Squishy Numbers

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Numbers in China, as has been noted elsewhere in this blog, are squishy, too put it mildly. With the Health Ministry numbers I referred to below, I cite them as they indicate a trend rather than thinking they represent an exact statistical number. Allegories for the reader’s edification like Biblical stories, and for both, having faith helps a lot. Other numbers are also supposed to represent a trend, but whereas the Health numbers indicate things getting worse, (meaning really a problem that will be be solved soon), these purport to show things getting better, a problem already well on the way to being solved. An excellent entry in the China Law and Politics Blog analyses reports by Beijing that the numbers of petitioners has declined significantly. The blog post by Carl Minzner, an International Affairs Fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign relations, is skeptical that the numbers represent a true sea change in the number of Chinese resorting to petitioning. They appear to be running in this direction as evidence that a change to the laws on petitioning is having a beneficial effect by reducing the numbers of citizens seeking to resolve their grievances through the petitioning system.

From 2005 to 2006, there was an additional 15.5% decline in the total number of petitions, according to a March 28 Xinhua article posted on the China Court website. The same article also reported that the number of mass incidents, collective petitions, and “abnormal” in-person petitions also declined, without providing precise figures for any of these categories.

The number of “mass incidents” he refers to is probably one of the most abused (by journalists seeking to prove a point as well as government officials trying to do the same thing), squishiest numbers in China, a subject on which Roland Soong of eastsouthwestnorth blog wrote the definitive analysis.

Bottom line: 12 million or so petitions a year and well over 50,000 mass incidents are big numbers, where ever they are headed.