Extra points for good behavior: Suzhou’s ‘civilization code’ sparks controversy

By Fan Anqi Source: Global Times Published: 2020/9/6 23:45:21

The view of Suzhou Industrial Park Photo: VCG

Local authorities in Suzhou, East China’s Jiangsu Province recently issued a civil behavior scoring system, which will evaluate residents’ daily lives including employment, study and entertainment based on their degree of civilization. Meanwhile, the code has triggered heated debate over its standard for criteria and possible abuse of power. 

The system, known as the “civilization code,” is composed of a “civil transport index,” a “volunteer index,” as well as other indicators. The civil transport index is linked to road manners such as traffic violation records and voluntary traffic duty participations, while the volunteer index is measured by degrees of involvement in voluntary work, which the local authority says aims to help strengthen awareness of social responsibilities and duty.
Although the public security bureau did not specify the parameters to be included in the other indexes, it said in a statement that the system aims to create a “personal portrait” for each resident in a bid to promote good habits including road manners, volunteering, garbage sorting, civilized dining, social courtesy, online behavior, law-abiding behavior and food saving. 

However, heated debate broke out online after the code debuted on Thursday, with the public questioning its criteria and expressing concerns over formalism and abuse of power. 

Photo of Suzhou’s ‘civilization code’

Some pointed out that it is one-sided to measure one's level of civilization by simply refering to a scoring model and others questioned whether it is fair for residents with higher civilization scores to enjoy more convenience in the future, asking why public services should prioritize certain people over others.

Some netizens criticized it for infringing on human rights by attempting to classify people through unquantifiable standards. 

Responding to the public concerns, a local official told thepaper.cn on Sunday night that the application of the civilization code is still in the trial phase. Based on voluntary principles, the new measure advocates and encourages good behaviors, and there will be no consequence for the loss of points.

 “The controversies sparked online indicate that Chinese people’s sense of human rights is on the rise, which also serves as a reminder for government bodies to set up and promote policies in a more cautious manner to respect one’s privacy and balance power with rights,” Liu Huawen, executive director of the Human Rights Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

Different from the credit scoring system, which has conducted trials and carefully designed to ensure people’s daily life would not get disrupted, the “civilization code” appears to have rushed to conclusions without meticulous consideration, Hua noted. “If a policy makes the general public feel limited or uncomfortable, there must be something wrong with it,” he said.

Citing the “civilization code’s” similarity to the Suzhou credit system issued in 2018, Nanfang Metropolis Daily quoted deputy chief of the National Development and Reform Commission Lian Weiliang as saying on Saturday, “Low credit scores cannot be used to ban citizens from enjoying basic public services and their rights prescribed by law.” 

It is unlikely that such a code can be applied nationwide, Liu added. Lawmakers need to further analyze the consequences brought by the policy’s application before promoting it nationwide. 

Zhao Peng, a professor from the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, told Nanfang Metropolis Daily that it is understandable that Suzhou government is trying to promote a more civilized society, but “building one requires the government to promote self-discipline, rather than mandatory measures.” 

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