First conceived as early as 2001 and put into national plans in 2014, China’s social credit system (SCS) has got a lot of attention in English-language press in the last few years. However, Western technophobia coupled with China-anxiety has made much of that coverage incomplete and biased. On the one hand, many have an exaggerated view of China, and its government, as a monolithic entity capable of swift and effective enforcement. On the other, people are still not comfortable with the idea that companies and governments see them as nothing more than a data point—and when that idea gets associated with a one-party state, we immediately get flashbacks to Orwell.

We at TechNode have covered social credit extensively over the last few years and there have been many others who have also tried to bring a dispassionate perspective to the matter. We recently syndicated a great piece from Trivium, a strategy consulting firm based in Beijing, on the apps being used to deploy China’s vision of social credit. I had so many questions that I wanted to ask the author, Matt and I decided to do a podcast episode with her. As preparation for the podcast, we cast a wide net to understand what’s going on. Here’s what we learned.

Bottom line: China’s social credit system is still not well understood, inside and outside the country. Many of the concerns we hear in Western media do more to reveal their own bias while not giving Western readers enough to understand why China might want to embark on it in the first place. Five years after the first national plan was announced and we’re starting to see some of the pieces come together. As always, there are some clear tradeoffs: regulations might actually get enforced consistently, but the cost of compliance is definitely going to rise.

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John Artman is the Editor in Chief for TechNode, the leading English information source for news and insight into China’s tech and startups, and co-host of the China Tech Talk podcast, a regular discussion...