Moral and Economic Governance: The Role of China's Social Credit System in Relation to the Welfare State
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The Social Credit System is an expansive program which aims to rank Chinese citizens, companies, organizations, and government entities by their trustworthiness, which is measured through social credit points earned by complying with legal, professional, and moral standards in China. The early implementation of Social Credit has led to international concern over the system’s supposedly Orwellian nature. Counter to a public perception and historiography which is dominated by discussing the system’s function as a method of social control, this thesis asks how the SCS may alternatively be understood as part of China’s welfare state. In doing so, this thesis questions the tendency to cast the SCS as Orwellian by arguing that these critiques uncritically evaluate the SCS according to Western standards. As a result, the thesis calls for recognition of the cultural and political context in which the SCS exists if it is to be properly analyzed. The thesis then explores this cultural and political context in relation to China’s welfare state and demonstrates how the SCS can be shown to logically consistent with China’s Confucian history of welfare provision. It argues that the SCS provides vitally needed moral and economic governance in response to insecurities generated by China’s economic liberalization. By doing so, the SCS secures material and spiritual welfare in China. Both the program’s Confucian influence and response to the economic liberalization are demonstrated through analyzing the planning document for the SCS. The thesis concludes by arguing that understanding the SCS as part of China’s welfare state has significant explanatory power and should not be overlooked. Overall, it argues that analyzing the SCS through the lens of the welfare state is extremely relevant to understand how the social and economic spheres are linked in the view of Chinese governance. However, the thesis concludes by acknowledging that the program is too large to be adequately understood from any single frame of analysis and thus research should continue to be conducted from multiple frames of analysis.