The Greening of Beijing

For the past two weeks I have walked well over 100 kilometres – in Beijing.

Until now I have regarded my little corner of the city as an oasis, outside of which is the bewildering maze of one of the largest cities in the history of human civilization. To be sure, I am accustomed to taking the massive metro system to all corners of the city. But this practice makes no difference to the sense of living in a maze. One speeds along underground, emerging at one’s destination in another part of town.

Walking is completely different.

Initially, I simply set out to find a bicycle shop for local supplies for my new Brompton foldup bicycle. Before I knew it, I had checked my Baidu map (much better than the woeful Google maps) to locate another bicycle shop. By the time I found it and returned home, I had walked in a south-westerly loop of about 10 kilometres.

I was hooked in a way that I had not expected. The next day I walked north to a church and bookshop, ambling back via another route. Soon enough I was off again, walking north again to find the old Summer Palace grounds, known in these parts as Yuanmingyuan. Having been inside before and knowing the ruins (a result of one of the European colonial rampages in the nineteenth century), I preferred to walk there and find another way home.

Now it was time for a serious hike. To the west of where I live begin the mountains that encircle Beijing. A favourite is Xiangshan, Fragrant Mountain, which I have climbed in the past. But now I decided I would walk to Xiangshan, a distance of some 14 kilometres. On the way I found the Beijing Green Belt, a carefully designed strip that runs along the western reaches of town. Soon enough I was striding along, absorbing the trees and the first blossoms of spring. Few were enjoying them at the time, for people were flocking to Xiangshan and its fabled spring flowers. By the time I reached the village itself, at the foot of the mountain and outside the city, I was done, so I took the new metro back home.

More walks followed, to the massive Yuyuantan Park, south of where I live and full of people out and about and celebrating spring. But I was most thrilled by Xizhuyuan Park, or Black Bamboo Park. It had been a chance discovery on another walk, a green space that set a whole new standard for such spaces.

Originally it had been a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) minor palace area, but it had been closed for many a long year. What had they been doing in the meantime? It turns out that the Beijing City government had been working on a new plan for the greening of the city. Black Bamboo Park would be one of the model green spaces. It had opened only recently.

Inside I was amazed. The old buildings had been restored, but more importantly trees and birds and plants were everywhere.  As I walked along the lake, a ranger with much excitement pointed to the water. There was a turtle – an amphibian that is most sensitive to environmental conditions since it moves between water, land and air – enjoying the clean water of the lake.

After my first visit to this particular park, I was able to map out an ideal walk. Initially I would head west along Wanquanzhuang Road, deep in the outer regions of Beijing where few foreigners tread and where locals do their thing. Then I would pick up the western Green Belt, along the Nanchang River, which was yet another new development. The river itself had been cleaned up and its environs were full of trees, blossoms and recreational spaces. It led me to the Black Bamboo Park, where I once again relished the breakthroughs in green planning and implementation. For the final leg, I walked along some four kilometres of the major Zhongguancun Road, but I did so by walking through one green space after another.

By now I had walked in all directions of the compass, east, north, west and south. I had hiked into the centre of the city, to its outskirts and the mountains, to historic sites of colonial humiliation, and along the ever greater number of green spaces.

Above all, I was most struck by the greening of Beijing. Not so long ago Beijing was a leitmotiv of the worst of city living. Row upon row of high-rise building, with an air quality that had become proverbial. Indeed, some foreigners and Chinese people from other parts assume that Beijing is still like that.

Not any more: the city government has been fully aware that residents would no longer put up with such conditions, so it had set about for many a long year to clean up the city. Some of the strictest environmental laws in the world are enforced ever more strongly, but this is only a beginning. Whole new standards have been set for a greening of the city. The air quality would be tackled through many policies that has seen it gradually improve year upon year. Green spaces would abound, with designer planning and implementation, as only the Chinese know how. And water quality would be at a level where sensitive animals would feel at home, whether turtles or the fabled ducks – not the type of Beijing Duck that you eat at a restaurant.

How is all this possible, especially in a city that had become a parable for environmental degradation?

Long-term planning is the answer. A stable government that is able to implement five-year plans. This is of course a communist local government that is committed to a green Beijing. Forget the ‘Greens’ of bourgeois democracies, with their liberal policies that have become political footballs. Only a communist government committed to ‘ecological civilisation’ can achieve what I experience here in Beijing.

Terrorist acts by ‘East Turkistan’ forces in Xinjiang from 1990 to 2016

The following is a partial list of terrorist acts perpetrated in Xinjiang by various elements of the ‘East Turkistan’ movement, from 1990 to 2016. The first date marks the beginning of an upsurge in such attacks and the last date – 2016 – indicates that last time a terrorist act occurred in Xinjiang.

After you have read through the list, which remains partial, you will realise why the Chinese government had to act, focusing on short-term security measures and long-term measures determined by the basic human right to socio-economic wellbeing.

The following is quoted from the white paper, published in March 2019 by the Chinese State Council:

Incomplete statistics show that from 1990 to the end of 2016, separatist, terrorist and extremist forces launched thousands of terrorist attacks in Xinjiang, killing large numbers of innocent people and hundreds of police officers, and causing immeasurable damage to property.

Killing ordinary people

On February 5, 1992, while the whole of China was celebrating the Spring Festival, a terrorist group planted bombs on a No. 52 and a No. 30 bus in Urumqi, blowing up the 2 buses, killing 3 people and injuring 23 others.

On February 25, 1997, “East Turkistan” terrorists caused explosions on a No. 2, a No. 10 and a No. 44 bus in Urumqi, destroying the 3 buses, killing 9 and causing serious injury to 68.

On July 30, 2011, two terrorists hijacked a truck at the junction of a food street in Kashgar City, stabbed the driver to death, drove the truck into the crowd, and then attacked the public with their knives. In this incident, 8 were killed and 27 injured.

The next day, knife-wielding terrorists randomly attacked pedestrians on Xiangxie Street, Renmin West Road, killing 6 and injuring 15.

On February 28, 2012, nine knife-wielding terrorists attacked civilians on Xingfu Road, Yecheng County, Kashgar Prefecture, resulting in 15 deaths and 20 injuries.

On March 1, 2014, eight knife-wielding Xinjiang terrorists attacked passengers at the Kunming Railway Station Square and the ticket lobby, leaving 31 dead and 141 injured.

On April 30, 2014, two terrorists hid in the crowd at the exit of Urumqi Railway Station. One attacked people with his knife and the other detonated a device inside his suitcase, killing 3 and injuring 79.

On May 22, 2014, five terrorists drove two SUVs through the fence of the morning fair of North Park Road of Saybagh District, Urumqi, into the crowd, and then detonated a bomb, claiming the life of 39 and leaving 94 injured.

On September 18, 2015, terrorists attacked a coal mine in Baicheng County, Aksu Prefecture, causing 16 deaths and 18 injuries.

Assassinating religious leaders

On August 24, 1993, two terrorists stabbed Senior Mullah Abulizi, imam of the Great Mosque in Yecheng County, Kashgar Prefecture, leaving him seriously wounded.

On March 22, 1996, two masked terrorists broke into the house of Akemusidike Aji, vice president of the Islamic Association of Xinhe County, Aksu Prefecture, and assistant imam of a mosque, and shot him dead.

On May 12, 1996, Aronghan Aji, vice president of the China Islamic Association and president of Xinjiang Islamic Association, and hatip of Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar was stabbed 21 times by four terrorists on his way to a mosque and seriously wounded.

On November 6, 1997, a terrorist group, under the command of the “East Turkistan” organization stationed abroad, shot and killed Senior Mullah Younusi Sidike, member of the China Islamic Association, president of Aksu Islamic Association and imam of the Great Mosque of Baicheng County, on his way to the mosque for worship.

On January 27, 1998, this same group shot and killed Abulizi Aji, imam of the Great Mosque of Baicheng County on his way to the mosque for worship.

On July 30, 2014, the 74-year-old Senior Mullah Juma Tayier, vice president of Xinjiang Islamic Association and imam of the Id Kah Mosque, was brutally killed by three terrorists on his way home after morning Fajr prayer.

Endangering public security

On May 23, 1998, the East Turkistan Liberation Organization dispatched trained terrorists from abroad into Xinjiang who placed more than 40 incendiary devices with self-ignition equipment in crowded places such as shopping malls, wholesale markets and hotels in Urumqi, resulting in 15 arson cases.

On March 7, 2008, terrorists carried a disguised explosive device that could cause catastrophic crash onto Flight CZ6901 from Urumqi to Beijing, intending to blow up the plane.

On June 29, 2012, six terrorists attempted to hijack Flight GS7554 from Hotan to Urumqi following the example of the September 11 attacks.

On October 28, 2013, three Xinjiang terrorists drove a jeep carrying 31 barrels of gasoline, 20 ignitors, 5 knives, and several iron bars onto the sidewalk on the east of Tiananmen Square in central Beijing and accelerated it towards tourists and policemen on duty, until it crashed into the barrier of the Golden Water Bridge. They then ignited the gasoline to set the jeep on fire, resulting in deaths of 2 people including 1 foreigner and injuries to over 40.

Attacking government organs

On August 27, 1996, six terrorists drove to the seat of Jianggelesi Township government, Yecheng County, Kashgar Prefecture, cut the telephone line, and killed a deputy township head and a policeman on duty. They then kidnapped three security men and a plumber, drove them to the desert ten kilometers away, and killed them.

On October 24, 1999, a group of terrorists armed with guns, knives, and explosive devices attacked a police station in Saili Township, Zepu County, Kashgar Prefecture. They threw incendiary bottles and explosive devices at the station, shot dead a public security guard and a criminal suspect in custody, injured a policeman and a public security guard, and burned 10 rooms, 1 jeep and 3 motorcycles in the police station.

On August 4, 2008, terrorists drove a stolen dump truck into the back of a queue of armed frontier police at drill on Seman Road, Kashgar City, and threw homemade grenades, leaving 16 dead and 16 injured.

On April 23, 2013, when terrorists were found making explosives at their home in Selibuya Town, Bachu County, Kashgar Prefecture by three visiting community workers, they killed them on the spot and then attacked local government staff and police coming to their rescue, resulting in 15 deaths and 2 severely injured.

On June 26, 2013, terrorists launched attacks at the police station, patrol squadron, seat of local government and construction sites of Lukeqin Township, Shanshan County, Turpan Prefecture, resulting in 24 deaths and 25 injuries.

On July 28, 2014, terrorists with knives and axes attacked the government building and police station of Ailixihu Town, Shache County, Kashgar Prefecture. Some then moved on to Huangdi Town where they attacked civilians and smashed and burned passing vehicles, causing 37 deaths and 13 injuries and destroying 31 vehicles.

On September 21, 2014, the police station and farmer’s market of Yangxia Town, the police station of Tierekebazha Town, and a store at the Luntai county seat, Bayingol Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture were hit by bomb blasts which claimed the life of 10, caused injuries to 54 and damaged 79 vehicles.

On December 28, 2016, four terrorists drove into the courtyard of Moyu County government, Hotan Prefecture, detonated a homemade explosive device, and attacked government staff, leaving 2 dead and 3 injured.

Planning riots

On April 5, 1990, incited by the East Turkistan Islamic Party (also known as Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, East Turkistan Islamic Party of Allah, East Turkistan Islamic Hezbollah), a group of terrorists with submachine guns, pistols, explosive devices and grenades, mustered over 200 people to attack the government building of Baren Township, Akto County, Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture, kidnapping 10 people, killing 6 armed police officers, and blowing up 2 vehicles.

From February 5 to 8, 1997, this organization again perpetrated the Yining Incident. In the riots 7 people were killed and 198 injured, including civilians, public security officers and armed police officers, 64 of whom were severely wounded; more than 30 vehicles were damaged and 2 houses were burned down.

On July 5, 2009, the “East Turkistan” forces inside and outside China engineered a riot in Urumqi which shocked the whole world. Thousands of terrorists attacked civilians, government organs, public security and police officers, residential houses, stores and public transportation facilities, causing 197 deaths and injuries to over 1,700, smashing and burning down 331 stores and 1,325 vehicles, and damaging many public facilities.

It is no wonder people told me only a few years ago not to go to Xinjiang. These days, of course, it is dafe to go, so much so that more 100 million international and Chinese visitors went in 2018.

The game is up: you cannot install and run 5G without Huawei

For some time now, Huawei has been quietly confident that no-one else has the ability to install and deploy 5G technologies without involving Huawei itself.

Now the new figures are out from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). In 2018, Huawei’s had 5,405 PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) applications, which – as Francis Gurry, the director of WIPO observed – is “an all-time record by anyone.” By comparison, the runner-up was Mitsubishi, in Japan, with 2,812.

And the vast majority of Huawei’s patents relate to 5G, to which the company has been devoting world-leading investment in research and development, backed strongly by the Chinese government.

Let me add that Gurry also pointed out that “Asia is now the majority filer of international patent applications via WIPO, which is an important milestone for that economically dynamic region and underscores the historical geographical shift of innovative activity from West to East.” WIPO statistics showed that 50.5 percent of all Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications filed in 2018 came from Asia, with Europe and North America accounting for about a quarter each.

What does all this mean for the future of 5G technologies? As a recent article from the People’s Daily: points out, Huwaei has ‘absolute competitive advantage’ in 5G, with 1,529 standard essential patents. Behing them come Nokia, with 1,397, and Ericsson with 812. Already in Europe, the big 3 in 5G are working closely together. They have ignored the politically-motivated efforts of a small number of former colonisers and already signed up to work with Huawei.

Chinese State Council White Paper: The Fight Against Terrorism and Extremism and Human Rights Protection in Xinjiang

The much-awaited white paper on Xinjiang from the Chinese State Council was published today (18 March 2019). It is called ‘The Fight Against Terrorism and Extremism and Human Rights Protection in Xinjiang’ (download in English here). Various newspaper articles have highlighted parts of the document, although the best is this article from the Global Times, which also mentions one of the visits by representatives from Muslim majority countries that are singulalry unimpressed by the efforts of a few former colonisers to slander China over Xinjiang.

As for the white paper itself, please note section 3, which lists many – but not all – of the terrorist acts that have taken place in Xinjiang, especially during the escallation of such acts in the 1990s. Sections 4 and 5 explain how anti-terrorism and de-extremism measures have been developed, through careful study of practices in other parts of the world.

To quote:

‘Education and training centers have been established with the goal of educating and rehabilitating people guilty of minor crimes or law-breaking and eradicating the influence of terrorism and extremism, in order to prevent them from falling victim to terrorism and extremism, and to nip terrorist activities in the bud.

At present, the trainees at the centers fall into three categories:

  1. People who were incited, coerced or induced into participating in terrorist or extremist activities, or people who participated in terrorist or extremist activities in circumstances that were not serious enough to constitute a crime;
  2. People who were incited, coerced or induced into participating in terrorist or extremist activities, or people who participated in terrorist or extremist activities that posed a real danger but did not cause actual harm, whose subjective culpability was not deep, who made confessions of their crimes and were contrite about their past actions and thus can be exempted from punishment in accordance with the law, and who have demonstrated the willingness to receive training;
  3. People who were convicted and received prison sentence for terrorist or extremist crimes and after serving their sentences, have been assessed as still posing potential threats to society, and who have been ordered by people’s courts to receive education at the centers in accordance with the law.

In accordance with Articles 29 and 30 of the Counterterrorism Law of the People’s Republic of China, people in the first and third categories will be placed at the centers to receive support and education. With regard to people in the second category, a small number of them should be punished severely, while the majority should be rehabilitated in accordance with the policy of striking a balance between punishment and compassion. Confession, repentance, and willingness to receive training are preconditions for leniency, and these people will receive education to help reform their ways after they have been exempted from penalty in accordance with the law’.

After providing further detail, section 5 concludes:

‘Thanks to these preventive measures, Xinjiang has witnessed a marked change in the social environment in recent years. A healthy atmosphere is spreading, while evil influences are declining. The citizens’ legal awareness has been notably enhanced. The trend in society is now to pursue knowledge of modern science and technology and a cultured way of life. Citizens now consciously resist religious extremism. The ethnic groups of Xinjiang now enjoy closer relations through communication, exchange and blending. People have a much stronger sense of fulfillment, happiness and security’.

Finally, sections 6 and 7 indicate how the measures in Xinjiang accord with the protection of human rights, in both the agreed international frameworks and the specific Chinese Marxist emphasis on the right to socio-economic wellbeing.

Well worth a read!

Note: you may also wish to read: ‘Progress in Human Rights Protection over the 40 Years of Reform and Opening Up in China‘.

Chinese Trust in the Government

The overwhelming majority of Chinese people trust their government like no other country on earth. This may seem strange to some foreigners who routinely mistrust their government. Yet the statistics speak for themselves. For example, the Edelman Trust Barometer of 2019 notes a rise in the general public’s trust of the government and public institutions to a staggering 86 percent. Meanwhile, the monthly Ipsos surveys indicate that on average 90 percent of people have confidence in the direction in which China is headed. And in the five-yearly World Values Survey, the vast majority trust the government to promote human rights in China and throughout the world.

Why is this the case? One reason is of course the effect of Xi Jinping’s leadership, with effective rule by law and its closely associated Social Credit System, anti-corruption campaign and recovery of both traditional Chinese and Marxist values.

Yet, this is only part of the story. The assumption of trust in governance runs deep in Chinese society – assuming of course that the government in question has earned that trust. To understand how this works at a deeper cultural and social level, we need to go back a few centuries.

He Xiu’s Three Worlds

Important here is a certain He Xiu, who lived from 129 to 182 CE. He Xiu wrote a commentary on a commentary; more precisely, he wrote a commentary on the Gongyang commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals (reputedly edited by none other than Confucius). This particular history is not so important here. Instead, He Xiu[1] introduced a crucial distinction between three terms:

  1. What is ‘rumoured [suochuanwen]’.
  2. What is ‘heard [suowen]’ and thus reliably recorded.
  3. What is ‘seen [suojian]’ and therefore verifiable.

The importance of this distinction can hardly be underestimated. What is rumoured concerns words and indeed a world that is ‘decayed and disordered [shuailuan]’. This is a world of chaos in which the heart is ‘course and unrefined [cucu]’, the country is broken up into small warring states and the records virtually non-existent. Rumours abound of skulduggery, assassination, intrigue and inappropriate behaviour in light of established rituals. In other words, hearsay and gossip are highly unreliable, to be mistrusted at every turn.

By contrast, the world that is reliably reported is one that has written records, which enables the unity of the many different Chinese peoples. It is clearly better that rumour, hearsay and chaos, but it still has its problems. The best is the world that is ‘seen’ and therefore empirically verifiable. One has first-hand evidence, or what is now called scientific evidence, truth from facts (shishi qiushi), as Deng Xiaoping said on many occasions. This verifiable world is united, whether distant or nearby, large or small, and even the heart (xin) or inner being is now deep and thoroughly known (xiang).

In Chinese history, the prime body responsible for reliable records and verified facts is of course the government. Indeed, these are signs of good governance and thereby one that can be trusted.

He Xiu’s distinction has many further ramifications today, whether the refusal of newspapers to engage in gossip, the scepticism concerning oral traditions, the transparency of political statements, or the need for any government statistics to be based on solid research. Let me focus on three examples.

Mao Zedong’s Works

The first concerns editions of Mao Zedong’s works. In China, there are two main editions, The Works of Mao Zedong (Mao Zedong Wenji) and The Selected Works of Mao Zedong (Mao Zedong xuanji). Apart from these two, there are a number of other small collections, relating to early writings or those on specific topics. These have all been carefully produced by the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, which is fully resourced and responsible for reliable editions of all works in the Marxist tradition.

At the same time, there are a number of other editions of Mao’s works, the most notable being Mao Zedong ji, published in 20 volumes in Japan. While most Chinese scholars have copies of this edition, they are also suspicious. Why? An individual scholar has edited the works rather than a major institution funded by the government. Is it reliable? Can it be cited? Not sure. One has to wary indeed when relying on such material. And the five volume collection, Mao Zedong Thought Lives Forever, published without a place, date or editorship during the Cultural Revolution, is way beyond any form of reliability.

Number of Christians in China

The second example concerns the number of Christians in China. This has been the subject of what are now called the ‘Internet Wars’. The official government figure is 38 million, which foreigners interested in such matters disregard since they suspect that the government wishes to downplay the numbers. Instead, they postulate more than 100 million, based on an anecdote: supposedly Ye Xiaowen, the former director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, mentioned in a closed-door meeting at Peking University in 2006 that there were more than 100 million Christians in China. The problem here is that those who like to cite this anecdote provide no source for the statement, third-party evidence or indeed check with Ye Xiaowen himself. It turns out that – according to scholars who were actually present at the event – Ye Xiaowen had never said that there were more than 100 million Christians in China, but he did say that there were at that time more than 100 million religious believers. The difference is obvious, and the foreigners who like to peddle this number draw on unreliable rumour.

By now I am drawing on an article published in early 2019,[2] based on a long-term project at Peking University: the ‘China Family Panel Studies’. Carefully calibrated so as to be relevant to Chinese conditions, relying on a vast survey sample with multiple follow-ups, this sociological survey found in 2016 that there were 39.69 million Christians in China (about 2.8 percent of the population), of which 28.29 were ‘open Christians’ and 11.67 million ‘hidden Christians’. The ‘open Christians’ can mostly be attributed to the many legal forms of Christianity in China, such as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement churches (Protestant) and the recently united Roman Catholic Church, while the ‘hidden Christians’ are mostly from the illegal ‘house churches’.

While these figures are derived from a completely independent sociological survey, it is scientifically based and relies on the assumption that one can only trust what is recorded and verifiable. Tellingly, it is very close to the government figures for Christians in China, for the government does not release figures unless they are based on what can be verified.

As for the speculative foreigners, they are simply relying on hearsay and rumour.

Concept of (U)topia

The third example concerns utopia, which in the Western European tradition refers to both a no-place and a good-place. Typically, writings about utopia postulate a world yet to be realised, on a distant island (Thomas More’s Utopia), in the distant future (William Morris’s News From Nowhere), or even on another planet. The accounts are typically imaginative, hearsay upon hearsay, if not rumour itself. Obviously, if the world in question does not exist and therefore cannot be experienced, one must rely on nothing more than rumour and imagination. In other words, it is a transcendent world, much better than ours, but one that we cannot know empirically.

Let us go back to He Xiu, for his threefold distinction of rumoured, recorded and verified is actually the background to a major contribution to the Chinese tradition concerning what is often known as ‘utopia’. But his proposal is completely opposed to Western European assumptions. In more detail, He Xiu proposed three worlds:

  1. The ‘decayed and disordered world [shuailuan]’, which is characterised by rumour and gossip (suochuanwen).
  2. The world of ‘rising peace [shengping]’, which is determined by what is heard and recordable (suowen).
  3. The world of ‘great peace [taiping]’, which can only be known by seeing and is therefore verifiable (suojian).

By now you can see what has happened. What in the Western tradition is called ‘utopia’, based on rumour, is actually the world of decay and disorder. What cannot be known is highly undesirable, with plots, skulduggery and lack of unity.

By contrast, the world of rising peace can be recorded, leading to unity at least within the country and relative stability and security. But the most verifiable world is precisely that of the ‘Great Peace’ or what is also called the ‘Great Harmony [datong]’. This world can hardly be connected with the Western tradition of utopia, although not a few have tried to do so. Why? It is not a world of rumour and innuendo, but one that can be verified empirically and through scientific investigation.

Thus, ‘utopia’ is a particularly bad term to use in this context. If we stay with the Greek origins of the terms, the best term would be topos, a definite place, and the Chinese tradition concerning the Great Peace and the Great Harmony would have to be called ‘Topian Thought’.

Trusting the Government

Let us return to question of trust in governance. As mentioned earlier, throughout Chinese history, the body responsible for recording and verifying information has been the government itself. Given the size of the country, government has always been a somewhat large affair, and in this respect at least the communist government carries on a long tradition. Of course, it has a distinct trajectory determined by Marxism, but it is still responsible for the most reliable information, for it has the best resources to ensure such information.

I would like to close with an unexpected contribution from He Xiu, a contribution carried through in the later tradition via Kang Youwei’s Book of Datong and Deng Xiaoping’s evocation – in a communist framework – of the old Confucian category of a xiaokang society (one that is moderately well-off, healthy and peaceful). For Deng Xiaoping and even more those who followed – Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and especially Xi Jinping – this xiaokang society is the goal of the initial socialist phase of the new China, to be achieved by 2020.

This xiaokang society is equivalent now with what He Xiu called the world of ‘rising peace’. Most importantly, it is a world that about which one has reliable knowledge and is therefore able to provide reliable records. What does this mean for the core political program of achieving a xiaokang society in all respects by 2020? Is it merely political spin, a vague promise with little content? Not at all: it entails detailed and innovative planning, targeted projects, scientific analysis and rigorous assessment of results. For example, Xi Jinping has identified a peaceful and law-abiding country, environmental protection, and poverty alleviation as the three greatest challenges. Massive resources and initiatives have gone into each, with the Social Credit System, a wholesale shift away from environmentally destructive practices, and a last great push to lift the final 10 million people out of poverty (850 million since 1978).

Will these targets be achieved? Final assessment will tell. But one thing is clear: without them, a xiaokang society in unachievable; with them, it will be achieved. But such a society must be thoroughly recordable and verifiable. Trust in government turns on this fact.

Notes

[1] He Xiu. 1980. Chunqiu gongyangzhuan zhuxu. 28 vols. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, p. 2200. Many editions of this work exist, in 28 volumes. It may also be found at https://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=gb&res=642006&remap=gb.

[2] Lu Yunfeng, Wu Yue, and Zhang Chunni. 2019. ‘Zhongguo daodi you duoshao jidutu? Jiyu zhongguo jiating zhuizong diaocha de guji’. Kaifang shidai zazhi 2019 (1):1-14. http://www.wyzxwk.com/Article/shehui/2019/01/398823.html.

Demystifying the Chinese Social Credit System (and Why Everyone Likes It)

Late last year I was travelling on one of the newest high-speed trains (the Fuxian, which cruises at 350 km per hour). At one point during the journey, an announcement was made: if anyone has not yet purchased a ticket, please contact a conductor. Failure to do so would register as a negative on the Social Credit System, with potential restrictions on travel.

This was my first real-life introduction to the new Social Credit System (shehui xinyong tixi) being rolled out across China. Much has been the misinformation concerning this system in a small number of formerly colonising countries, with evocations of George Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’ and the usual belief in ghosts – that is, communist parties are paranoid outfits terribly afraid of their people.

Let us set the record straight. Not so long ago hereabouts there was the law and then there was everyday practice. In between was a significant grey zone. For example, outside of the gates where I work was the place to buy China’s best fake student identity cards. These would enable you to travel at student discounts, especially during the major festivals. The police knew perfectly well what was going on, but as long as it was kept somewhat low-key, there was no problem. Once, I actually inquired about a fake identity card for myself and managed to get the price down to 100 RMB, before smiling and walking away.

This was only one example of a rampant fake ID business. But it was characteristic of what happened nearly everywhere. Under a hotel room door, a prostitute would slip a card. In a phone call, a fraudster would call and try to sell something. Disabled people would be paraded through metro trains in order to sequester cash. Contracts would not be honoured, debts could be avoided, and it was common to receive an envelope full of cash for work done. Unhealthy ingredients were mixed with food (even baby formula) and companies could exploit workers with impunity – as long as the companies in question lined the pockets of the inspectors. Needless to say, corruption at nearly all levels of government was common. The examples could be multiplied, but you get the picture.

Do not get me wrong: it was chaotic, exciting, a free-for-all; nearly everything could happen. But it was not an environment that bred trust and stability.

Enter Xi Jinping, a cleanskin and an old-fashioned communist hardman. He was not elected out of the blue, since the CPC knew something had to be done. Xi Jinping was the man to do it.

Among many initiatives, Xi Jinping began to advocate rule of law – a socialist rule of law (which I have discussed earlier). But it is one thing to make announcements concerning rule of law; it is quite another to make it work.

Inside the CPC, the task was relatively easy: the most thorough and wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign since Mao Zedong, the promotion of communist values, monthly study sessions, the recovery of ‘criticism and self-criticism’ sessions, party unity … these and more are commonplace today. The result has been that the CPC has risen in popular consciousness from an embarrassment to a party of which people are proud and which they trust.

But among the rest of the population, the task was much tougher. Communist billboards and placards make a small impression, although they are a welcome part of the urban landscape these days. The many levels of police, from citizen watch groups, through the local ‘public peace’ officers, to serious crime investigation are more comprehensive.

But the question remained: how really to breakthrough and effect fundamental change in daily behaviour? Think laterally, as is the custom, and consider China’s world-leading technology sector – hence the Social Credit System.

First trialled in 2013, officially announced in 2014, tested through the big tech companies like Alibaba, expanded to more and more places, the Social Credit System is now a reality in ever more parts of everyday life.

By early 2019, the results of the system have become quite clear. The big focus until now has been debt defaulters. It could be anyone, from those trying to skip paying tax, avoiding train fares, or a business trying to slip away from a bigger debt. As a result, a staggering 17.46 million people have been banned from taking flights since 2013, with a further 5.47 million people banned from boarding high-speed trains. A loss of revenue? Maybe, but like the anti-corruption campaign, it is popularly seen as more than worth it. On a positive side, 3.51 million had repaid their debts and fines within the time limit to avoid a negative score on social credit.

While we are on the negative side, let me add that in Beijing alone 5,028 people had been banned from taking planes by the end of January, 2019. Why? 70 percent of them had carried or consigned dangerous and prohibited goods, and almost 23 percent – believe it or not – had fabricated identification for flights.

The old way of doing things is very quickly passing. Thus far, about 150 penalties apply, including prohibitions on violators holding public office, taking air and high-speed train travel, making property purchases, seeking certain jobs and educational opportunities. There is widespread agreement that penalties need to be developed further to be more effective.

There is, of course, a positive side: you can easily exit the list of defaulters by simply paying your overdue tax, fine, debt or fee. And if you build up good social credit by following the rule of law, you can get more favourable treatment for job applications, education, government support for start-ups, social security, and – for foreigners – work visas.

At a deeper level, what has been the result? Back in 2010, a magazine conducted a survey and found that more than 70 percent of the respondents said that they did not trust their local governments. Anecdotally, I used to find a decade ago that old party members were embarrassed about the party itself. Fast forward to 2019 and the results are telling. In the monthly Ipsos survey, Chinese citizens average 90 percent confidence in the direction the country of heading. Further, the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer noted that trust in the government and its institutions continues to rise among the general public: 86 percent of them have such trust, while it is even higher among educated younger people. As for party members, they are now keen not only on the CPC, but also to promote its value internationally. How things change.

It should be no surprise that the vast majority of Chinese people are firmly in favour of the Social Credit System. After all, trust and honesty are not merely traditional Chinese values, but they are also hallmarks of communist ethics.

Let us go back to the fake ID peddlers near where I work. They have completely gone by now. This is not merely because the local police have cracked down on them, but more because no-one wants to buy a fake ID only to get busted at the train station or airport. This once lucrative business has simply dried up. As have more and more of the dodgy practices I mentioned earlier.

In short, socialist rule of law has found an extraordinarily effective means of implementation.