In the Wall Street Journal‘s ChinaRealtime section, an amusing story about a local Chinese government whose official statistics were so unrealistic that the central statistics office called them out on it:
It’s typically advisable not to accept Chinese economic data at face value – as even the country’s own premier will tell you. Figures on everything from inflation and industrial output to energy consumption and international trade often don’t seem to gel with observation and sometimes struggle to stack up when compared with other indicators.
How the figures are massaged and by whom is as much a secret as the real data itself. But in an unusual move, the National Bureau of Statistics – clearly frustrated with the lies, damn lies – has recently outed a local government it says was involved in a particularly egregious case of number fudging, providing rare insight into just how we’re being deceived.
According to a statement on the statistics bureau’s website dated June 14 (in Chinese), the economic development and technology information bureau of Henglan, a town in southern China’s Guangdong province, massively overstated the gross industrial output of large firms in the area.
[. . .]
The statistics bureau doesn’t say why Henglan inflated its industrial output numbers. But indications that a local economy is sagging could reflect poorly on the prospects for promotion of local officials, and China’s southern provinces have been particularly hard hit by the global slowdown in demand for the country’s exports. Factories have closed, moving inland and overseas in search of cheaper labor, denting local government revenues.
“When governments are looking to burnish their track record, that can put the local statistics departments in a very awkward situation,” said a commentary piece that ran Tuesday in the Economic Daily (in Chinese), a newspaper under the control of the State Council, China’s cabinet. The article said that one of the biggest obstacles to ensuring accurate data is that the agencies responsible for crunching the numbers aren’t independent from local authorities. Moreover, it argues that penalties for producing fake data were too mild to act as a deterrent.