A historian explores how Beijing has tackled its statistical woes over the years.

Foreign Policy
July 20, 2020
By: Melissa Chan

A Chinese bank employee counts new 50-yuan notes with a money counting machine at a bank counter in Hangzhou in China's eastern Zhejiang province on August 30, 2019. STR/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Successful book launches often depend on timing, as any writer facing this season of canceled book fairs and tours will tell you. They have helplessly watched as their new releases languished, lost in the babble of pandemic press conferences and news headlines, competing for relevancy in a time of global human and economic disruption. A few authors, however, have found themselves in the opposite circumstance. Arunabh Ghosh could not have imagined how timely his book would be when he set out more than a decade ago on his research project. But Making It Count, an academic work published by Princeton University Press examining the history of statistics in China, lands at a time when the world is wondering: How does Beijing collect data, and what did it know about COVID-19 and when?

Making It Count: Statistics and Statecraft in the Early People’s Republic of China, Arunabh Ghosh, Princeton University Press, 360 pp., $45, March 2020

“The information that we got at the front end of this thing wasn’t perfect,” complained U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in March, when only about a dozen Americans had died from the disease. “It has proven incredibly frustrating to work with the Chinese Communist Party to get our hands around the data set.”

That implies Beijing had the right numbers to begin with. By U.S. intelligence agencies’ own assessments, the Chinese central government struggled with facts on the ground in the early days of the outbreak, as municipal bureaucrats in the city of Wuhan and elsewhere downplayed infection rates and death counts. Other reports simultaneously show that Beijing withheld critical medical information from the rest of the world, including to the World Health Organization. But that—as Ghosh well illustrates—is a paradox often encountered in the history of modern China: A government obsessed with numbers and information all too often lacked them in practice.    [FULL  STORY]

ProPublica analyzed thousands of fake and hijacked Twitter accounts to understand how covert Chinese propaganda spreads around the globe.

Date:  March 26, 2020
By: Jeff Kao, ProPublica and Mia Shuang Li for ProPublica

Posts by Twitter accounts involved in an ongoing Chinese government influence campaign discovered by ProPublica. (Allen Tan/ProPublica)

Kalen Keegan, a college student at the University of Nebraska Omaha, immediately noticed when her Twitter account unleashed a torrent of posts in Chinese. “My other account got hacked👍🏽,” the soccer player posted on a replacement account. The new author tweeting as @Kalenkayyy had strong views on geopolitics — all aligned with the Chinese Communist Party. It was obsessed with the protests in Hong Kong, offered uncritical praise of the Hong Kong police and accused demonstrators of fomenting a “color revolution” backed by an “anti-Chinese American conspiracy.”

As the coronavirus outbreak led to a lockdown of Wuhan and its surrounding cities in late January, the Hong Kong posts were suddenly deleted. The account continued to post relentlessly in Chinese, but it now focused on the burgeoning epidemic. About a month later, her Twitter profile began to change in other ways. The reference to her college disappeared and her headshot was replaced by a generic photo of two people kissing. By the end of the week, her Twitter transformation was complete. @Kalenkayyy was now a Chinese propaganda-posting zombie account belonging to someone purportedly named Kalun Tang.

Her new tagline? “When women arm themselves with softness, they are the strongest.”

Later, the account deleted more of its tweets and unfollowed all of its former friends. It is currently temporarily restricted by Twitter for unusual activity.    [FULL  STORY]

.China’s Global Times changes ‘Wuhan pneumonia’ to ‘novel coronavirus-related pneumonia’ in January articleTaiwan News
Date: 2020/03/26
By:  Taiwan News

.Screenshots show "Wuhan" removed from Global Times article title. (Twitter photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Twitter user with the account name "LIFETIME" on Wednesday (March 25) posted screenshots of a Global Times article to prove the Chinese newspaper agency has been removing the term "Wuhan virus" from previous reports.

The Twitter user claimed the English news site under the state-run People's Daily has been tampering with the content of several articles published in January. Based on the screenshots, the Global Times has altered "Wuhan pneumonia" to "novel coronavirus-related pneumonia" in the title of a report on China's coronavirus infections.

中共正開始大規模「修改」武漢肺炎疫情歷史。近日《環球時報》英文網站偷偷將1月18日的報導中「武漢肺炎」改成「不明與冠狀病毒相關的肺炎」,被網民抓包! pic.twitter.com/76za4254HT

— LIFETIME 視界 (@LifetimeUSCN) March 25, 2020

Another Twitter user, with the account name @iambadbears, responded to the post and said that Xinhua News Agency, also run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has been engaging in similar acts. He proceeded to add screenshots that show the government functionary changed an article's title, "Wuhan virus sees Olympic football qualifiers moved," to, "Olympic football qualifiers moved from Wuhan to Nanjing."    FULL  STORY]

Wuhan residents shout 'fake, fake, everything is fake' at China's vice premier while inspecting quarantined community

Taiwan News
Date}: 2020/03/06
By: Keoni Everington, Taiwan News, Staff Writer

Sun Chunlan (front, center). (WeChat video screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Video has surfaced appearing to show Wuhan residents shout "everything is fake" at Communist China's Vice Premier Sun Chunlan (孫春蘭), as she toured the quarantined community at the epicenter of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on Thursday (March 5).

On Thursday, Sun, vice premier of the State Council, led members of the Central Steering Group on an official inspection tour of epidemic prevention efforts by residents in the Wuhan Kaiyuan Mansion Community in Wuhan's Qingshan District, reported Xinhua News. However, frustrated, quarantined residents soon began loudly shouting at Sun and her entourage from their high-rise apartment windows.

In videos of the incident that quickly surfaced online that afternoon, male and female residents can be heard shouting in both the Wuhan dialect and standard Mandarin, "Fake! Fake! Fake!" and, "Everything is fake!" Others said things like, "They are taking advantage of the people to put on a show," "The real estate management office has concocted this scene," and "formalism" (形式主義, basically, appearance rather than content).

One resident shooting video was surprised that people would so boldly shout such criticism at a high-level Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official. Another resident who captured the scene on camera giggled with glee.   [FULL  STORY]

CBS News
Date: February 19, 2020

China on Wednesday said it has revoked the press credentials of three reporters for the U.S. newspaper Wall Street Journal over a headline for an opinion column deemed racist by the government. The expulsions come after the Trump administration on Tuesday designated five state-run Chinese news outlets that operate in the United States as "foreign missions," requiring them to register their properties and employees in the U.S. China said it reserves the right to respond to what it called a mistaken policy.

The headline on the Journal's opinion column referred to the current virus outbreak in China and called the country the "Real Sick Man of Asia."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the February 3 op-ed by Bard College Professor Walter Russel Mead "smears the efforts of the Chinese government and people on fighting (the virus) epidemic."

"The editors used such a racially discriminatory title, triggering indignation and condemnation among the Chinese people and the international community," he said in a statement.

He said the expulsions came after the Journal refused demands to "make an official apology and hold the persons involved accountable."    [FULL  STORY]

Twitter Removes 936 Chinese Accounts in a Disinformation Crackdown

The News Lens
Date: 2019/08/21
By: Oiwan Lam, Global Voices

On August 19, Twitter revealed that 936 accounts originating from China were "attempting to sow political discord” in Hong Kong in order to "undermine the legitimacy and political positions” of the anti-extradition movement on the ground.

Upon investigations, Twitter believed that the information operation was state-backed in a coordinated manner.

Although Twitter is blocked in China since 2009, some of the above accounts had accessed Twitter from specific unblocked IP addresses originating in mainland China, the company explained. Moreover, the 936 accounts were merely the most active ones and there existed a larger network of approximately 200,000 accounts created as part of this operation. The company said that it suspended all of the accounts for a number of violations of its "platform manipulations policies”, including spam, coordinated activity, fake accounts, attributed activity, and ban evasion.

Although Twitter stated that the company was "committed to understanding and combating how bad-faith actors use [their] services”, a simple search could still bring the audience to a huge number of disinformation about the protests in Hong Kong on the platform.    [FULL  STORY]

UNIQLO says logo was added without permission

Taiwan News
Date: 2019/08/21
By: Zin Kao, Taiwan News, Staff Writer

Zhao Bang’s T-shirt promotion picture (Source: Wechat)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Chinese artist Zhao Bang (趙邦) was arrested for a T-shirt design hinting at the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, HK01 reports.

The design uses emojis to depict police surrounding and shooting civilians, which are arranged in a way that suggests the Chinese characters for “six" and "four” (六四) or “June 4,” the date the massacre took place. It is sold on Wechat @dixiaowei456 (繪畫藝術壞蛋店), an online shop with the same name as its owner, Di Xiaowei (邸小偉).

T-shirt design hinting at Tiananmen Square massacre (Source: Zhou Fengsuo Twitter)

Both Zhao and Di were arrested by the Chinese police. Overseas Chinese democratic activist Wang Zhongxia (王仲夏) took to Twitter to warn that the police are now investigating the buyers of the shirts, and called on the public to be aware of the Chinese government’s suppression of art expression.

Japanese apparel retailer UNIQLO has denied cooperation with Zhao and pointed out that its logo was added to the promotional photo without its permission, though UNIQLO said that it understood it as part of the artist’s creation. Another overseas Chinese activist, Zhou Fengsuo (周鋒鎖), who first revealed Zhao’s arrest, also confirmed on Twitter that the T-shirt was not UNIQLO's.

Date: 4th June 2019
By: James Griffiths, CNNHong Kong

Credit: Badiucao

For years, Chinese artist Badiucao has operated anonymously, wearing a mask whenever he appears in public. But now, on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, he has revealed his face for the very first time.

Badiucao's name is a pseudonym adopted years ago, when he began posting caustic political cartoons lampooning the Chinese Communist Party online. He was quickly banned from Chinese social media and forced to operate outside the Great Firewall, China's vast online censorship apparatus.

In 2009, Badiucao moved to Australia, where he has since become a citizen, renouncing his Chinese passport. But even then, he did not reveal his identity. Like the UK-based graffiti artist Banksy, he operated in the shadows, carrying out most of his work online or on the streets, and only appearing at exhibitions in heavy disguise.

During the filming of a documentary about his work — which aired Tuesday night on Australian television — Badiucao and director Danny Ben-Moshe initially went to extreme measures to maintain this secrecy. At home in Melbourne and during a year working with world famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in Berlin, Ben-Moshe filmed Badiucao from behind, or in disguise, taking care to avoid anything that could be used by the Chinese authorities to identify him.

Chinese dissident artist's Hong Kong show canceled over 'safety concerns'
"Most of the shots were of my back, avoiding showing the shape of my body," Badiucao told CNN in a phone interview. "We were also aware of showing my fingerprints or the shape of my ear. AI technology has evolved so much that I was worried even a bit of my body could compromise my identity."    [FULL  STORY]

The Chinese government has said the 1989 crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square, which left hundreds of protesters dead, was not a mistake. The defense came days ahead of the 30th anniversary of the killings.

Deutsche Welle 
Date: June 2, 2019     

Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe on Sunday defended the bloody crackdown on protesters Tiananmen Square  almost three decades after it took place.

The response was a rare acknowledgment of the killings, which had followed seven weeks of protests in 1989 by students and workers calling for democracy and an end to corruption.

Hundreds, possibly more than 1,000 people were killed when soldiers and tanks chased protesters and onlookers in the streets around the square. One secret British diplomatic cable put the possible number of dead at up to 10,000.

Wei said the action was necessary to avoid political instability, and questioned why people still said that China has not handled the situation well.

“That incident was a political turbulence and the central government took measures to stop the turbulence which is a correct policy,” Wei told a regional security forum in Singapore.

“The 30 years have proven that China has undergone major changes,” Wei said in response to a question from the audience. He said that because of the government’s action at that time “China has enjoyed stability and development.”    [FULL  STORY]

The way officials have responded to the spread of African swine fever has brought back uncomfortable memories of SARS. 

Date: April 23, 2019
By: Adam Minter

Chinese pig farms have been devastated.  Photographer: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

It’s a familiar and ominous story. A deadly pathogen with no known cure begins spreading in China. Rather than acknowledge the problem, officials throughout the Chinese government shut down media coverage, while underreporting infection and mortality rates for fear of career and political repercussions. Just as the true scale of the epidemic emerges, Chinese officials declare victory.

In 2002 and 2003, that was roughly the course of the deadly, incurable SARS pandemic that emerged in southern China and disrupted global travel, commerce and health. In 2018 and 2019, it’s an accurate description of how China has mismanaged an epidemic of African swine fever that’s on course to kill 130 million pigs — or roughly one-third of China’s herd, the biggest in the world.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Post-SARS, China supposedly reformed its system so that secrecy, careerism and concerns over China’s international image wouldn’t again take precedence over public health. Thankfully African swine fever only affects pigs. But the epidemic highlights how hard old habits die, and how systemically unprepared China is to report and manage the inevitable next epidemic that kills people.

For decades, the Chinese government’s top priority has been the preservation of social stability. Mainly this is promoted through economic development policies designed to enrich and placate China’s vast population, especially in the countryside. Meanwhile, events that the government views as potentially threatening tend to be suppressed. For example, in 1976, the government censored reporting on the Tangshan earthquake, a catastrophic event that killed more than 500,000 people, for fear of how the public would react to the death toll and the government’s inadequate response.    [FULL  STORY]