Featured Image for Taking the train in China is like stepping into an episode of ‘Black Mirror’

Taking the train in China is like stepping into an episode of ‘Black Mirror’

The punishment for misbehaviour on the Beijing-Shanghai bullet train goes beyond cash fines; disorderly conduct will now affect your personal social credit.

Freelance journalist James O’Malley recorded a rather foreboding announcement on a bullet train in China. A stern voice tells passengers that travelling without a ticket, smoking or behaving in a disorderly manner will be “punished according to regulations”, which sounds ominous enough.

But the announcer goes on to add that “the behaviour will be recorded in the individual credit information system”.

Welcome to a real life dystopia.

This is truly the stuff of nightmares for anyone who has ever been given a bad Uber rating, or had their business slammed on TripAdvisor by a disillusioned ex.

The video is eerily reminiscent to the “Nosedive” episode in season three of Black Mirror. In it, people rank each other’s social credit based on the quality of their interactions.

In the episode, bad credit means you become a second-class citizen unable to access certain privileges and are shunned by polite society.

What makes this so scary is that China is well on its way to implementing a similar system. Sure, it’s not an app embedded in your eye, but the principle is similar.

The government plans to introduce a system that inputs financial, social, political and legal credit of its citizens, and outputs an overall score for social trustworthiness. It sounds like a George Orwell fever dream.

A bad score in one area can adversely influence your whole life. Having a low personal credit score may mean losing social security and welfare, not being an option for promotion at work, not being allowed to run for public office and even being rejected by prestigious hotels.

It could even prevent your children from entering certain private schools.

This kind of system — apart from being terrifying — is also going to drive a deeper wedge between disadvantaged people and the support they need. If missing a single credit payment, or getting a parking fine can make you ineligible for social security there’s going to be a whole lot of people caught in a downward spiral.

For now, if you’re planning on taking the bullet train in China, or going there in general, just make sure you’re on your best behaviour.