Down with the numbers


Falsifying or padding out data has been refined to an art form among China’s local bureaucrats, since good economic growth figures not only look and feel good but are benchmarks for their career advancement. This has given rise to a popular saying that “data makes an official and an official makes data”. The malpractice is so rampant and blatant that over the years, a long-running joke is that simply adding up the figures from all the provinces and municipalities reveals a sum that overshoots the national GDP – by 6.1 trillion yuan (more than 10 per cent!) in 2013, 4.78 trillion yuan in 2014, and 3.6 trillion yuan in 2016.

it came as a pleasant surprise that since last year, two provinces and one municipality have volunteered to police fake data and revise down their revenues significantly. The north-eastern province of Liaoning is the first. Early last year, its new party secretary took the rare move to air the dirty linen and admitted widespread fraud, with its provincial GDP in 2016 revised down by 23.3 per cent. This month, Inner Mongolia admitted that it had revised down its 2017 revenues by 14.4 per cent and would also revise down its GDP growth. Then, the municipality of Tianjin said its Binhai New Area, one of the national-level development zones that also includes Pudong in Shanghai, revised down its 2016 GDP by nearly 30 per cent to 665.4 billion yuan. Earlier media reports boasted, wrongly, that Binhai had become the first national development zone to cross the 1 trillion yuan threshold.

Another problem: According to the National Bureau of Statistics, there were 17.23 million babies born in China in 2017, a drop of 630,000 from a year earlier. That is a lot less than China’s National Commission of Health and Family Planning had expected, having estimated that the new two-child policy would push the number of births to more than a 20 million last year, even in a “low-birth scenario”.

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