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Can’t Enter Uni Because of Daddy’s Bad Social Credit – The Blacklist Story That’s Got Weibo Talking

When one bad social credit listing affects the entire family.

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The story of a Chinese student who got admitted to a renowned university and was then denied access because of his father’s bad social credit has got Chinese social media talking.

Getting access to a top university is not easy in China’s fiercely competitive education environment. For one student from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, the results of his gaokao (national university entrance exams) were so good that he received the happy news that he was accepted into one of these renowned universities in Beijing.

Unfortunately for him, that news was later followed up with an update that he could not be accepted due to his father’s bad social credit standing.

The story, which was widely covered by Chinese state media (including the English-language CGTN), received much attention on Chinese social media this week.

The young man’s father, named only as ‘Mr. Rao’ (饶先生), ended up with a bad credit standing after owing a debt of 200,000 RMB (±US$29,900) to a local bank for more than two years. Since Rao did not succeed in paying off his debt after warnings given, he was informed by a local court that he had ended up on a so-called “lose trust list” or “black list” (失信名单/失信黑名单).

Towards a More Credit-Based Society

In 2014, China’s government first announced plans of its “Social Credit System” (社会信用体系) that focuses on accumulating and integrating information, and will create measures that encourage ‘trustworthy behavior’ and punishes those who are not ‘trustworthy.’

The system is planned to go national by 2020, and is currently implemented in various regions across the country.

However, the public black list was introduced before this time, with Chinese courts in 2013 starting to publicly give out the names online of people who have not complied with court orders.

Additionally, In 2006, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) also already began operating its own independent Credit Reference Center tasked with managing a national commercial and consumer credit reporting system. With the recent launch of the so-called ‘trust alliance’ (信联), a new unified platform that has access to an enormous number of personal credit data, China’s credit-based society has taken another leap – with state level and commercial organizations joining forces in further developing China’s credit systems.

In recent (English-language) media reports, the lines are often blurred between the Social Credit system and a number of private programs, including the Sesame Credit program. These misunderstandings partly come from the fact that both the government’s plans on introducing their ‘Social Credit System’ (社会信用体系) and the Central Bank’s endeavors to build a stronger personal credit industry (个人征信行业) were major developments in the period from 2013-2015 up to the present. Together with the 2013 judicial online blacklist, these policies and programs all built on a stronger credit-based society that governs both economic and social areas.

The ‘system’ (there is not one system in place yet) works through rewards and punishment mechanisms. In the city of Zhuhai, for example, individuals or companies with good credit are put on a “red list” which potentially means they could be praised online (Zhuhai credit website) or given rewards, whereas those put on the “black list” (f.e. due to serious misbehavior or promise-breaching) will be subject to various restrictions (Zhang & Zhang 2016, 157).

Those restrictions could include a halt on loans or a national ban from traveling by air or train. Since private programs and institutions also have access to the public blacklists, one company or person’s bad credit status can affect their status among various platforms and for various institutions – and thus, potentially, could also influence their children’s access to schools and universities.

A Controversial Measure

The recent story of Rao’s son paying the price for this father’s bad credit listing has stirred controversy online over children being affected by their parents’ bad credit listing.

One Weibo news thread on the issue received nearly 30,000 comments.

One of the most popular remarks on the story said: “If it is okay to treat those who are associated with an offender as guilty (连坐), then it’s time to punish the sons and daughters of corrupt officials, too.”

“A father’s bad credit has nothing to do with the children!”, another Weibo user said.

But another popular comment called the measure “effective,” with others agreeing: “If he waited two years to pay off his debt, he was basically asking to be on the blacklist. That his bad credit influences his child’s education is just to reap what one has sown.”

Various Chinese media, including financial newspaper Caijing, report that the boy’s father was previously warned by the local court that his bad credit standing could potentially have consequences for his children too, but that he still did not comply with court orders to pay back his loans.

Since Rao’s son has been denied access to the university as long as his father has a bad credit standing, Rao has allegedly paid back the loan and has asked the local court to be removed from the blacklist.

There are also commenters on Weibo, such as @闪电McQueen, who say the university’s actions are nothing newsworthy: “This is just the [political] examination of people’s records, it’s not specifically about the black list, it’s common knowledge, let’s not make it all about that black list.”

This commenter’s reaction reiterates the idea that the social credit system and black list system is actually not that new, as Rogier Creemers has previously described in Foreign Policy (2016): “The Chinese Communist Party government has always sought to keep tabs on its citizens, for instance through the “personal file” (dang’an) system of a few decades ago.”

Another person on Weibo says: “The people who are saying the child is the victim here should also know that people who end up on the blacklist are generally not people without money, their kids have enough opportunities, it’s just that if they owe money [to the bank], paying the tuition fee for their kids would become a problem.”

As for Rao’s son, whether or not he will be able to start at his new university in Beijing in the new semester, now that his dad has paid off debts, is yet unclear. Some commenters say it would be better if he didn’t: “Who wants to go to a university who does this anyway?”

UPDATE (7.16.18): Jeremy Daum at the ever-insighful China Law Translate blog has further looked into this case and found that the institution in this article, which has not been named in Chinese media, is most probably a private academy. He was also able to verify that this concerns a real story with no fake names used – he was able track Rao down in the public blacklist.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

References

Creemers, Rogier; Peter Marris; Samantha Hoffman; Pamela Kyle Crossley. 2016. “What Could China’s ‘Social Credit System’ Mean for its Citizens?” Foreign Policy, Aug 15
http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/08/15/what-could-chinas-social-credit-system-mean-for-its-citizens/ [15.7.18].

Zhang, Keting, and Fang Zhang. 201. “Report on the Construction of the Social Credit System in China’s Special Economic Zones.” In: Yitao Tao and Yiming Yuan (eds), Annual Report on the Development of China’s Special Economic Zones (2016): Blue Book of China’s Special Economic Zones, 153-171. Singapore: Social Science Academic Press.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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5 Comments

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  1. Avatar

    Bruce Humes

    July 17, 2018 at 8:51 am

    Good piece! Clarifies where the Social Credit System is going. Sounds like a return to “class struggle” (阶级斗争) in vogue 1949-1978. During that period, children’s place in society was determined by their parents’class, i.e., it was inherited, not based on the child’s behavior. This was known as 出身论, a Marxist concept. Now, in 2018, children’s opportunities for social advancement are determined by their parents’ behavior. This a step backwards for Chinesr society.

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China Insight

Chinese Construction Worker Left Jobless after Exposing the Dangers of Flimsy Safety Helmets

No one seems willing to hire the day laborer after he exposed the substandard quality of workers’ helmets.

Gabi Verberg

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A video of a Chinese construction worker showing the shocking difference in quality between the safety helmets of laborers versus those of their supervisors went viral on social media earlier this month. Chinese netizens praised the whistleblowers’ push for equal safety standards, but he is now left jobless and ignored.

On April 11, a Chinese day laborer by the name of Dou (窦) published a video on Kuaishou exposing the low-quality safety helmets for frontline construction workers.

In the video (embedded below), Dou shows two helmets. The yellow one, he claims, is the one worn by construction workers. The red one belongs to their supervisors. As he smashes the helmets together, Dou shows how the yellow one is immediately crushed, while the red one remains in perfect condition.

Dou’s message was simple and strong: the helmets worn by supervisors are of much higher quality than those of construction workers, exposing them to considerable dangers while working.

The video was viewed at least 100 million times and sparked major online discussions on the safety of Chinese construction workers before it was taken down from video platform Kuaishou on April 18.

At time of writing, the hashtag “The Contrast between the Safety Helmets of Workers and Supervisors” (#工人和领导安全帽对比#) has been viewed 250 million times on social media platform Weibo, where netizens have collectively expressed their sympathies for vulnerable laborers whose “safety first”, apparently, is not a priority at many construction sites.

The topic also made headlines in Chinese state media. State-owned broadcaster CCTV investigated the quality of Chinese safety helmets, and discovered that some available construction hats, priced as low as 4 RMB (0.59 U.S.$), did not meet safety standards.

A lawyer quoted by Global Times advocated that China’s relevant government departments should launch a campaign to crack down on “inferior helmets” and “clean up illegal products from the source.” The state-run newspaper also reported that workers wearing unsuitable helmets was “a norm in the construction industry,” according to an industry insider.

China’s Ministry of Emergency Management (中华人民共和国应急管理部) released a public statement on Weibo in response to the issue, reminding construction supervisors to abide by legal safety regulations.

But despite the overwhelming support for Dou, the day laborer is now left jobless and worried. In an interview with Chinese media outlet The Paper, Dou says that he can no longer find work since his video has gone viral: “I used to be able to find work every day,” he said: “Why can’t I find it now?”

In the interview, Dou suggests that his online fame over unequal safety helmet standards has made contractors afraid to hire him: “Even contractors that I used to work for are all declining my services.” The situation has left Dou, father to three children, in financial troubles that have forced him to return to his hometown.

When reporters asked Dou why his viral video and earlier videos exposing the flimsy quality of construction hats were taken offline, he reportedly answered: “I need to live.” Perhaps hoping to prevent further exclusion from the construction job market, Dou also claimed he had purchased the helmets in the video himself, and that his employer was not to blame.

 

In the first few years of our lives we learn how to speak, and then we spend the rest of our lives learning to stay quiet.”

 

News of Dou’s predicament has attracted the attention of netizens. Earlier this week, the hashtag “Flimsy Safety Helmet Man Responds” (#脆皮安全帽当事人回应#) received more than 180 million views on Weibo, with many commenters expressing their worries over Dou’s situation after addressing serious workplace safety issues.

One Weibo commenter wrote: “If this [unemployment] is the price you pay for speaking the truth, then who is willing to do so in the future?!” Another Weibo user wrote: “If you have nothing to hide, you’d have no problem hiring him.”

“In the first few years of our lives we learn how to speak, and then we spend the rest of our lives learning to stay quiet,” another commenter wrote.

Despite the public outcry against the injustice suffered by Dou, there are also those who point out that social media discussions can have an actual impact.

Some netizens referred to another incident that occurred last weekend when a video of a woman sitting on the hood of a brand-new Mercedes-Benz went viral.

The woman had just purchased the Mercedes, and as the car was still standing in the showroom, it was leaking oil. After the dealer told her that she had to pay for the repairs, she climbed on the hood of the vehicle and, in tears, refused to get down.

A video of her protest immediately went viral, and millions from all over the country expressed their support for the woman. In light of the public controversy, Mercedes launched an investigation and suspended the showroom for violating regulations.

On Weibo, many people take the Mercedes incident as an example of how justice can prevail as long as netizens unite. But whether the power of social media will also have a positive outcome for Dou is yet uncertain. “He probably won’t be able to find any work for the time to come,” some Weibo users predict.

UPDATE 25 APRIL: Shortly after publishing this article, the hashtag “Flimsy Safety Helmet Man Finds Work” (#脆皮安全帽当事人已找到工作#) has taken off on social media platform Weibo. Dou has received the help of a friend in finding work at a local construction site in Qingdao, the same city where he previously worked.

By Gabi Verberg, Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Blazing Memories: About the Comparison of the Notre Dame Fire to the Burning of the Old Summer Palace (Op-Ed)

Understanding why the Yuan Ming Yuan went trending in China after the Notre Dame fire.

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A What’s on Weibo news article on Chinese online responses to the Notre Dame fire attracted very mixed reactions on English-language social media this week.

After the fire at the Notre Dame in Paris earlier this week, What’s on Weibo published an article describing Chinese online responses to the devastating blaze, and the ubiquitous comments that compared the destruction of the iconic French cathedral to the burning of the Chinese Old Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Yuan) in Beijing by the Anglo-French army in 1860.

There have been many reactions to this story on various social media platforms. From one side, there were those who questioned why we would even publish an article like that, suggesting that our position in covering this trend was biased. On the other side, there were those who jumped into the discussion, blaming Chinese for playing the victim and ignoring the destruction of old historical buildings or Mosques within their own country over recent years.

The reactions to this article and overall trend show the polarized stances on social issues and media in China, and how to cover them. Some suggested that it was not fair to write down the “negative social media opinions of a few Chinese commenters,” saying that it “reflected badly” on China overall, or that they were “irrelevant.”

Covering the voices of a few dozen ‘trolls’ and presenting them as an ‘overall sentiment’ is not what we do at What’s on Weibo.

Some people pointed out that the comparison of the Notre Dame blaze to the burning of the Old Summer Palace was not something that most Chinese agreed with. As also covered in our article, there were indeed many commenters, including historians and Key Opinion Leaders, who opposed to the Yuan Ming Yuan trend in light of the Notre Dame fire.

The fact of the matter still is that the Old Summer Palace became a massive topic of online debate following the Notre Dame fire. Ignoring such a trend in covering Weibo responses to the tragic Paris incident would be a huge blind spot problem.

Instead of condemning these Chinese online responses, ignoring they are there, or trivializing their relevance, it is perhaps more constructive to consider where they come from, and understanding that the history of the Old Summer Palace is still deeply ingrained in the collective memory of the Chinese people and nation.

Before further elaborating on this, let’s first go back to the trend itself.

 

From Notre Dame to Yuan Ming Yuan

 

As news of the catastrophic fire that engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral (巴黎圣母院) in Paris on Monday made headlines across the world, the Old Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Yuan 圆明园) suddenly became a trending topic on Chinese social media.

Besides all the people who mourned the destruction of the historic cathedral, and those who posted photos of their previous visits to the scenic spot, there were many Chinese netizens who started addressing the plundering and burning down of the Yuan Ming Yuan (“Garden of Perfect Brightness”) in 1860, leading to the Notre Dame and the Old Summer Palace becoming top trending topics on Weibo at the same time.

As Notre Dame goes trending on Weibo, so does the Old Summer Palace (top 4 top trending).

On April 18, WeChat self-media account Fang Zhouzi (方舟子) wrote about the reaction: “On Chinese internet, a peculiar response started to emerge, as many people suddenly started remembering the burning of the Yuan Ming Yuan by the Anglo-French forces 159 years ago, and thereupon saying that the Notre Dame deserved to be burned.”

It is unclear who first drew a comparison between the Notre Dame and the Yuan Ming Yuan, but on April 16, actor Zhou Libo (周立波) wrote on Weibo that “compared to the Yuan Ming Yuan, the Notre Dame is just a garden.” A former editor at the Phoenix News Military Channel, Jin Hao (金昊), also published an article on WeChat titled “Mourning it, my ass! I’m pleased with the big fire at Notre Dame” (“哀悼个屁!巴黎圣母院大火,我很欣慰!”) (since deleted).

On other social media sites, such as Douban, people also started posting blogs with titles such as “the Notre Dame collapse makes me think of the Old Summer Palace” (“巴黎圣母院的倒塌让我想起了圆明园”).

An exploration of search queries on Chinese search engine Baidu shows that at the time when ‘Notre Dame’ peaks as a query on April 16, so does the term ‘Yuan Ming Yuan.’ Similarly, on Google Trends, the Chinese query ‘Notre Dame’ shows the Yuan Ming Yuan Park as the number two related topic in its overview of the past week.

Baidu trends show that both the search terms ‘Notre Dame’ (A) and ‘Yuan Ming Yuan’ (B) simultaneously peak on April 16.

At time of writing, there are dozens of pages on Weibo filled with comments relating to the Notre Dame/Old Summer Palace comparison. We won’t list many of them here, but some of the comments include reactions such as: “Now you can also experience how it feels when art and culture are burned,” “I might have a narrow sense of patriotism, but seeing the Notre Dame burn makes me happy inside,” and “even a hundred Notre Dames still don’t make the Old Summer Palace,” with many netizens claiming that the loss of the Old Summer Palace was just as bad, or rather worse, than the destruction of the Notre Dame.

These collective responses to the Notre Dame fire also drew much criticism. State media outlet CCTV published an article that condemned the comparison of the Notre Dame and the Old Summer Palace, stating that people “should not vent their emotions in the name of history” (Li Xuefei 2019).

Various other news channels also published critique, including one article titled “The Notre Dame fire as retribution for the burning of Yuanmingyuan? Please stop this inhumane line of reasoning” (“巴黎圣母院大火是烧圆明园的报应?快停下反人类思维”).

As covered in our previous write-up, there were also many voices on Weibo denouncing the trend. One of them was Yan Feng (严锋), a professor at Fudan University, who posted:

The Notre Dame cathedral was constructed in 1163, the Yuan Ming Yuan was destroyed in 1860. The people who burned the Yuan Ming Yuan were not the people who built the Notre Dame of Paris. They were separated by 700 years. The French feudal separatists were in no way French according to modern-day standards. Every injustice has its perpetrator and every debt its debtor, why should you let the Notre Dame bear the responsibility of burning down the Yuan Ming Yuan?

“First of all, we are people, then we are Chinese,” another popular comment said: “The loss of such a historical cultural gem is a loss for all mankind.”

 

Collective Memories of Yuan Ming Yuan

 

In October of 1860, British and French troops sacked and burned the Old Summer Palace, which was once a massive complex consisting of more than a hundred buildings, pavilions, and scenic spots, built since the 17th century for the Qing emperors.

The event took place at the end of the Second Opium War. Unsatisfied with the Treaty of Nanjing and, among others, demanding more Chinese cities and ports to open for trade, the Anglo-French army invaded Beijing in 1860. They plundered the Yuan Ming Yuan, which was filled with books and art treasures. The burning came afterward, to destroy the evidence of their looting. The fire blazed for three days and three nights, leaving the enormous palace grounds in ruins (Chey 2009, 79).

The site of the once magnificent Old Summer Palace is now the Yuanmingyuan Ruins Park, an initiative that was set up in the 1980s after decades of neglect. In “The Ruins of Yuanmingyuan,” Haiyan Lee calls the site a “national wound” (2009). It is a symbolic space, where the ruins remind visitors of the injustice China once suffered at the hands of Western powers.

This injustice is an important incident in China’s so-called “Century of Humiliation,” the time from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s during which China was attacked, weakened, and torn by foreign forces.

The “Century of Humiliation” still plays an important role in China today, as young people are also taught that this historical consciousness is important. The four character slogan “Wù wàng guóchǐ” (勿忘国耻), “Never forget national humiliation”, is frequently repeated in Chinese media, museums, schools, documentaries, and in popular culture.

Young Chinese students carrying a sign “Never Forget National Humiliation”, image via Xinhua.

As described in the insightful work by Zheng Wang, Never Forget National Humiliation, the historical memory of China’s era of humiliation has become part of Chinese national identity, promoted in official discourse, and often unconsciously yet profoundly influencing people’s perceptions and actions. This is also what collective memory is: an accumulation of memory-forming processes that take place on both conscious and non-conscious levels (Koetse 2012, 10).

The Yuan Ming Yuan Park is a particularly significant cultural heritage site where the remembrance of the humiliations and injuries China suffered at the hands of foreign imperialists comes to life through the ruins (Lee 2008, 169).

 

Blazing Memories

 

Collective memory and nations are tied together in many ways, as historical memories serve as an important vehicle to unify the nation. They also play an important part in how people from different communities, societies, or nations will interpret big or important events that happen in the world today.

When certain news makes headlines, it is not uncommon for people to reflect on it speaking from their own experiences and the collective memory of their own nation or bigger community – especially when the place where it happens is far removed from them.

This is not unique to China. To grasp, process, and comment on faraway incidents, it is sometimes easier to relate it to something that is closer to you.

Former American first lady Michelle Obama visited Paris earlier this week for her book tour, and told the audience about how shocked she was about the Notre Dame blaze, briefly comparing the incident to the devastating American 9/11 attacks.* Does it make sense to compare the burning of the Notre Dame to the 9/11 attacks? Perhaps not. Yet Obama was not the only one to raise the 9/11 events; some on Twitter even called the burning of the Notre Dame “a cultural 9/11” disaster.

Seeing the overwhelming responses to the Notre Dame fire on Chinese social media, where so many people linked it to Chinese history, the reaction perhaps should not be whether these online responses and media discussions were either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – instead, it is important to understand where they come from, and how people from various backgrounds, cultures, or religions, often use their own cultural or social frameworks, historical narratives, and dominating ideas to make sense of what is happening around them.

As the Notre Dame trend on Chinese social media shows, but what’s beyond the scope of this article, is that the mechanisms of online nationalism and anti-foreign sentiments often also come into play once these memory-machines start running.

In the end, the Notre Dame fire actually has nothing to do with the history of the Old Summer Palace. But the news of the Notre Dame blaze was enough reason for many Chinese netizens to trigger and bring up this memory of Chinese suffering that still exists in the minds of the people today.

Instead of condemning that, or trivializing news reports on these trends, one could try to understand it, and then see it as a completely separate issue from the Notre Dame fire – as many people on Weibo also do.

By Manya Koetse

Recommended reading:

References

Fang Zhouzi 方舟子. 2019. “巴黎圣母院和圆明园有什么关系?” April 18, Fang Zhouzi / Self-Media WeChat link[4.18.19].

Koetse, Manya. 2012. “The ‘Magic’ of Memory. Chinese and Japanese Re-Remembrances of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).” Research Master thesis, Leiden University.

Lee, Haiyuan. 2009. “The Ruins of Yuanmingyuan – Or, How to Enjoy a National Wound.” Modern China 35 (2): 155-190.

Li Xuefei 李雪菲. 2019. “巴黎圣母院火灾怎能与火烧圆明园混为一谈 狭隘的民族主义可休矣.” April 16, CCTV,Sina News https://finance.sina.com.cn/roll/2019-04-16/doc-ihvhiqax3118848.shtml [4.18.19].

Ong, Siew Chey. 2009. China Condensed: 5, 000 Years of History & Culture. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish International.

Weatherley, Robert D., and Ariane Rosen. 2013. “Fanning the Flames of Popular Nationalism: The Debate in China over the Burning of the Old Summer Palace.” Asian perspective 37(1):53-76.

Zheng Wang. 2012. Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations. New York: Columbia University Press.

* Segment on Michelle Obama in Paris from Dutch “Talkshow M” of April 17th, 36.00 min.

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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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