The quantification of modern society has been a prominent concern among sociologists since Simmel and Weber. The recent explosion of quantification in contemporary Chinese society marks a new phase in this process, which I call “hyper-quantification.” Hyper-quantification in China is not confined to the Chinese government but pervades many spheres of social life from consumer services and labor relations to education and dating. Social credit scores, customer loyalty programs, employee evaluation systems, and match-making algorithms are but a few examples of hyper-quantification in China. Whereas Western societies have typically been viewed as the source of global social trends, China’s experience with hyper-quantification places it at the forefront of a broader global process. Hyper-quantification in China is driven by the conjunction of three factors: an unprecedented rate of urbanization, an eagerness to adopt new digital technologies, and the Chinese Communist Party’s preoccupation with numbers. Lastly, these factors build on the long-standing significance of numbers in Chinese cultural traditions.
Kyle Chan is a Ph.D. candidate in the Sociology Department at Princeton University. He studies the determinants of state capacity and the role of the state in development with a focus on China and India. He received a master’s degree in political sociology from the London School of Economics and a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Chicago.