30 September 2009

Lies, Damn Lies, and Chinese Math: Over 1 Billion Snowed

Even the Chinese don't trust Chinese statistics, and they have the catchy phrases to prove it.

Apparently Science Magazine's Letters section is the only venue to pick up the Xinhua News Agency article on the new regulation issued by the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics, which clarifies the penalties and procedures for prosecuting statistical corruption.

The letter, by Junguo Liu and Hong Yang of Beijing Forestry University and Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, respectively, gives an intriguing insight into how the Chinese people view the corruption in their own statistics:

Statistical corruption has been found in China for years, largely for two reasons. First, economic growth is a key factor determining the promotion of government officials. Statistical data and numbers are regarded as a reflection of economic growth, which is used to evaluate the performance of the officials. This is the so-called "numbers make leaders" phenomenon ("shu zi chu guan" in Chinese). Second, the statistical organizations are not independent entities in China. They are a part of the government and hence are vulnerable to government interference. Without specific laws and regulations to punish statistical corruption, government leaders can intervene in statistical reporting with low political risks. They may tailor statistics for different purposes, such as inflating statistical numbers that indicate economic achievements and decreasing statistical numbers for environmental pollution and damage. This is the so-called "leaders make numbers" phenomenon ("guan chu shu zi" in Chinese).
My guess is that the move by the NBS to curb official corruption is at least partly due to the recent scandal surrounding Qiu Xiaohua, former director of the National Bureau of Statistics, who was sacked and expelled from the Chinese Communist Party in 2007.
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