Project description

China\’s economy growth slowed to 28-year low in 2018, with GDP expanding 6.6%, but a renowned Chinese economic professor Xiang Songzuo mentioned in a speech that China\’s growth in 2018 was actually 1.67% or even a negative growth. Based on publicly accessible official data, this project tries to tell the Chinese audience and people interested in China a real sketch of the Chinese economy and how dishonest could the Chinese authority be on economic data.

The project looked into how China\’s National Bureau of Statistics changed it historical GDP data in the past 20 years to make the world\’s second largest economy look better, and how China\’s official GDP data contracted with other economic indicators. In 2010, National Bureau of Statistics changed China\’s energy consumption from 1996 to 1999 (energy consumption was then regarded as a better indicator for economic growth rather than GDP), historical data showed energy consumption in 1997 and 1998 was a negative growth, while the then official GDP growth was around 8%, which was contradictory to each other. In 2010, the negative growth was changed to positive growth, National Bureau of Statistics also doubled the energy consumption growth in 1999. Again, in 2015, National Bureau of Statistics changed China\’s energy consumption from 2000 to 2012 by increasing each year\’s consumption.

The project also compared the Li Keqiang Index, an alternative measure of the country\’s economic growth based on electricity consumption, railway freight and lending, to the official GDP data, which also shows contradiction.

The project goes further to explore China\’s economy in 2018. Chinese state media has been claiming that the US will suffer more from the trade war than China. However, the project demonstrates that the trade war has cast a severe shadow on China\’s job market especially on trade industry, with job demand plunged by 53% in the third quarter in 2018 (Data obtained from third party). Again, the official unemployment rate is ‘pretty’: the unemployment of the first three quarters is only 3.82%, which is contradictory to third party monitoring.

What makes this project innovative?

This project was unique as it looked at data about a particular topic but from various sources thus proving that China’s National Bureau of Statistics was misleading people with its data. It’s a long-time assumption that China’s data was incorrect but looking at each point analytically and then visualizing these differences was very well-received in China. On top of that, the piece was written in Chinese which enabled it to be widely shared and read by people in China.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

Besides being reproduced by multiple overseas Chinese news website, the story is quite popular on social media. One Facebook, audience were echoing the findings by expressing that they never believed China's National Bureau of Statistics, and some said that they felt 2018 was really hard for China especially the middle and micro businesses who bore the brunt of the economy slowdown. The page views exceeded 36,000 which is impressive considering the fact that the BBC Chinese website is actually banned in China. The top country reading the article is the US however that’s often the country selected for people who use VPN services to sidestep blocked websites in China. After the US was Taiwan and Hong Kong which, apart from China, is exactly the readers we were targeting.

Source and methodology

This project was the first data story written by the journalist after attending HEI-Da’s three-data journalism workshop. Prior to that, she had never even so much as used a formula on Google Spreadsheet. During the workshop, she learnt how to find and do basic data cleaning which is what she did when looking up the multiple data sources used here. After that, she compared the various metrics and spoke to experts about the differences she found. While writing this piece, she also had to do extensive reading about the country’s purported economic slowdown to fully understand the issue. After the piece was greenlit by her editor, the East Asia Visual Journalism hub work with her to visualize the data in easily-understandable charts.

Technologies Used

The journalist used Microsoft Excel to clean the data and the designer used Photoshop to design the charts.

Project members

Author: Wei Zhou Graphics: Arvin SUPRIYADI

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