What does it take to be

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What does it take to be

Toggle display of website navigation Dispatch: In an attempt to ease bureaucracy, the city hall, a glass building that resembles a flying saucer, has been fashioned as a one-stop shop for most permits. Instead of driving from one office to another to get their paperwork in order, residents simply cross the gleaming corridors to talk to officials seated at desks in the open-space area.

At one of these stations, Rongcheng residents can pick up their social credit score. It includes everything from rankings calculated by online payment providers to scores doled out by neighborhoods or companies. High-flyers receive perks such as discounts on heating bills and favorable bank loans, while bad debtors cannot buy high-speed train or plane tickets.

Bythe government has promised to roll out a national social credit system. But it has been hard to distinguish future promises — or threats — from the realities of how social credit is being implemented. Rongcheng is one place where that future What does it take to be visible.

Three dozen pilot systems have been rolled out in cities across the country, and Rongcheng is one of them. But it also illustrates those intentions may not be as straightforward as they like to claim. Roncheng's "civilized families" are displayed on public noticeboards like these.

The bureaucrat, wearing square glasses and a black checkered sweater, shares the social credit department with seven other employees on the second floor of the city hall. From there, the math begins. Get a traffic ticket; you lose five points. Earn a city-level award, such as for committing a heroic act, doing exemplary business, or helping your family in unusual tough circumstances, and your score gets boosted by 30 points.

For a department-level award, you earn five points. Some offenses can hurt the score pretty badly. Companies are also included in the gauntlet of social credit.

They can remain in good standing if they pay taxes on time and avoid fines for things such as substandard or unsanitary products — a sore point for Chinese people, who tend to mistrust firms and service providers due to frequent scams and food safety scandals. High-scoring businesses pass through fewer hoops in public tenders and get better loan conditions.

Sometimes people only realize it when their big life plans — buying a home, applying for a government position or an academic title — take them to the bright hallways of the city hall.

Yu Guanqing sports black Nike sneakers as he rushes from one counter to another, his wife by his side. The year-old company employee needs his social credit score among other documents to apply for a house loan.

When asked, he checks his score. Oversized pictures depicting the heroes of this brave new world are displayed outside the city hall. They include Bi Haoran, a year-old policeman, who saved some students one evening by pushing them out of the way of a car that crashed into the crowd.

Yuan Suoping, a year-old villager, is also there. High-scoring residents are shown outside the public library and in residential communities and villages, which are already operating their own trial social credit systems.

Boards explaining how you can win or lose points and showing pictures of the best scorers are a common sight in Rongcheng; passersby talk about them with pride.

At first, we just worried about losing points, but now we got used to it. It will all be interconnected by an invisible web of information. But contrary to some Western press accounts, which often confuse existing private credit systems with the future schemes, it will not be a unified platform where one can type in his or her ID and get a single three-digit score that will decide their lives.

This caricature of a system that doles out unique scores to 1. The system would instead expand and automatize existing forms of bureaucratic control, formalizing the existing controls and monitoring of Chinese citizens.

An 11th-century emperor instituted a grid system where groups of five to 25 households kept tabs on each other and were empowered to arrest delinquents. But previous efforts largely focused on groups, not individuals. Such groups were supposed to police their own members — efforts inevitably tied to the violent political struggles of the Maoist era.

Posts, the state relied on hukou, or housing registration, to keep tabs on where people lived, worked, and sent their children to school.

Along with society at large, the Communist Party has always monitored its own members for both ideological and personal loyalties. E-government projects that started in the s, such as the Golden Shield, which connected public security bureaus across the country through an online networkhave been aimed at both efficiency and control.

Hu, with his minister of public security, Zhou Yongkang, dreamed up a monitoring system capable of functioning automatically, with the end goal being to keep the Communist Party in power.

The result of decades of control, however, is that Chinese society suffers from a lack of trust, says veteran sociologist Zhang Lifan. People often expect to be cheated or to get in trouble without having done anything.The system is the brainchild of city hall staff, says He Junning, the deputy director of the Rongcheng Social Credit Management Office.

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What does it take to be

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