China has gone full-on Black Mirror, implementing a so-called “Deadbeat Map,” accessible through the Chinese social media platform WeChat, allows users to search within a 500-meter radius and see which of their neighbors have failed to pay their debts and are thus considered “untrustworthy,” according to ABC.
Having been developed by Hebei’s Higher People’s Court—not WeChat—the system is a clear and direct step towards a government-mandated caste system that not only shames but also financially blacklists “laolai,” a derogatory name for people in the lower class who have not paid off their debts.
The first line of defense is public humiliation. The“Deadbeat Map” turns red when a higher concentration of addresses labeled as the residence of “swindlers” or “fraudsters” are nearby the user, allowing neighbors to easily identify who around them would be considered a social cancer. In some pockets of the country, telecom companies apply a special ringtone to laolai individuals’ phone numbers.
Next comes minor to major inconveniences, the most notable of which is the inability to book a plane ticket. The South China Morning Post briefly chronicles the story of David Kong, whose status as a laolai deadbeat prohibited him from boarding a plane or high-speed train on his recent business trip to Chongqing, forcing him to take the “green-skin train,” an olive-colored train that took 30 hours to complete the journey. The former options would have taken 3 and 12 hours, respectively.
Last is full-blown financial blacklisting. Renting an apartment in their own name, landing a high-paying job, or taking out a loan are all made essentially impossible to the laolai.
“It’s even worse than doing time because at least there’s a limit to a prison sentence,” Kong told SCMP in a phone interview. “Being on the list means that as long as you can’t clear your debts in full, your name will always be there.”