What is China’s Social Credit System?

The social credit system is a national reputation system being developed by the Chinese government. The policy aims at standardizing reputation on the economic and social assessment of individual and businesses by 2020. The system will track and grade the actions of each citizen in China. It will then award or punish individuals based on their actions.

China released the blueprint five years ago to establish a nationwide scheme that will track trustworthiness of citizens, businesses and government corporations. The system aims to create confidence and eliminate vices such as corruption and business fraud.

Possible Punishments for Your Actions

Just like credit scores, social scores can either move up or down, depending on your actions. The methods used to determine one’s social scores are a secret. However, some of the acts include driving offenses, posting fake news online, and smoking in no-smoking zones. With poor social scores, you can be punished through either of the following ways.

1. Banning You From Travelling

When one’s social scores fall below the minimum level, China is punishing them by restricting them from accessing the train or flying. For instance, nine million people were banned from buying tickets for domestic flights in March. Also, three million people were prohibited from expensive options such as getting business-class train tickets. Some of the other misdoings that can make one’s luxury options to be taken away include loitering in front of boarding gates or trying to ride without a ticket.

A high speed train in China.

2. Banning People From the Best Schools

Beijing News reported that 17 people had been barred from furthering their studies or enrolling in high school or higher education for failing to carry out military service. Also, in July, a student was denied admission to a university since his father had a poor social credit score. It implies that if your scores below the set level, you or your children can only drop out of school.

3. Restricting Your Internet Speeds

This is based on published work on tech security by Rachel Botsman. For instance, credit systems determine how fast people pay their bills and punish those who fail to do on time according to Foreign Policy. Other offenses that can make one’s internet to be restricted include playing video games for too long, wasting money on unnecessary purchases and posting on social media.

4. Barring You From The Best Jobs

When people commit offenses such as corruption, fraud and embezzlement of funds, their social credit scores will significantly fall. They then become ineligible fro prestigious jobs forcing them to resign or be sacked. Such individuals cannot be employed in banks, state-owned firms or management jobs.

5. Being Named Publicly as a Bad Citizen

Naming and shaming people publicly is the other form of punishment. Based on a notice issued by the government in 2016, companies should consult with blacklisting people hiring individuals. People are notified through the courts before they are blacklisted. One has the right to appeal against the decision within ten days after being notified. However, it is not yet clear when the list will take effect.

6. Having Your Pet Taken Away

The enforcement of the social credit in Jinan began in 2017, where one’s dog is taken away when your social credit scores fall. Some of the offenses that can make your dog taken away include having your dog walking away and causing disturbances. In such cases, pets are confiscated and individuals forced to take a test on regulations set for pet ownership.

A pet store in China.

7. Barring One From Accessing The Best Hotels

People who refused to take part in military service were banned from taking holidays in hotels. When social credit scores improve in this criterion, such people speed up their travel applications where they can visit places such as Europe. With good social credit scores, one can book a hotel without paying a cash deposit.


The social credit system has attracted mixed reactions from all over the world, especially from the US. People opposed to the system claim that the policy violates people’s privacy by accessing personal data. Some support the system. They argue that it will eliminate bad vices such as corruption and business fraud.

Participating in the system is voluntary but by 2020 it will be mandatory. Since the system has not come into full effect, we can only wait to see the results.

Nosedive is a Black Mirror episode that provides a very interesting and dark take on how social credits could work out.

Robin is one of the founders of FiFi Finance. He is our financial expert on loans, savings, wealth growth as well as our political and economic analyst. He is a former financial journalist and has been a web-editor for more than 20 years. Read more about the whole editorial team at FiFi.