Nobody knows China, not even the Chinese

How many people are there in China? What's the GDP of China? How does Chinese education compare to other nations? What are the crime statistics in China? These are just some of the questions that James Palmer at 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?


  1. Data collection in china are pretty similar to what has been going on here in the US. the only difference is that the data that was gathered by the chinese government, are used differently compare to the data that was collected here in the US. In the US, most of the data that were “mined” from the people not only goes to the government, but also are used by advertising company to generate adds that are tailored specifically for the person that are directly targeted. I personally think that data mining is a huge breach of privacy, granted that since the dawn of the internet, there is no such thing as privacy anymore. With the advancement of the internet, both companies and governments need to understand that there should be a line that they should not cross for whatever reason. But this only will happen if the people are aware, and demand this level of privacy.

  2. There should be a open-access information area regarding data among countries.
    Eng-126 Ripley

  3. China is very interesting cocutry because recently FinTech adn Blockchain technology become viral, but if you look the countryside people are starving. In terms of data correction, I think both US and Chinese government has a power to access the private data, but Chinese government explicitly access it and not many people are not resisting it whereas the US people are so angry. I think this is coming from different education system. I assume in China the students are trained to work as a industrial worker while the US the students have choices to do whatever they do and respected. Overall, I was laughing watching yesterday's congress saying "Do you think average person look the terms of service?"

  4. Everybody knows that china is one of the most dominant and fastest growing countries in the world. Having Chinese blood, I've been very exposed to the Chinese culture and background. When it comes to getting data, I believe that China and the US has been doing the same thing for years, but it depends on HOW they use this information. Furthermore, Chinese education is very different from how education is taught in America. In China, all that matters is getting good grades and graduate with the best possible grades.


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