too many video games, you may lose points. (But what if you’re buying them as gifts?)
Other actions that negatively affect your personal credit include not showing up to a restaurant and neglecting to cancel your reservation, cheating in online games, leaving false product reviews, posting fake news online, smoking on trains, and jaywalking.
More than 9 million people already have been blacklisted with low social credit points and are heavily penalised. They are unable to book plane or train tickets, even to see their relatives at Chinese New Year. They are put last on hospital waiting lists.
The blacklisted are subjected to public shaming, having their names published online, or even their faces broadcast on LED screens along city streets. Authorities in some regions have personalised the dial tones of blacklisted debtors, so that every caller hears an automated message informing them that they are contacting a “dishonest debtor”.
In the documentary, a young mother and marketing professional called Fan Dandan praises the system, saying that she will feel safe with cameras in every corner. She has a score of 770 out of 800. I wondered just how genuine her words were. Was she merely parroting the words that would keep her position secure or gain her more points?
Under communism, the state comes before the family, and you cannot speak your mind even among loved ones, lest you jeopardise your life. That basic glue of human society, trust, is destroyed by the state using its citizens to keep tabs on one another. Individual thought is quashed; everyone must conform to the official vision, or be eliminated as “dangerous dissidents”.
Under the Social Credit System, if your best friend or a parent criticises the government, points will be docked from you too.
Foreign Correspondent’s Matthew Carney interviewed Tahir Hamut, a Uyghur who fled to the United States with his family seeking political asylum after he and his wife were inducted into the surveillance system specifically targeting Uyghurs, an ethnic Turkic-speaking minority which practises Islam. Officials took their fingerprints, blood and voice samples, and mapped their faces from all angles.
After Hamut’s family escaped, his brother and brothers-in-law were sent to concentration camps (“education and training centres”) where a million detainees study political propaganda for 12 hours a day and live in squalid conditions. Hamut likened it to the Chinese feudal system, where, if a person was convicted of a crime, his entire extended family and his associates were punished as well (just as Sir Thomas More’s family lost their home and employment opportunities when he refused to swear the Oath of Supremacy under King Henry VIII).
The Social Credit System has turned Xinjiang Province into a veritable prison, with constant supervision by the Chinese police. Growing a beard, praying regularly or contacting people overseas can land you in jail or in a re-education camp.
Australian citizens have not been free of the oppression the Social Credit System means back in China. Twenty-seven-year-old Almas Nizamidin, who is a construction worker in Adelaide and became an Australian citizen in 2014, flew back to his hometown of Urumqi in Xinjiang Province last year immediately after hearing that his pregnant 25-year-old wife Buzainafu Abudourexiti had been taken away by plain-clothes policeman without charge. She has been sentenced to seven years in prison for “religious extremism” because she once visited the Middle East for Islamic studies.
Abdul-Salam Alim, a 45-year-old religious teacher at Garden College in Adelaide, sadly related how every adult save one in his wife’s family has been detained or imprisoned, leaving the 21 children of her five siblings in the care of the only woman who remains free. His mother-in-law has not been able to speak to her other children for nearly 18 months.
“I can’t imagine how the minor kids are surviving without parental care,” she observed sorrowfully.
An Uyghur man with an Australian passport was assaulted by more than 15 Chinese policemen in 2016, with the first officer scoffing: “You think you are Australian?”
A 17-year-old girl, recalling how back in Xinjiang she and her fellow students had to sign a contract not to fast or visit mosques during Ramadan, made a speech in front of the Chinese embassy in Canberra this March: “Chinese Government, you have said you want unity of different ethnic groups. You have said you want all ethnic groups to embrace each other like a ‘pomegranate’. Then you started your re-education camps in Xinjiang … where you detain hundreds of thousands Muslim minorities. Is this what you mean by unity of ethnic groups?”
The ABC reported: “Many in the Uyghur community in Australia … feel hopeless, helpless, and unable to trust anyone.” They now despair of any possibility of peaceful coexistence between Han Chinese and Uyghurs under the iron rule of the CCP.
Investigative journalist Liu Hu, blacklisted after uncovering government corruption, laments: “This kind of social control is against the tide of the world. The Chinese people’s eyes are blinded and their ears are blocked. They know little about the world and are living in an illusion.”
In Confucianism, virtue is equated with the individual’s development into a “social man”. The collective self trumps and subsumes the individual, on the assumption that what is good for the group is also good for the self.
But who gets to decide what is good for the group? Further, can a system that enslaves the individual to groupthink really be sustainable? Can virtue be enforced from without, instead of developed from within through an organic process of trial and error? How are people supposed to reform themselves if their misdeeds – or purported misdeed – are to penalise them for the rest of their lives?
The Chinese Communist Party may be shooting itself in the foot with these draconian measures. Deep unrest has stirred among the Uyghurs; when the rest of the people awaken to the loss of their basic freedoms, who knows what will ensue?