While laborers all over the world spent May Day marching in the streets and demonstrating for worker’s rights, China’s government spent the holiday shaming citizens with outstanding debts by plastering their faces and personal information on giant screens.
The South China Morning Post reported the Shushan District Court in the Anhui province decided to publicly out debtors on billboards and TVs located in public areas. The attempt to humiliate people with unpaid debts was done at peak traffic hours during the national holiday in order to expose them to as many people as possible.
The shaming effort posted the names, identity number, amount owed, and other information for each debtor. A photograph of the so-called “deadbeat borrowers” also accompanied their personal information.
A total of 110 people had their information aired on advertisement screens located at more than 300 bus stops around the city of Hefei, which has a population of nearly eight million. The victims of the government’s name and shame campaign owed anywhere from as little as several thousand yuan—just a few hundred US dollars—to as much as 15 million yuan, which works out to about $2.36 million.
China’s, uh, unorthodox celebration of International Workers’ Day is an extension of a national effort launched last year with the intention of punishing people who can’t pay their debts. The New York Times reported in October that Chinese officials have ordered provincial governments to create online databases that will make public the names of people who have not paid off money owed.
It has become the government’s mission to make sure debtors can’t escape reminders of their obligations. According to the South China Morning Post, local authorities have started to publish the names of debtors in newspapers and at train stations in an attempt to make them pay up. The Supreme People’s Court has amassed a list of nearly 10 million people that have now been blacklisted from traveling until they service their debts. Some regions have started working with telecommunications companies to create recordings that play when a person tries to call a debtor. The automated messages urge the caller to encourage their acquaintance to pay back what they owe.
While China attempts to embarrass its own citizens, the government has managed to rack up quite a bit of debt itself. Local government debt growth nearly doubled in 2017, according to the Economic Times, and economic experts have warned that the country’s attempt to grow its economy at unheard of rates is likely to result in a major debt bubble.