One of the questions continually being batted about at present is, "Has China been fudging its COVID-19 numbers?" This provocative article from Foreign Policy, from well before the pandemic, argues that China fudges *all* of its numbers because China's government -- perhaps all authoritarian governments -- rewards not accuracy but politically desirable numbers.
"We don’t know China. Nor, however, do the Chinese — not even the government. We don’t know China because, in ways that have generally not been acknowledged, virtually every piece of information issued from or about the country is unreliable, partial, or distorted. The sheer scale of the country, mixed with a regime of ever-growing censorship and a pervasive paranoia about sharing information, has crippled our ability to know China. Official data is repeatedly smoothed for both propaganda purposes and individual career ambitions. ... GDP growth has long been one of the main criteria used to judge officials’ careers — as a result, the relevant data is warped at every level, since the folk reporting it are the same ones benefitting from it being high. If you add up the GDP figures issued by the provinces, the sum is 10 percent higher than the figure ultimately issued by the national government, which in itself is tweaked to hit politicized targets. Provincial governments have increasingly admitted to this in recent years, but the fakery has been going on for decades. We don’t know the extent of bad loans, routinely concealed by banks. We don’t know the makeup of most Chinese financial assets. ... But what we don’t know goes far beyond just economics. Look at any sector in China and you’ll find distorted or unreported public information; go to the relevant authorities and they’ll generally admit the most shocking practices in private. ... We don’t know the true size of the Chinese population because of the reluctance to register unapproved second children or for the family planning bureau to report that they’d failed to control births. We don’t know where those people are; rural counties are incentivized to overreport population to receive more benefits from higher levels of government, while city districts report lower figures to hit population control targets. Beijing’s official population is 21.7 million; it may really be as high as 30 or 35 million. Tens — perhaps hundreds — of millions of migrants are officially in the countryside but really in the cities. ... We don’t know how good Chinese schools really are because the much-quoted statistics provided by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) that placed China first in the world were taken from the study of a small group of elite Shanghai schools. As soon as that was expanded merely to Beijing — another metropolis — and two rich provinces, the results dropped sharply. ... We don’t know the extent of the collapse of rural education. We don’t know the real literacy figures, not least because rural and urban literacy is measured by different standards — a common trick for many figures. ...We don’t know the real crime figures, especially in the cities, which may represent as little as 2.5 percent of the actual total. We don’t know the death toll for the ethnic Uighur insurgency in Xinjiang, where local officials, in the words of one government terrorism expert, 'bend figures as much as during the Great Leap Forward,' nor do we know how many people are currently held in 're-education camps.' (Incidentally, we don’t know how many people died in the Great Leap Forward [1958-62], piled up in village ditches or abandoned on empty grasslands: the 16.5 million once given in official tolls or the 45 million estimated by some historians.) And we don’t know what we don’t know." foreignpolicy.com/2018/03/21/nobody-knows-anything-about-china
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