China’s Lies, Damn Lies and Secret Statistics

As Beijing tries to stifle independent monitoring of its air quality and seals up previously public financial data, Trefor Moss surveys the various types of controlled information at Foreign Policy.

Beijing makes no secret of its secrecy. While the government has become much less controlling than it used to be, information that doesn’t suit Beijing’s larger purposes still gets withheld, while information that doesn’t quite suit its purposes is often polished until it does. Only last month, an op-ed in the state-run newspaper Beijing Daily exposed local reporters displaying a shameful inclination towards balanced journalism. “Chinese media interested in negative news have been seduced into wrongdoing by Western concepts,” it fumed.

China’s sensitivity about its control of the bad-news agenda was highlighted once again this week when Beijing publicly chided the U.S. embassy for measuring Beijing’s sometimes “crazy bad” air pollution and publishing the data on Twitter. The damage is limited: although many expats and web savvy Chinese can still access it, Twitter is blocked in China. Nonetheless, the U.S. embassy smog readings are embarrassing for the Chinese government, whose own pollution measures tend to be much more favourable.

But pollution is just one of the items on the propaganda hit list. Anything that might shed some light on policy failures, social ills, or even the personalities of the country’s leaders is liable to be altered or suppressed. Here, then, are six of Beijing’s bad-news taboos.


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