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The city of Suzhou, known as “the Venice of the East” for its web of intricate waterways, captured the imagination of Marco Polo when he journeyed through China more than seven centuries ago.

Today it’s drawing attention for another grand project: a sprawling network of databases designed to track the behavior of China’s population. Sitting next to Shanghai with an economy larger than Finland’s, Suzhou was one of a dozen places chosen in 2018 by President Xi Jinping’s government to run a social-credit trial, which can reward or punish citizens for their behavior.

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