Foreign Policy examined in a recent article.
Take GDP (gross domestic product) for example. Officials in the Chinese government inflate these numbers because their status, or success rate, is measured by this number. Complicating this further is the fact that the people who report the numbers are the people who benefit career-wise from these numbers. Even harder to judge are Chinese economic recovery numbers because bad economic figures are often glossed over before a recovery occurs.
What about population? China doesn't even know what their population is because "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, for example, reports 21.7 million people, but that number may be as high as 30 to 35 million.
We don't know anything about Chinese politics. You don't see tell-all books by officials outlining corruption or political practices the way we fill Barnes & Noble's clearance bins here in the United States. Are all those arrested by the government really "corrupt, lascivious, and treacherous", or just political rivals of President Xi?
We don't know about Chinese schools because the academic measures are limited to districts that perform well. For example, "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." Many say that Beijing High School No. 4 is a "typical Chinese high school" when, in fact, it is often compared to Eton.
We don't know true crime figures, pollution figures, clean water figures, re-education camp figures, terrorism figures . . . in other words, we don't know much.
Sources of Chinese information "always a thin stream, have dried up almost entirely under an increasingly tight censorship regime of the last few years. Social media platform Weibo was once a limited window into provincial complaints and scandals; it is now massively censored. Private messaging groups on WeChat, an all-conquering messaging service, replaced it; last year, they were massively censored in turn."
In the U.S. we seem to have the opposite problem. There is so much information that the government has access to and gathers indiscriminately (think Facebook, secret FISA courts, and warrentless data collection) that it seems impossible to manage, except selectively - and hopefully you aren't one of those selected.
What do you think about data collection in China and the United States?