The social credit system in China: a model of constitutionalism for the era of crises

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Author: Roman Ruvinskiy

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2021-3-63-85

Keywords: blacklists; legal subjectivity; personal data; police state; reputation; social rating


This paper focuses on the probable transformative effects of the application of the Chinese Social Credit System and similar projects in the realm of public administration on constitutional rights and freedoms, balances in citizen-state relations, and the model of statehood. The starting point of the research is the assumption that the Social Credit System, despite its specifically national Chinese peculiarities, can be seen as a reflection of a broader tendency towards the use of reputational information, techniques of ranking (grading) and risk management in the process of exercising the state power. To test this hypothesis, the author analyzes the actual experience of the Social Credit System’s introduction in the People’s Republic of China, compares this project with e-government projects, and proposes the umbrella-term of “social-credit mechanisms” to describe procedures and means of social control, based on the permanent collection and analysis of reputation data relating to persons. It is argued in this paper that the introduction of social-credit mechanisms to the practice of public administration ultimately leads to the emergence of a gap between formally enshrined rights and the actual ability to exercise them, between the legal capacity of a person and the ability to realise this capacity in certain legal relations. Examining the prospects of introduction of reputation-based social-credit mechanisms to the public administration, the author notices the probability of discrimination against persons who took a false step. As is demonstrated in the paper, the use of reputation data and social ratings by state authorities may result in the gradual differentiation in quality and scope of public services depending on social ratings (grades) of their addressees. This state of affairs may signify the birth of a new caste society and the end of the principle of equality before the law. According to the conclusions made in the paper, projects akin the Chinese Social Credit System reflect the global tendency towards the formation of a new type of constitutionalism. In the framework of this new constitutionalism the main emphasis will be shifted from citizens’ democratic participation in the execution of state power and the citizenry’s political subjectivity to ensure public safety and social stability. The issue of social-credit mechanisms’ introduction to the process of public administration is de facto an issue between the values of freedom and the values of security — the issue of choosing between political subjectivity and guaranteed biological existence.

About the author: Roman Ruvinskiy – Candidate of Sciences (Ph.D.) in Law, Associate Professor of the Department of History and Theory of State and Law at the Nizhny Novgorod Institute of Management, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

Citation: Ruvinskiy R. (2021) Sistema sotsial'nogo kredita v Kitae: model' konstitutsionalizma dlya krizisnoy ery [The social credit system in China: a model of constitutionalism for the era of crises]. Sravnitel'noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol.30, no.3, pp.63–85. (In Russian).


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