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Chinese local governments rush to admit fake data (nikkei.com)
113 points by handpickednames 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments

China has a long history of doing this.

During Mao’s reign, agriculture numbers were padded constantly. They were only padded by a few percent at each level, but as each reporting hierarchy added its own padding, eventually you got massive overestimates.

This is why 50 million people died in the famine under Map, more than the Holocaust and “gulag archipelago” combined. I don’t think people realize just how bad it was, it was a time of absolutely insanity and deprivation.

40% of all building structures were torn down between between 1958-1963 if that gives you any idea of how detached from reality society under Mao was.

Also, China is lying about their pollution numbers, and just simply moving the factories farther west. Western China is one of the most rural parts of the world and its very hard to measure / prove who is using what / polluting what. No matter what the US does regarding global warming, it’s very likely any gains will be “eaten” by a growing, data faking, Chinese government.

I read the first sentence and I thought someone knew about the Chinese History, instead the long history begins with Mao's reign.

Yes, China has a long history of doing exactly this but it goes back to as far as thousands of years in all the different dynasty.

The only good thing is with all the surveillance in place, and the Anti - (selected) corruption happening this may actually work. ( Or may be not )

The entire movement was based at least in part on the lies and padding of Lysenkoism, showing how padding and lies and tragedy begets more of the same.

Citations needed.

I don't feel that it's actually needed in this case but here you go. It's like asking for a citation confirming that France was key for the American colonies winning their independence from GB


Yang Jisheng (30 October 2012). Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 240. ISBN 978-0-374-27793-2.

Kimberley Ens Manning; Felix Wemheuer; Gao Hua (1 January 2011). "Food Augmentation Methods and Food Substitutes during the Great Famine". Eating Bitterness: New Perspectives on China's Great Leap Forward and Famine. UBC Press. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-7748-5955-4.

Ralph Thaxton (5 May 2008). Catastrophe and Contention in Rural China: Mao's Great Leap Forward Famine and the Origins of Righteous Resistance in Da Fo Village. Cambridge University Press. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-521-72230-8. Jump up ^ Yang Jisheng (30 October 2012). Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-374-27793-2.

Dali L. Yang (1996). Calamity and Reform in China: State, Rural Society, and Institutional Change Since the Great Leap Famine. Stanford University Press. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-8047-3470-7.

You shouldn't be downvoted. Those are harsh accusations, they deserve sources. Because it fits what most of us expect the Chinese government could be doing makes it even more important to have sources, confirmation bias is the enemy of rational thinking.

Asking for references is one thing, but this “citation needed<EOF>” trope is growing old. It’s dismissive , and as lazy as it accuses the poster of being. It’s flippant and disrespectful.

Let me put it this way: if someone then does provide citations, it suddenly sounds harsh, and could do with an apology. But in that case, why not be civil to begin with? Like you were, for example.

Or, if you’re actually interested in the pursuit of truth, why not try and truly contribute by spending 30 seconds looking for references yourself, and adding those??

You had a comment here complaining about 'carpet bombing with [citation needed]' and you deleted it, but I agree with you on this.

Wikipedia posted a great article called "Why Wikipedia cannot claim the earth is not flat." [1] It describes the various ways special interest groups and fringe fanatics will fight to make their views recognized. One of the ways they called "gaming the system" where they frivolously request [citation needed].

The fact that China underwent a terrible famine shortly following the Communist Revolution is pretty common knowledge. Other than that, he wasn't clear what he was requesting citations for.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Why_Wikipedia_cannot...

I occasionally post this way when I realize part way through the original article that I have wasted my time reading an unsubstantiated diatribe that starts out sort of stealth-ed as a reasonably objective article (I don’t post this way about comments). My intention in such a case is to warn other readers who are not interested in that sort of thing not to waste their time. The last time I did this, I said:

"Exploitation and inequality is innate to the industrial-capitalist system; a fact well-known at least since the time of Marx." Citation needed?

The quote was taken from an article on environment problems in India. My problem with this is only that they said it without showing their work. If Marx said this, cite him. If it’s “well-know” prove it. Since they don’t bother to support this anywhere near the text of the claim, I don’t trust them anymore. I’m out, even if I was inclined to agree with them.

I agree in general that we shouldn’t be rude or dismissive, but I think we also need to retain the ability to call out unsubstantiated claims that purport to be common knowledge, or are poorly attributed, and to protect our time.

In the rare case that I regret reading something pretty long halfway through, I sometimes quickly post this way, get down voted, and hope I saved somebody some time. Anyone who wouldn’t read the article knowing that statement was in it can then choose not too. I guess if this is more annoying than reading a bad article, I could stop doing it or at least rephrase.

Rather than pedant, I'll just state I'm not buying, or state when someone's rhetoric jumped the rails.

When I'm feeling especially snarky, I'll use lmgtfy.

Yes, sorry—deleted it because IntronExon said it better and kinder.

Thanks for the kind words, although I also appreciated your way of putting it.

Presumably sourcing was requested for the claim that Mao-era officials habitually padded agricultural numbers, not that the famine itself occurred.

At this stage in my life I'm cynical to the point that I'd want a citation that a given government number from any regime in any time period was NOT manipulated for propaganda purposes.

I have to agree, if I wanted to write Wikipedia I would write for Wikipedia. This is a comment thread.

Hacker News isn't like other places though. There doesn't seem to be an official rule about jokes [1] but they generally get voted down.

In a world filled with fake news, a tradition of posting at least one link might be a good thing? (Unless it's personal experience, which is useful in itself.)

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Yes it is. Don't kid yourself thinking that we are a class above Reddit or something.

This burden of research that some impose upon others is bullshit. If one is intellectually omnivorous they do not keep links of all their findings handy, it is simply not possible. This incessant wailing for citations is an activity fit for gutter-snipes, not productive software engineers.

Why shouldn't we try to do better than most parts of Reddit? I don't mean Ask Historians [1] level discussion, but posting a relevant link is not hard.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/

Nor is doing a quick search on Google to see if you can find citations yourself. The fact that this took me about two minutes to find should frankly make you feel ashamed at your insistence that everyone provide citations for everything you don't know anything about: this is you being intellectually lazy :/.

> But rather than admit this truth and risk being accused of failure or, worse still, denounced as ‘counter-revolutionaries’, local party bosses fiddled the figures they sent to the central authorities.

> They curried favour by vying with each other to increase their targets of food production to ludicrous and entirely fictional levels. Then they lied that they had not only met but exceeded them.

> On paper, China was bursting with food of every type. The people’s bellies were full. Poverty and want had been eradicated.

> In reality, as the notional, non-existent surpluses were commandeered to feed the industrial workers in the cities, vast areas of China were left with a fraction of the sustenance needed to survive.

> In one province, the grain harvest shrank from 82,000 tonnes in 1957 to 18,000 tonnes three years later. Yet the local party boss still reported a bumper harvest of 130,000 tonnes.


"Madman who starved 60million to death: Devastating book reveals how Mao's megalomania turned China into a madhouse"

Clearly it would be better to cite the book (which I can't easily, as not all knowledge can be hyperlinked), or a higher-quality secondary source, but this is definitely sufficient enough to put the onus firmly on you to cite why you are so resistant to this thought process.

Some tips, if the issue is that you don't know how to do research: You might try searching for the title of the book, which might find you some more reviews, and you might find some which disagree and essentially write a "rebuttal". You might also can try to search for those specific numbers in the final paragraph I quoted from this article.

Thanks for the link! However, your accusations that I don't know how to do research are unfounded.

I'm also not at all ashamed to keep doing something I usually do and recommend it to others. As you say, it usually takes only a couple minutes to do, so why not?

If it's a subject I know (and I'm therefore commenting about) then I generally find it pretty easy to find a reliable link.

I kind of see it the other way, IMO making unsourced comments (especially about complex and widely ignored subjects such as chinese history and invoking the Holocaust) should be frowned upon. It's too easy to cherry-pick facts to fit a narrative in these conditions. Not saying that's what the parent was doing, but he could've been doing it and I definitely lack the necessary knowledge to form my opinion. As such I kind of end up dismissing his comment because I simply can't reasonably trust it at face value.

I don't know about you but I'm not exactly super knowledgeable about Maoism, the "Great Leap Forward" and the state of chinese agriculture in the 1950's. Maybe I'm just being ignorant but given that this is a computer hacking forum I'm not sure it's reasonable to expect that most readers will be better versed in the subject than I am.

So yeah, Citations Needed as far as I'm concerned.

Citations are great, but in this case it does sound like a formality of posting a Wikipedia link. This is not an obscure topic, and none of us need to be directed to the appropriate resources. A request to add such a link wouldn’t be out of line, but a curt two-word dismissal certainly is. Worse, it makes more reasonable and understandable requests seem churlish when they arise.

This is a chat board, not a murder suspect interrogation holding tank.

The sun rises in the East. Citation needed?

Children love frosted cupcakes. Citation needed?

Where in that article is it said that the padding of agriculture numbers and subsequent massive overestimates were the cause of the 50M deaths?

It's in the section on Famine [1]. Main article [2].

> Although actual harvests were reduced, local officials, under tremendous pressure from central authorities to report record harvests in response to the innovations, competed with each other to announce increasingly exaggerated results. These were used as a basis for determining the amount of grain to be taken by the State to supply the towns and cities, and to export. This left barely enough for the peasants, and in some areas, starvation set in. A 1959 drought and flooding from the Yellow River in the same year also contributed to famine.

> During 1958–1960 China continued to be a substantial net exporter of grain, despite the widespread famine experienced in the countryside, as Mao sought to maintain face and convince the outside world of the success of his plans.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Leap_Forward#Famine

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chinese_Famine


The wiki links to a French article which has quotes from the author of this book: https://www.amazon.com/Maos-Great-Famine-Devastating-Catastr...

Read Tombstone by Yang Jisheng.

The unreliability of those figures will be no surprise to anyone who follows China's economy or politics closely, and I hope this bodes for better quality statistics in the future.

There's a small industry of people who try to measure Chinese growth in other ways that are harder to forge such as railway shipment tonnage and energy consumption; it'll be interesting to see to what extent those methods are vindicated if/when better quality data becomes available.

Chinese GDP is not a sum of locally reported GDPs. Locally reported GDPs have always exceeded the total GDP, sometimes by a large margin. Now they may lag.

A large motivation is how the taxes collected are shared between the central government and the local governments. A new tax sharing scheme introduced last year makes underreporting of the local GDPs profitable for the local governments, meaning they get to remit less taxes to the central government.

Oh, that makes sense. I'd hoped the trend was towards a higher level of reliability but perhaps it's just a change of direction in the manipulation.

If you look at large companies' accounts, they typically have inter segment reconciliations. Where intra-company trades are booked can be artificial. In the Chinese case, the city of Tianjin, e.g., which has a financial district, booked revenues from companies registered there but conducting no substantial business there in its own local GDP. This is akin to the state of Delaware including in its own GDP report (if there is such a thing) all companies registered there. But this inflation has no effect on the national GDP, which is aggregated over the businesses directly, so it does not matter how many provinces claim the businesses as their own. Hope this helps put things in context a little bit for you.

If we assume 20-30% of gdp claim from most of the provinces in China are fake, then that reduces their overall GDP from 11.2T to probably around 9-10T, only about double Japan's 5T, and about half of US's 19T and way less than EU's 17T. Nowhere near taking over US/EU anytime soon, and probably falling into a lost decade for China. And with the 3% gdp growth from US recently, US economy is looking very bright.

Easter and Western politics, socialize, communism, capitalism, share the same means to an end, political parties trying to retain power and often have nothing to do with the people.

That is known as the Li Keqiang Index. As you might know Li is the current premier, but he has been made pretty powerless by Xi.

"In Liaoning Province tax receipts and income from various fees were padded by 20-30% according to counties and cities during the period of 2011-2014. Inner Mongolia has said that 25% of the fiscal revenue stated for 2016 were actually fake."

That actually validates some of the slowdown that I saw while I was in China. Business felt slow, and it seems that there wasn't the fast feel anymore compared to 2007. Very little small company activities, and alot of economic activities seem to involve state-owned companies (and we all know how slow they are).

If we assume 20-30% fake data across most of its local provinces the last couple of years, this would probably place China's GDP growth at around 1% a year (maybe even negative), way below 7% consistently claimed by the government. However, the 1% would be consistent with the drop in exports in recent year.

I just wanted to add, my view is while they are not moving as fast as say 2007 or 2010. They are still fast. Certain places may not be growing as quick, but other places like West China and Mid China are moving at super fast pace. ( That is where all the government money at the moment )

Gut feel, last year was negative growth from all the complaining of my foreigner friends (midlevel and higher execs) in SH

Eventually faking economic data has real consequences since economics inevitably happens anyway. At some point you just look like an idiot.

Exactly! Actually this should be more of a big deal. This is a MASSIVE accounting fraud, the kind that brought down Enron in 2000

I'll be interested to see if this leads to a massive shakeup in local politics from Beijing. I can't imagine they're pleased with the amount of doctored data (unless they already knew and were using it to appear stronger on a global scale)

When I read the title, I immediately imagined China faking growth at a global scale and maximizing its importance. It's not the case at all:

Of the 31 provinces, direct-controlled municipalities and autonomous regions in China, three have already admitted falsifying certain economic data. Starting with the northeastern province of Liaoning in January 2017, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and the city of Tianjin have said their statistics were wrong.

Of the three, only Tianjing has admitted doctoring the overall provincial gross domestic product figures. Liaoning and Inner Mongolia had padded something else: their fiscal revenues.

I had thought the same but I'm still wondering if it was a proxy to cover something else (ex. ability to pay debt obligations) that would have had ramifications in the global market

Of course they knew about it. It is just when one province do it, others have to do it too. There aren't any Top party members who hasn't been a head of region at least once when they were ranking up the ladder. So not only did they knew, they properly have done it themselves.

Now Xi is trying fix what's wrong. ( Only if you are not reading too much into it )

These numbers came out after shakeups. New local leaders (like company boards after an accounting scandal) want to get their base numbers low -- making their own GDP goals a lot easier to achieve.

Government bureaucrats were promoted based on GDP and tax revenue, and I for one am shocked, shocked, that this led to inflated GDP and tax revenue figures!

This is what happens when you trust but don't verify on a global scale.

Should we continue to trust the Chinese government when they report improvements in other areas such as green energy and clean air? How can we know those numbers aren’t doctored like these ones were?

Well, the Chinese are strongly incentivized to actually fix those issues, so while they may lie in the near-term, I do believe they're _actually_ committed to addressing these problems.

Outside of economic stagnation, environmental disasters are the no. 1 perceived threat today to rule & order by the CCP.

At least clean air in cities can be verified just by being there.

actually you are correct; local governments in China have been known to fake air data


and this year, Shanghai's air pollution has been worse than Beijing. Some say due to the cold air pushing the pollution down this year.


Beijing actually made huge improvements using drastic methods to eliminate coal consumption in the rural regions surrounding Beijing. This has made heating a bit bothersome (some poorer or colder villagers, natural gas shortages), but has improved air quality substantially.

Beijing’s air is better because that’s where the emperor is ;). (Or what my Chinese friends call him, Xi baozi - xi dumpling)

That was not true for a really long time though, Beijing was still pretty bad even last year. Mr. 11 can always just go off to his villa somewhere else anyways.

"Should we continue to trust the Chinese..."



“I only believe in statistics that I doctored myself”

― Winston S. Churchill

"Don't believe everything you read on the Internet"

-- Abraham Lincoln

And what happens if people are actually faking (lying) about reporting fake data?

If these government official were lying, giving them incentives to admit they are lying is the worst outcome I can think of.

If this works, then it's a great move by Xi. Pay down that fake data debt in a controlled way instead of waiting for an implosion.

that's why there is a solid case for government blockchain usage


Practice is the only criterion for the test of truth, and since the end of the cold war, only china has been able to narrow the gap between the United States and the United States

According to GT that reads:

"Practice is the sole criterion for testing truth. Since the end of the Cold War, only China has narrowed its gap with the United States in terms of economic scale."

China's advantages to a booming economy in the early 2000s are all withering away, however. Demographics: China is actually projected to have less than 800M population by 2100. Foreign direct investment: leaving to higher growth areas like India and Vietnam, partly also due to capital controls. Cheap labor: wage inflation is causing manufacturing to move out of China. Large labor force: China will have one of the oldest population by 2050, with working forces retiring. Tech growth: surveillance, great firewall, pollution, economy slowdown will spur talents to leave China.

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