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Suzhou “Civility Code”: Will “Civil Shackles” Make “Prisoners” of Us All?

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By 情有毒钟 | September 11, 2020 | Translated by Alicia

Written in response to Suzhou's launch of a "civility code" app, designed to use residents' scores to grant or deny access to city services and public spaces. Suzhou rolled back the program in response to a fast and furious backlash online. Read more from CDT.

Chinese: 苏州“文明码”:”文明的镣铐”,人人将为“囚徒”?

Screenshot of the Suzhou "Civility Code" app. (Source: CDT Chinese)

“Heaven above, Suzhou and Hangzhou below.” I’ve heard this since childhood. People swear by this. The beauty of Hangzhou and Suzhou have been renowned since ancient times.

Something else I’ve heard: Hell is Heaven’s next-door neighbor. But this is not well understood.

Heaven and Hell ought to be quite far apart, opposite each other, in fact. How could they possibly be next-door neighbors?

Yet now, Suzhou City, known as Heaven itself, can answer this question with facts!

Introducing the city “Civility Code”…

The release of the Civility Code was welcomed not only with collective anger, but also with a giant pool of collective spit.

A fellow netizen asked: What is this Civility Code exactly? An “entry pass to Heaven” or an “admission ticket to Hell”?

Might as well first have a look at this “Civility Code” and see what kind of “sacred object” we have:

According to the Gusu Evening Post, the Civil Traffic Index is an important component of the Civility Code pro version. This project defines abstract traffic behavior in concrete, quantitative metrics, creating an index for appraisal. The baseline point allocation is 1000, which is also the upper limit. The scorekeeping period is one year. After this expires, scorekeeping starts anew. Point deductions are generated from individual traffic violation penalty records. Run a red light and lose 50 points. A DUI deducts 100 points. There are point debits as well as point credits. Every time you report for duty as a traffic volunteer , you can earn a fixed amount of credit.

The Civility Code’s scope extends at minimum to traffic and travel, volunteer service, garbage sorting, honesty in abiding by the law, meals, courtesy, the internet, and economizing and thrift. It basically covers a person’s entire public life.

After coming to understand the substance of the Civility Code, an online friend asked: How exactly is this civil? It is civility in name, control in practice.

There are already enough surveillance cameras on the street, yet now, with the Civility Code, everyone will have surveillance installed on them. Without a doubt, this is like making people prisoners for life.

Scarier still, such prisoners could, in a sense, have it worse than real prisoners!

This is because they will be divided into various grades and ranks.

Suzhou media has touted the idea of "one person, one code," pushing for "civility" to be used as a residency permit. Residents with high civility scores will enjoy priority and convenience in work, life, employment, study, and recreation.

Moreover, the “Suzhou Civility Code” also functions as a warning and punishment device. A low comprehensive civility index will affect things like one’s ability to obtain a residence permit.

It is easy to imagine that if this continues, before long some people will become “high-grade people,” and some will become “low-grade people.”

If people are merely divided into high and low grades, and that’s that, are the low-grade people still people, in the final analysis?

I fear that, in the end, everyone controlled by the “Civility Code,” high- or low-grade, will become “non-human.”

Why put it like this? Because in the end, when everyone feels they can’t escape the “Civility Code,” they will be scared of becoming “low-grade people” and strive to be high-grade. They will behave according to the Civility Code’s demands. They will only follow, never fight.

Thus, everyone will be of one manner, one appearance, one face, the face drawn for everyone by the “Civility Code.”

Right now, there is no distinction between high- and low-grade people, but there are two types of people: those who control the Civility Code, and those who are controlled by the Civility Code.

At this point, you may be breaking out in a cold sweat, because you'll be thinking of a science fiction movie scene: Some madmen who dream of controlling the world and humanity adopt high tech means of control, implanting microchips in people’s brains, thus getting humanity under “perfect” control, uniform and identical.

Humanity often worries about the end of the world, and generally believes doomsday is simply the utter destruction of the earth. Actually, doomsday has a still more dreadful form, that is “puppet-ization,” or “machine-ization.” People will cease to be people.

So, the civilized world is quite worried about this kind of thing at the moment, and is guarding against it. Many sociologists and scientists therefore use scientific imagination as a way to sound the warning.

However, our ancient, civilized city of Suzhou is unexpectedly acting in a diametrically opposite way. In a kind of “surprise attack” with this “Civility Code,” a terrifying vision of humanity’s future is before our eyes!

Suzhou’s “Civility Code” not only calls to mind the future controlled by “gods” in [Yuval Noah Harari’s] “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow,” but also the Great Qin Empire of over two thousand years ago.

Back then, the Qin government was “meticulous in every possible way,” all-pervasive. Even on the road, gossip was controlled.

When two acquaintances met on the road, casually exchanging a few sentences about domestic trivialities, if the exchange exceeded three minutes, they could be convicted of conspiring against the state!

No one dared disobey. Hence, they were obliged to “exchange glances when meeting on the road.” That is, they dared not speak openly when living under tyranny.

May we say this Great Qin Imperial law was cruel and oppressive?

If Suzhou’s “Civility Code” is civilized, then this Qin law is equally civilized!

The Suzhou “Civility Code” is merely a set of “civilized shackles,” turning everyone into lifelong prisoners!