The Social Credit System and China’s Rule of Law

Governance, Read

In 2014, the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) central government formally declared the construction of a Social Credit System (SCS) a national task. Meanwhile, government-designated localities and companies are experimenting with scoring systems for businesses, citizens and the administration.

“The government’s initiative introduces mechanisms for a massive aggregation and exchange of data about ‘credit subjects’, pushes for the application of such credit information in the decision-making processes in both the public and the private sector, and elevates the punishment of naming and shaming to new prominence”, writes Marianne von Blomberg in the book “Social Credit Rating“. “Its conceptual heritage is social management, a governance strategy born in the political apparatus of the PRC that does not operate with the traditional notion of law. The SCS’ potentially heavy impact, as well as its conceptual heritage in social management, begs the question of what difference it makes to the rule of law in the PRC.”

A legal framework for the SCS does not (yet) exist. “It has been held that the SCS is a powerful tool to strengthen the rule of law. However,” says Marianne von Blomberg, “this thesis aims to bring to light challenges that arise from the SCS for the rule of law. It does so by considering the SCS’ conceptual cradle, and further mapping what has surfaced of the SCS to date in policy and legislative documents, the commercial credit market, and local pilot projects.”

Drawing on this comprehensive picture of the SCS, elements which appear at odds with rule of law are pointed out in her contribution to the book “Social Credit Rating“. They include a lack of legal definitions for SCS key terms such as ‘trustworthiness’, opaque procedures and possible penalties that bypass the law. Marianne von Blomberg considers ways to integrate them into the Rechtsstaat, all of which necessitate a re-definition of what law is.

“Finally,” concludes Marianne von Blomberg, “the angle of social management offers a meta-social credit system as a solution to conciliate the SCS and rule of law. The question remains whether the SCS can truly solve all problems that it brings about merely by means of its own conceptual heritage, social management theory – or whether an independent organ outside of itself is indispensable.”

Marianne von Blomberg is doing a PhD in Chinese Law at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, from which she also holds an LL.M Degree, and is a Research Associate at the University of Cologne’s Institute for East Asian Studies. During her undergraduate studies at Zeppelin University, she discovered her passion for ancient Chinese rhetorics and wrote about the concept of originality in China in the face of architectural mimicry and counterfeit products. After having interned at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, the Future Research Department of Volkswagen AG, and the German Embassy in Ottawa, she moved to Hangzhou in 2016, where she continues to take a sociological perspective in her observations of the PRC legal system and social credit in particular. Part of her research was funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation under grant 10.19.2.003RE.

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