Manspreading is considered by many a breach of subway etiquette. It became such a scourge in 2015 that New York transport authorities started putting up posters asking men to keep their legs together. In Beijing, though, space hoarders could soon face consequences more serious than just the scorn of fellow riders.

The Beijing Municipal Commission of Transportation is proposing to link a passenger’s bad behavior on the subway with social credit. Those who take up extra seats on trains will be marked as “uncivilized” -- and so will those who eat during rides, hawk goods to other passengers or sneak into the subway without paying.

Commuters on a subway in Beijing on April 8, 2019. (Picture: Wang Zhao / AFP)

It’s just one example of how local regulatory bodies around the country are experimenting with ways to implement China’s grand vision of a nationwide social credit system. The scheme is scheduled to roll out by 2020, according to a blueprint released in 2014, with the goal of punishing and rewarding citizens by their financial and legal activities. It also brings in data from online behavior, education records and employment histories, among other conduct.

So far, cities and villages have adopted varied approaches to embed social credit into the daily lives of citizens. A national blacklist of debtors compiled by the Supreme Court comes closest to realizing the concept of a sweeping social credit system that covers everyone in the country.

Those who landed on the blacklist are barred from traveling on planes, vacationing or sending their children to expensive private schools. Anything considered a luxury by government standards is a potential target. While most of these people are debtors who failed to pay up, others were caught for unruly behavior on flights or smoking on high-speed trains. To date, more than 23 million blacklisted citizens have been banned from taking flights, according to the Supreme Court website’s daily counter.

It isn’t all about punishments, though. In some places, people with high social credit are rewarded with benefits like free visits to the doctor or discounts on utility bills. In some cases, there are even ways to rebound from a bad score. Beijing’s Transportation Commission suggests in its proposal that subway offenders can patch up their records by signing up as volunteers.

Some supporters say it’s an effective way to rein in misbehaving passengers. On Weibo, some commentators suggest also punishing those who play games on smartphones without wearing headphones or those who lean their entire bodies on subway poles.

Others, though, are questioning whether the social credit system is reaching too far.

“I think it’s okay to fine someone for eating [on the subway], but to have that impact someone’s credit record is really unreasonable,” a person commented on Weibo.

“It’s an abuse of the social credit system!” said another user.

Some also fear the system can be easily manipulated.

“[This is] extreme abuse. Now even those ignorant subway attendant kids will have the right to put you on the social credit blacklist,” wrote one Weibo user.