This article is the translation of a Chinese article published on The Stand News on September 7, 2020. It is reproduced here under a partnership agreement.
Building on the successful application of its “health code” system to restrict citizen mobility during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese city of Suzhou attempted to launch a “civility code” in early September to classify citizens' citizenship. citizens and reward or punish them according to the code. However, strong reactions from netizens forced the authorities to postpone the plan.
The health code is a system that records the health status of a person and controls their movements. The system is integrated into various mobile applications, such as Alipay.
The guards in stores, shopping centers and public transport will scan a QR code on mobile phones and only those with a “green” code will be allowed access. If a citizen has been exposed to the virus, the QR code will turn “yellow” and they will not be allowed access to some facilities. A “red” code forces a citizen to quarantine.
The city of Suzhou, known as “the Venice of the East”, was one of the first Chinese cities to launch a health code in February 2020. That code was integrated into an application called “Suzhou City Code” (蘇 城碼), which is a digital user number used to monitor all movements of citizens during the coronavirus outbreak. In addition, it was one of a few dozen cities chosen in 2019 to carry out an essay on China's social credit system to classify and correct citizens' behavior with a scheme of rewards and punishments.
On September 3, the app had an update that introduced a new feature called the “code of civility.” It would work like the health code, but to classify citizens according to behavior and not their health.
This new code had two types of parameters: “civility in traffic” and “civility in voluntary work”. According to various reports in Chinese media, every citizen starts with a thousand points when they first register on the app. If the person is found crossing the street where they are not allowed, or driving while intoxicated, points will be deducted. If you contribute volunteer work, you will earn extra points.
On its official WeChat account, the city's public safety bureau explained that the purpose of this code is “to build a civility rating system.” In the last phase, other parameters would be introduced such as “civility in recycling garbage”, “civility in the restaurant”, “civility in online behavior” and “civility in respecting law and order”, among others.
In addition, the bureau said that those who scored high would have more advantages in seeking employment, enrolling in schools and accessing public and private services.
Despite strong censorship measures, criticism of this plan flooded Chinese social media. Yu Jian-rong, a well-known Chinese sociologist, one of the most outspoken critics, said on Weibo:
【危险 的 文明 码】… 问题 是 ： 1 、 谁 有权 确定 文明 的 标准 和 定量 分值？ 2 、 谁 有权 以 文明 的 名义 剥夺 公民 平等 享受 公众 服务 的 权利？
(Dangerous code of civility)… the issue at stake is:
1. Who will decide the quality and quantity of citizenship?
2. Who has the power to strip citizens of their rights to public services in the name of civility?
A widely circulated anonymous comment compared this system to war crimes against humanity:
【苏州 文明 码】 由 不 公示 财产 的 贪官 / 给 草民 划分 文明 等级 、 发 证书！ / 类似 曰 军 的 良民 证 、 那 的 的 犹太 星 标！ / 本质 都 一样 / 是 恶魔 强盗 对 善良 平民 的 迫害 / “标记 、 分类 、 清除”。
(Suzhou Citizenship Code) A group of corrupt officials who refused to disclose their assets / have the power to classify citizens' citizenship and issue the related credentials! This system is similar to the “good citizen identification system” during the Sino-Japanese war, or the Jewish star badges worn by the Nazis! / their nature is the same / they are used by bullies to repress ordinary people / to “mark, rate and eliminate”.
Another widely circulated post, which has since been removed, highlighted privacy violations:
文明 码 并不 文明 ， 是 借 文明 之 名 ， 行 野蛮 之 实 的 倒行逆施。… 信息 技术 的 发展 和 应用 ， 大家 都 在 裸奔 ， 一举一动 都 在 别人 的 眼里。 ， 还要 拿着 显微镜 挑 疵 ，对着 自己 的 模型 对 你 修理 、 宰割 ， 你 不仅 没有 隐私 和 尊严 ， 还被 恐惧 和 伤害 笼罩。
The civility code has nothing to do with civility, it is a brutal message in the name of civilization. The development and application of information technology has exposed our private lives to others. Now, they are using a microscope to look at your weaknesses and manipulate your behavior to their liking. You lose your privacy and dignity, fear and threats will surround you.
Following criticism from netizens, the Suzhou Spiritual Civilization Promotion Office, a branch of the Propaganda Department to proactively promote good citizen behavior, announced on September 6 that the rehearsal phase of the civility code had ended and authorities competent authorities would modify the system, to be implemented in the future.
The Office said that citizen criticism online was due to a misunderstanding and stressed that during the testing phase, 5,861 people voluntarily signed up and that, so far, no one has been penalized or discriminated against for having a low score.
Although Suzhou's civics code was withdrawn, many anticipate that it would be launched again under a new name, as noted by a popular comment on Weibo:
后面 相继 要 出台 守法 码 、 失信 码 、 洁 身 码 …… 等等 ， 请 大家 保持 手机 存储 空间 ， 生活 中将 全部 启用 “码”。
I foresee in the future that there will be many more codes such as the “law and order monitoring code”, “honesty code”, “purity code” etc … We have to empty the memory of our mobile phones to prepare ourselves to have all these codes in our lives.