【英语财经】中国经济数据看不懂 An illuminating primer on murky Chinese data

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2014-6-25 06:28

小艾摘要: Even though it has a population of 1.36bn people and the world’s second-largest economy, China somehow manages to collect, collate and publish its quarterly gross domestic product figures in the spac ...
An illuminating primer on murky Chinese data
Even though it has a population of 1.36bn people and the world’s second-largest economy, China somehow manages to collect, collate and publish its quarterly gross domestic product figures in the space of just two weeks each quarter, then never revises them.

The independently governed Chinese territory of Hong Kong, with a population of just 7m people, takes six weeks to publish its figures while the US takes eight weeks and provides continuous revisions after the initial number comes out.

Then there is the strange and statistically impossible phenomenon of every single province in China posting annual growth rates that are higher than the national average.

Even Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has described the country’s economic statistics as “man-made” and suggested using less-manipulated proxies such as electricity de-mand, bank lending and freight volumes to estimate the true rate of growth.

For more than 20 years, Matthew Crabbe has been trying to make sense of China’s bewildering and often contradictory statistics, and in this book he provides a handy primer on the problems and ways to think about Chinese data.

Through anecdotes and examples he provides practical knowledge that would be invaluable for any international executive who has to make investment or operational decisions about their business in China.

One of the first and most important points he makes is that in China’s Leninist system all information is political and can be designated a “state secret” at any time if the ruling Communist party decides it does not help to bolster the party’s own legitimacy and power.

Crabbe also explains why data and statistics are so often manipulated by party cadres whose career advancement relies very heavily on them meeting various top-down targets issued by Beijing.

This book is timed very well – just as the crowd of self-proclaimed China hands based all around the world has begun to multiply exponentially.

The extremely important point he makes repeatedly is that it is impossible to understand what is happening in China by just looking at the data published by the government.

One of his best examples comes from an in-depth study he personally conducted in 2006 that concluded the actual size of the Chinese retail market at that time was roughly half the figure reported by Beijing.

This explained why so many multinationals were having such trouble at that time hitting the sales and revenue targets they had set for themselves in the country, based on official retail sales data.

With so much poor information and analysis on China proliferating around the world, Crabbe’s book provides a welcome warning to anyone trying to get a good idea of what is really going on in this continental-sized economy.

Given that he has run a consumer and retail consultancy focusing on the Chinese market since the 1990s, it is unsurprising that his best analysis and insights are related to these crucial sectors.

The book could have done with more rigorous editing in places, however, and has too many tables of data that add very little . Another small problem is that much of Crabbe’s evidence for his arguments comes explicitly from 2013, which guarantees the book is pretty much out of date even before it is published.

The danger of this is highlighted near the end when he asserts that Chinese property prices will probably continue to rise for a long time, even though prices are now falling across the country.

But, overall, this is a practical, useful book that should be required reading for all international executives, analysts and strategists whose business in some way relies on understanding what is going on in the world’s most populous country.

The writer is the FT’s Beijing bureau chief

《拨开中国经济数据迷雾:如何理解和使用中国统计数据》(Myth-Busting China’s Numbers: Understanding and using China’s statistics),马修?克拉布(Matthew Crabbe)著,Palgrave Macmillan出版,建议零售价:14.99英镑/24美元

尽管拥有13.6亿人口和世界第二大经济规模,但中国总能在每季度结束后短短两周的时间里收集、审核并公布季度国内生产总值(GDP)数据,之后从不修正。

高度自治的香港特别行政区人口只有700万人,却花费6周时间整理公布数据。美国则花费8周,在最初数据公布之后还会不断修正。

还有一种在统计学上不可能出现的奇怪现象:中国各省公布的年增长率均高于全国平均水平。

就连中国总理李克强也称中国的经济统计数据是“人造”的,并建议使用用电量、银行贷款和货运量等不易被操纵的指标,来估算真正的经济增长率。

20多年来,马修?克拉布一直试图理解中国令人迷惑且往往自相矛盾的统计数据。他的这本著作是一本实用的入门读本,介绍了这些统计数据的问题以及理解中国经济数据的方法。

克拉布通过故事和案例呈现出实用知识,对于需要对在华业务的投资或运营做出决策的跨国企业高管来说,这些知识是无价之宝。

他指出的第一点、也是最重要的一点是:在中国的列宁主义体制中,所有信息都与政治有关,只要执政的共产党认定信息无助于巩固它的合法性和权力,便可随时将其划为“国家机密”。

克拉布还解释了数据和统计数字为何屡屡被中共干部操纵。这些人的仕途升迁在很大程度上取决于能否完成中央公布的各个目标。

本书出版的时机非常恰当——正值全球各地自称“中国通”的专家数量呈指数级上升之际。

克拉布反复强调的一大重点是,光看政府公布的数据,是无从了解中国的真实情况的。

最说明问题的一个案例是他2006年私下进行的一项深度调查,结论是中国零售市场当时的实际规模约为北京公布数字的一半。

这就解释了一个问题:当时许多跨国公司根据零售业销售的官方数据制定了自己的销售和营收目标,但难以完成任务。

鉴于世界各地充斥着大量有关中国的劣质信息和分析,克拉布的著作不失时机地敲响了一记警钟:任何人如要透彻了解这个经济规模堪比一个大洲的国家,都应当引以为戒。

考虑到克拉布经营着一家从上世纪90年代起就关注中国市场的消费品和零售咨询机构,不难料到他最优秀的分析和观点均与这些关键领域有关。

不过,本书部分篇幅的编辑仍不够严谨,缺乏价值的数据图表太多。另一个小问题是,克拉布论点的证据主要引自2013年,因此本书在出版之前便已经有些过时了。

这种做法的风险在临近结尾处凸显出来:克拉布断言中国房地产价格可能将长时间持续上涨,但目前中国各地房价正在下降。

但总体而言,这是一本实用、有益的书,工作以理解中国这个世界人口第一大国家为基础的跨国企业高管、分析师和战略师,均应将其作为必读书目。

本文作者是英国《金融时报》北京分社社长

译者/何黎

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