AFTER years as the ultimate spin doctors, China's statisticians
are confronting new demands: credibility and accuracy.
Since the Communist Party came to power in 1949, government
number-crunchers have manipulated, colored, and even buried data to
serve volatile political masters and to justify a collapsing
central planning system. The decade-long Cultural Revolution, a
period when data-gathering was abandoned as "unscientific," left
a statistical black hole in history that cannot be filled.
But with the planned economy retreating before an emerging
capitalist marketplace, and foreign investors and forecasters
demanding to know more about the world's hottest economy, China
faces new pressure to clean up its reputation for statistical
deceit and legerdemain.
Despite its bureaucratic army of 2 million data-gatherers, China
exists in a statistical fog in which information is hidden and hard
to come by. Public and private research institutes have mushroomed
as Western firms such as the Gallup Organization open shop in
China. The State Statistical Bureau, for years the bastion of
closely held economic information, has established a marketing
research subsidiary that compiles an industrial data base. Its
clients include AT&T, Proctor & Gamble Company, and Amoco
The bureau is moving from outdated socialist accounting to
econometrics and other Western methods; it has hired Western
economists as consultants and is soliciting joint ventures in the
United States, Britain, and Hong Kong to market its economic
People's Daily, the official Communist Party organ, says the
government is moving closer to international accounting practices
by focusing more on investment, profits, pricing, and production.
To burnish its credibility and boost Beijing's ability to manage
the national economy, the government last month announced a
crackdown on statistical fraud among provinces and localities.
Since the center reinstated data research after economic reform was
launched 15 years ago, local statistical bureaus have
systematically inflated data to win Beijing's approval, or
underestimated statistics to receive more government funding.
FACING a wave of official corruption and growing rebelliousness
among provinces anxious to chart their own economic futures, Zhang
Sai, the bureau director, warned that distorted statistics are
increasing tensions between Beijing and localities. …