Quality of China's Official Statistics: A Brief Review of Academic Perspectives


  • Dmitriy Plekhanov




China, official statistics, statistical system, economic indicators


Following the rise of the Chinese economy, interest in the official statistics coming from China is intensifying. Official data on GDP, industrial production and other economic indicators attracts a lot of attention all over the world. This positive development represents a challenge for the Chinese official statistics system, as official data is now under greater scrutiny. As the Chinese economy is undergoing the process of transformation and rebalancing, the need for reliable and accurate statistical data becomes even more imperative. This article presents a brief review of English-language publications on the topic and provides key points of criticism of the Chinese official statistics. The review shows that the majority of studies present a rather critical view of the Chinese statistical system. However, from an academic point of view, it is almost impossible to provide concrete evidence that the Chinese official data is deliberately manipulated or falsified. The limitations of publicly available data do not allow researchers to double-check the accuracy of the official statistics. Alternative estimates of Chinese economic indicators are not free from criticism either. Nevertheless, research in this area is an important contribution to the understanding of the China's official statistics, and hence the Chinese economy and society in general.


Boskin, Michael, Ellen Dulberger, Robert Gordon, Zvi Griliches, and Dale Jorgenson 1996. 'Toward a More Accurate Measure of the Cost of Living,' Final Report to the Senate Finance Committee from the Advisory Commission to Study the Consumer Price Index. Washington DC: Senate Finance Committee.

Cai, Fang and Kam Wing Chan 2009. 'The Global Economic Crisis and Unemployment in China', Eurasian Geography and Economics 50(5): 513-531. https://doi.org/10.2747/1539-7216.50.5.513

Cai, Fang, Du Yang, and Meiyan Wang 2013. 'Demystify the Labor Statistics in China', China Economic Journal 6(2-3): 123-133.

Feng, Shuaizhang, Yingyao Hu, and Robert Moffitt 2015. 'Long Run Trends in Un¬employment and Labor Force Participation in China', NBER Working Paper Series No. 21460.

Giles, John, Albert Park, and Juwei Zhang 2005. 'What is China's True Unemployment Rate?', China Economic Review, 16:149-170. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chieco.2004.11.002

Han, Jun, and Junsen Zhang 2010. 'Wages, Participation and Unemployment in the Economic Transition of Urban China', Economics of Transition 18(3): 513-538. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0351.2009.00380.x

Holz, Carsten, and Yimin Lin 2001. 'Pitfalls of China's Industrial Statistics: Inconsisten¬cies and Specification Problems', The China Review, 1(1): 29-71.

Holz, Carsten 2002. 'Institutional Constraints on the Quality of Statistics in a Developing and Transitional Economy: the Case of China', China Information, 16(1): 25-67. https://doi.org/10.1177/0920203X0201600102

Holz, Carsten 2003. 'Fast, Clear and Accurate: How Reliable Are Chinese Output and Economic Growth Statistics?', The China Quarterly, 173: 122-163. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0009443903000081

Holz, Carsten 2004a. 'China's Statistical System in Transition: Challenges, Data Prob¬lems, and Institutional Innovations', Review of Income and Wealth, 50(3): 381-409. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0034-6586.2004.00131.x

Holz, Carsten 2006. 'China's Reform Period Economic Growth: How Reliable Are Angus Maddison's Estimates?', Review of Income and Wealth, 52(1): 85-119. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4991.2006.00177.x

Holz, Carsten 2013a. 'Chinese Statistics: Output Data', Stanford Center for International Development Working Paper No. 473.

Holz, Carsten 2013b. 'Chinese Statistics: Classification Systems and Data Sources', Stanford Center for International Development Working Paper No. 471.

Holz Carsten 2013c. 'Monthly industrial output in China since 1983', MPRA Paper No. 43867.

Holz, Carsten 2015. 'The Quality of China's Gross Domestic Product Statistics', EAI Working Paper No. 165.

Keidel, Albert 2001. 'China's GDP Expenditure Accounts', China Economic Review, 12(4): 355-367. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1043-951X(01)00073-6

Klein, Lawrence, and Suleyman Ozmucur 2003. 'The Estimation of China's Economic Growth Rate', Journal of Economic and Social Measurement, 28(4): 187-202.

Knight, John, and Jinjun Xue 2006. 'How High Is Urban Unemployment in China', Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies, 4(2): 91-107. https://doi.org/10.1080/14765280600736833

Ma, Ben, Guojun Song, Lei Zhang, and David Sonnenfeld 2014. 'Explaining sectoral discrepancies between national and provincial statistics in China', China Economic Review, 30: 353-369.

Maddison, Angus 1998. 'Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run', Development Centre of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris. https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264163553-en

Maddison, Angus 2006. 'Do Official Statistics Exaggerate China's GDP Growth? A Reply to Carsten Holz', Review of Income and Wealth, 52(1): 121-126. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4991.2006.00178.x

Maddison, Angus, and Harry Wu 2008. 'Measuring China's Economic Performance', World Economics, 9(2): 13-44.

Mehrotra, Aaron, and Jenni Pääkkönen 2011. 'Comparing China's GDP Statistics with Coincident Indicators', Journal of Comparative Economics, 39: 406-411. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jce.2011.03.003

Movshuk, Oleksandr 2002. 'The Reliability of China's Growth Figures: A Survey of Recent Statistical Controversies', The Journal of Econometric Study of Northeast Asia, 4(1): 31-45.

Orlik, Tom 2014. 'Reform at China's National Bureau of Statistics under Ma Jiantang 2008–2013', China Economic Review, 30: 304-308. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chieco.2014.04.006

Rawski, Thomas G. 2001. 'What is Happening to China's GDP statistics?', China Economic Review, 12(4): 347-354. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1043-951X(01)00062-1

Szirmai, Adam, Rouen Ren, and Manyin Bai. 2005. 'Chinese Manufacturing Perform¬ance in Comparative Perspective, 1980-2002', Yale University Economic Growth Center Discussion Paper No. 920.

Wang, Xiaolu, and Lian Meng 2001. 'A Reevaluation of China's Economic Growth', China Economic Review, 12(4): 338-46. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1043-951X(01)00072-4

Wang, Xiaoxia, and Wenkai Sun 2014. 'Discrepancy between Registered and Actual Unemployment Rates in China', China & World Economy, 22(4): 40-59. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-124X.2014.12074.x

Woo, Wing Thye 1998. 'Chinese Economic Growth: Sources and Prospects', in Michel Fouquin and Francoise Lemoine, eds., The Chinese Economy. Economica: London.

Wu, Friedrich 2003. 'Chinese Economic Statistics – Caveat Emptor!', Post-Communist Economies, 15(1): 127-145. https://doi.org/10.1080/1463137032000058421

Wu, Harry 1997. 'Reconstructing Chinese GDP According to the National Accounts Concept of Value Added: the Industrial Sector', COPPAA Working Paper, 4, Centre for the Study of Australia–Asian Relations, Griffith University, Brisbane.

Wu, Harry 2000. 'China's GDP Level and Growth Performance: Alternative Estimates and the Implications', Review of Income and Wealth, 46(4): 475–499. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4991.2000.tb00412.x

Wu, Harry 2002. 'How Fast Has Chinese Industry Grown? – Measuring the Real Output of Chinese Industry, 1949-97', Review of Income and Wealth, 48(2): 179-204. https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-4991.00047

Wu, Harry 2011. 'Accounting for China's Growth in 1952-2008: China's Growth Per¬formance Debate Revisited with a Newly Constructed Data Set', RIETI Discussion Paper Series 11-E-003.

Wu, Harry 2014. China's Growth and Productivity Performance Debate Revisited: Accounting for China's Sources of Growth with a New Data Set, Conference Board Economics Program Working Paper Series EPWP 14-01.

Wu, Harry, and Keiko Ito 2015. 'Reconstructing China's Supply-Use and Input-Output Tables in Time Series', RIETI Discussion Paper Series 15-E-004.

Xu, Xianchun 2004. 'China's Gross Domestic Product Estimation, China Economic Re¬view, 15(3): 302-322.

Xu, Xianchun 2009. 'The Establishment, Reform, and Development of China's System of National Accounts', Review of Income and Wealth, 55(s1): 442–465. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4991.2009.00326.x

Xu, Xianchun 2013. Understanding China's official statistics', China Economic Journal, 6(2-3): 63-79. https://doi.org/10.1080/17538963.2013.861624

Xue, Jinjun, and Wei Zhong 2003. 'Unemployment, Poverty and Income Disparity in Urban China, Asian Economic Journal, 17: 383-405. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8381.2003.00192.x

Young, Alwyn 2003. 'Gold into Base Metals: Productivity Growth in the People's Republic of China during the Reform Period', Journal of Political Economy, 111(1): 1220-1261. https://doi.org/10.1086/378532

Yu, Xiaohua, and David Abler 2014. 'Where have all the pigs gone? Inconsistencies in pork statistics in China', China Economic Review, 30: 469-484. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chieco.2014.03.004

Zhang, Jun, and Tian Zhu 2013. 'Debunking the myth about China's low consumption', China Economic Journal, 6(2-3): 103-112. https://doi.org/10.1080/17538963.2013.860679

Zhou, Yixing, and Laurence Ma 2005. 'China's Urban Population Statistics: A Critical Evaluation', Eurasian Geography and Economics, 46(4): 272-289. https://doi.org/10.2747/1538-7216.46.4.272