Parsing the Great Shanghai Disneyland Balloon Heist

August 25, 2018, 12:56 PM · Who's not going to Disneyland?

These guys, I'll bet. At least, they might not be coming back anytime soon after an ugly incident that went viral and certainly has gotten the attention of state authorities.

Shanghai Disneyland confirmed to media sources that guests in the park on Thursday swarmed a cast member and stole the souvenir balloons that the cast member had been selling. The balloons cost 80 yuan each, which is about US$11.75. Video caught several guests walking away smiling, with balloons in hand.

Keep in mind that China recently launched a "Social Credit System" that assigns every citizen in the country a score, based upon the state's perception of their trustworthiness. China started this in large part due to ongoing international criticism of terrible behavior by Chinese tourists, including queue jumping, vandalism, and theft. Even if the vast majority of Chinese tourists behave well, with more than billion people in the country, basic math dictates that even a tiny percentage of misbehaving tourists means a huge raw number of embarrassing incidents.

Now, add one more.

Under the social credit system, Chinese citizens with a low score can be denied permission to travel abroad or to buy tickets to domestic attractions, such as Shanghai Disneyland. On the flip side, citizens with high scores can get loans and expedited approval for visas, which has enticed millions of Chinese to volunteer to be monitored and scored in advance of the system becoming mandatory in 2020.

With video evidence likely identifying some of the balloon thieves, it's easy to imagine that they won't be getting allowed to buy more Shanghai Disneyland tickets anytime soon. But China's social credit system is, as the name says, "social" as well. Bad behavior by one can bring down the scores of their family, friends, and associates as well. Without a positive ID on all of the balloon thieves, will China just ding the score of everyone in Shanghai Disneyland on August 23?

Who knows? That's the most chilling element to this system — without complete disclosure of its rules, consequences, and rewards, no one really knows what can get you in trouble. It's like being a kid living with a unpredictable parent. You just keep quiet, keep your head down, and hope for the best.

Which, ultimately, is exactly what the system is designed to encourage people to do.

China is said to be expanding the social credit system to international businesses operating in China, which is why you see things like airlines no longer calling Taiwan a separate country, because they don't want to lose their government permits to fly into China.

Of course, monitoring people like this isn't exclusive to China. Other governments, including the United States, routinely track people crossing their borders and even flying from city to city within. Have you checked your credit score lately? That affects a whole bunch of things you can do in life, including whether or not your are eligible for certain jobs. Those grocery club cards track your purchases, and some people even suspect that our mobile phones are listening to our conversations so websites such as Facebook can show us certain ads. And if you don't think that Disney is watching people to prevent theft in its US theme parks, you're wrong.

Orwell's dystopia is everywhere in modern life. However you feel about that, though, perhaps we all can agree not to be that idiot who steals balloons in a theme park.

Replies (16)

August 25, 2018 at 1:24 PM

Magic band is the ultimate tracking tool.

August 25, 2018 at 1:30 PM

This reminds of my trip to the Shanghai Resort. (Left two years ago today according my Timehop app!)

The last evening of our stay I got a beer from the lounge and took it back to the room. When we checked out the next day everything was pleasant. Then “We see you got a beer last night and took the glass back to your room. Where is that glass?”

To which I replied “it’s still in the room”. A very odd interaction.

Still, I’d go back to the Shanghai Resort anytime!

August 25, 2018 at 2:21 PM

I have to object strongly that china's social credit system is anything like have a grocery store club card or video recorders in public in the western world. While, I think there is live video in too many places in the US (for civil liberties), even with the questionable number there are, it is NOTHING like the dictatorship of the Chinese. the only metaphor that Robert makes that is valid (which he oddly did not make), is facebook, twitter, Microsoft, many other companies banning people not only from their sites but also from the ability to have a website. Based on their political views. This has been done many times to people with fairly moderate political views. Even if the views are radical, that is precisely what the first amendment was made for. because, the government can consider anything radical that YOU consider moderate. Unless, there is an immediate threat to someone or to start a riot, the surpreme court has held repeatedly that this type of censorship is anathema to a free society.

August 25, 2018 at 2:26 PM

I also would like to see authority for the statement "the Chinese started this (social credit) because of international critism of the behavior of Chinese citizens abroad". Just because the totalitarian Chinese government used some criticism of tourist an a very lame excuse to further repress and oppress their citizens that does not make it fact. Does anyone think, that is the reason why the Chinese are being denied home loans. Or. is it much more likely is it to get people to not be critical of government decisions and policy. very very dangerous even for a communist country is an Orwellian new low

August 25, 2018 at 2:58 PM

There is a Black Mirror episode about this very thing starring Bryce Dallas Howard.

August 25, 2018 at 3:21 PM

“I think there is live video in too many places in the US (for civil liberties)”

Just this week in Iowa, they found the person responsible for killing and hiding a young woman who did nothing but jog. Cameras can’t stop things from happening, but they can help them solve accidents from happening.

As for the China’s new social credit system, its not all that innovative. Basically its just a criminal record, but in typical Communist fashion, you don’t actually know what crime you are being punished for, and instead of going to jail or paying a fine, your punishment has no end. Another reason countries like the U.S. should have as little to do with China as possible, not just trade. Trumps tariffs don’t go far enough! Normalizing relations with China is one of the worst things the U.S. has done in the last 50 years. The U.S. isn’t perfect, but at least in most cases you are able to criticize it.

August 25, 2018 at 3:44 PM

So happy Disney hitched itself to this oppressive totalitarian dictatorship. Truly a match made in hell. Walt would be so pleased.

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
- George Orwell, Animal Farm

August 25, 2018 at 4:00 PM

read the wired article on it. It goes way way past criminal records. the chinese credit bureau CEO said playing video games too many hours (he decides too many), lowers the social credit score. or cheating on a video game even though no actual money is involved (not a criminal offense), or even renting a hotel room and then not showing up. (even if you pay for the hotel room, you didn't show up for). Lets see. "you don't know what crime you are being punished for, and instead of going to jail or paying a fine, your punishment has no end" that sounds just like what twitter, facebook, microsoft do to people when they ban them. they rarely tell people why they were suspended or banned. what part of their post caused it specifically. when these tech giants could simply censor the small part of the material that is actually objectionable (although even then it is problematic that only they get to decide, since a huge percentage of their employees seem to have the same group think political views).

August 25, 2018 at 4:49 PM

>>>the only metaphor that Robert makes that is valid (which he oddly did not make), is facebook, twitter, Microsoft, many other companies banning people not only from their sites but also from the ability to have a website. Based on their political views. This has been done many times to people with fairly moderate political views.

No, that's people trying to use their political views as a shield for their bad behaviour, instead of taking responsibility for it.

This Chinese system is scary.

August 25, 2018 at 4:57 PM

To be fair, it is a bit more open than "You have a name similar to someone we don't trust, so you can't fly anymore. Don't care that you're a 10-month-old baby".

Just saw this:

>>>but in typical Communist fashion, you don’t actually know what crime you are being punished for, and instead of going to jail or paying a fine, your punishment has no end. Another reason countries like the U.S. should have as little to do with China as possible, not just trade.

I don't want to get onto a political tirade here... but clean up your own house before you criticise someone else's. In addition to the no fly list, you got no right zone borders and the legal black hole in Guantanamo, amongst others. Where I'm standing, I can't see a lot of difference.

August 25, 2018 at 5:05 PM

Yeah of late I disagree that Disney is always watching, maybe laser focused on shoplifting, but a lot of bad guest behavior happens in the parks (U.S. included) that goes unnoticed for guests to resolve and put up with on their own - smoking in lines, line jumping, unruly behavior, etc. Back in the day there was visible Disney security walking the parks - no more. And if you complain to a cast member, they turn a blind eye because they are schooled to be unconfrontational and they don't know how to handle the situation. Let's take a moment to feel sorry for a cast member, doing a job who got bullied over balloons.

August 25, 2018 at 7:32 PM

I disagree with the post above about bad behavior at Disney Parks. Yes it happens, but it happens far less at Disney than all other places like Universal and Six Flags. Disney still has much more of a family crowd than the other parks where people go to hang out. Also i've spent tons of time at Disney Parks (all of them all around the world) and don't think i've ever once seen someone smoking in a line and the only unruly behavior i've seen is from South American tour groups. Considering the huge attendance Disney gets I think their crowds are actually really well behaved. Think about the fact that 365 days a year they cram thousands of people shoulder to shoulder into a little area to watch the nighttime entertainment and generally don't have any problems. I can tell you that if any other company tried to pull that kind off there would be problems. Even at Shanghai Disneyland the problem of unruly guests was far overblown, the way the media makes it sound is like complete anarchy but when I was there I saw zero issues whatsoever (other than ticket scammers outside the gate which I have also seen in Paris and HK).

August 25, 2018 at 9:25 PM

I certainly saw unruly guests at Shanghai Disneyland, more than other Disney parks. The most memorable and direct observation was in the Pirates queue, I was physically pressed and grabbed and pushed aside by two 60-something Chinese ladies, who then did the same to everyone else, as they worked their way to the front of the queue. The selfish behavior was also epidemic around the parades. We complain about parade jerks at WDW and DLR but Shanghai is a master class in parade jerkism. They all need lessons from the guests of Tokyo Disneyland.
However, Shanghai is not alone in antisocial behavior. I saw a great deal of uncontrolled smoking and selfie sticks in Disneyland Paris. Each park has its unique demographic, with whatever behavior peculiarities they may have.

August 25, 2018 at 10:16 PM

I disagree with all you people. Because I can.

August 27, 2018 at 12:48 PM

"That's the most chilling element to this system — without complete disclosure of its rules, consequences, and rewards, no one really knows what can get you in trouble. "

woah woah woah.... REWARDS!?!?! Who knows what that could be? It could be ANYTHING! Maybe it's so awesome they can't tell us! I'm all in! /s

August 30, 2018 at 10:11 AM

Whoa that's very unsettling.

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