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Nuala Lam is a bilingual freelance journalist with a focus on civil society, justice, and identity in China. She speaks, reads and writes Mandarin Chinese and forms her analysis of contemporary China through both English and Chinese language media. She has worked for NGOs and news media in Beijing and Shanghai and has also spent extended periods in the Chinese countryside, seeing the country's diversity and uneven development first-hand.
Her postgraduate research at the London School of Economics focussed on English-language coverage of China, investigating the translation of journalistic ethics between differing political contexts. She also holds a first class degree in Chinese and History from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
You may well have come across these headlines or ones like them over the last few years. Major news outlets produce a steady stream of coverage of what is referred to as China’s ‘social credit system’. But, as this episode of Sinica Podcast explains, much of that coverage has been highly misleading:
We in the West have somehow been trapped in this one-dimensional vision of this system or this policy, just looking at it from that angle — politically — and also [with] the idea that it is the state versus the people.
Manya Koetse is founder and editor of What’s On Weibo, a site that reports on social media trends in China. She says this state versus the people view of China’s many and varied social credit systems is not what she sees among Chinese netizens. Manya has put together a great infographic showing the contrasting words used in coverage of social credit in China and abroad.
Sinica’s second guest, Rogier Creemers, is the academic responsible for some of the first translations of policy documents relating to the Chinese Communist Party’s initial plans for a social credit system. Rogier reminds listeners that China is often imagined as highly centralized, but in fact it is common for local governments to implement initiatives like social credit at a provincial level. Successful models are then taken up by Beijing and rolled out nationwide.
Social credit is still in something of a consultative phase in China, and Manya sees a lot of room for discussion of it on the Chinese internet at present. This episode is well worth a listen if you want to get the bare facts on social credit in China and avoid what Rogier calls the “Fu Manchu filter” of the mainstream media.