91% Of Rich People Are Children Of Senior Goverment Cadres

(People Net)  91% of those with more than 100 million yuan are children of senior cadres: Data were made up and passed along.  August 6, 2009

Recently the reports and discussions on "91% of the wealthy people who own more than 100 million yuan are children of senior cadres" were circulated broadly on the Internet.  On August 4, this reporter entered the subject "91% of those rich people with more than 100 million yuan are children of senior cadres" on Baidu search and obtained more than 2,810 results.  Just two days ago, the number was 2,650.  At the same time, the traditional media have also published commentaries and opinions based this statistic, drawing wide public attention.

So where did the data come from?  Did the 'authoritative departments' actually publish such a research report?  Why did this information draw such a high level of attention?  With these questions in mind, the People Daily reporter interviewed the various relevant persons and organizations for the purpose of discovering the truth behind the number.

On June 26, Time Weekly published a report written by reporter Han Honggang.   The report said in the lead-off: "At the recent 11th Chinese Communist Party Political Consultative Conference standing committee meeting, the 'degree of concentration' of wealth in China drew the close attention of the standing committee members.  Committee member Cai Jiming said: 'A report from the authoritative department in China showed that 0.4% of the people own 70% of the wealth.  This concentration of wealth is higher than that in the United States.'"

After several tries, our reporter finally made contact on July 31 with Time Weekly reporter Han Honggang.  He admitted that the data did not come from the speech of committee member Cai.  Rather it came from an essay written by a certain Chinese economist that was published on the Internet in 2006.

Afterwards, our reporter contacted that economist for confirmation.  This scholar said that the data came from the Internet in 2006.  He said: "At the time, those data were very popular on the Internet."

Cai Jiming, who stands at the vortex of the public opinion storm, is annoyed by the attention.  On July 11, he issued a statement of clarification on his personal blog.  But the effect was tiny, because the data continued to be disseminated and discussed.

On the afternoon of July 31, Cai Jiming was interviewed by the People Net reporter.  He said that at the special topic discussion meeting at the sixth meeting of standing committee of the Eleventh Chinese Communist Party Political Consultative Conference, he only said that "according to the estimation by a research organization outside of China, 0.4% of the wealthiest Chinese people controlled 70% of the wealth."  He did not say which research organization it was and he definitely did not say that it was a report from any authoritative Chinese department.  The Time Weekly reporter wrote the report without interviewing Cai Jiming.  The Time Weekly report did not say that the data were based upon what he said.  But when the other media cited the data in Time Weekly, it became: "At the sixth meeting of the recently held Eleventh Chinese Communist Party Political Consultative Conference Standing Committee, committee member Cai Jiming cited a joint investigation report from the State Council Research Office, the Central Chinese Communist Party School Research Office, and other departments."

Cai Jiming emphasized: "I greatly resent the way that the media misquoted the data and misunderstood the intent of the speaker.  Media reports should be objective, truthful and accurate, as opposed to malicious hyping."

In order to enhance the so-called credibility of these data, certain media emphasized repeatedly on "authoritative departments in China" and "Chinese Communist Party Consultative Conference" when they reported, re-published and commented on the news stories and data.  Not only is committee member Cai Jiming clarifying the facts now, but all the authoritative departments listed in the "reports" are also dispelling the rumors to the reporters too.

The relevant leader at the Central Publicity Department's Political Research Office stated clearly: "Our office has never conducted any research on socio-economics in conjunction with the State Council Research Office, the Central Communist Party School Research Office, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences or other departments.  Our office has never conducted any research on this topic.  We have not drafted any research report.  We have not cited any such data in our published research reports."

Certain media claimed that these data originated first from the "Contemporary Social Mobility in China" project at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.  Lu Xueyi, who is the researcher in charge of the project at CASS, firmly denied this and called the assertion absurd!

He said: "The statement '91% of wealthy persons with more than 100 million yuan are children of senior cadres' is not credible because the statistic cannot be estimated.  Furthermore, it is absurd to be accurate to this level of precision!  As to the claim that the data came from 'contemporary social mobility in China,' it is even more absurd!  Our project was completed in 2004, but these data are said to 'up to March 2006.'  So how is that possible?"

The relevant leaders at the State Council Research Office and the Central Communist Party School told the reporter that no such report exists.  The data were said to be fabricated information that was popular on the Internet a couple of years ago, coming from a certain overseas publication.

The reporter searched on the Internet and found the Sing Tao Global website said on October 19, 2006: "Official report: More than 90% of all those wealthy people who own more than 100 million yuan are children of senior cadres."  The report claimed: "The research report by government research organizations showed that in the five sectors of finance, foreign trade, land development, large construction and stock, those who hold the most prominent positions are basically children of senior cadres.  More than 90% of Chinese persons who have more than 100 million yuan in wealth are children of senior cadres.  More than 2,900 children of senior cadres possess more than 2 trillion yuan.  The State Council Research Office, the Central Communist Party School Research Office, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and other departments recently released a research report on economic conditions in society, and recorded in detail the income of people in various social strata."  It is not known whether this was the earlier source of the false reports, but this report has been re-published and cited with high frequency.

The reporter also found an article in the fourth issue of 2007 of the English-language publication Far East Economic Review.  The numbers are mentioned in that essay: "Article after article pores over the potential economic reasons for the increase in income inequality in China. We ignore the fact that of the 3,220 Chinese citizens with a personal wealth of 100 million yuan ($13 million) or more, 2, 932 are children of high-level cadres."  The reporter noted that the article did not state the source or date of the data.

So these data which have been determined as false by the relevant departments and which are of dubious origin were cited by many websites and forums inside and outside of China, even if the "versions" are not identical.  A netizen commented: "I want to discuss using data.  But no what idea or ideology the author used to write this essay, I think incorrect facts cannot support anything."

The propagation of this set of fake data let people recognize once against the power of the Internet to distribute and amplify information.

Actually, the phenomenon of confusing statistical data being used by the media (especially on the Internet) has existed for a long time.  The statistical data from civilian organizations and expert scholars inside and outside China as well as other fake data that were fabricated or combined are often cited and used at will.  When many media and individuals quote these data, they seldom attempt to understand and query the scientific validity and accuracy of such data.  Of course, it is hard for ordinary netizens to conduct such investigations.  But the media, professional organizations and professionals should not ignore their professional standards of conduct, they should not use the information to inflame public discontent and they definitely should not violate the relevant laws and regulations.

Chinese Renmin University Business Law Research Institute director Liu Hairui was interviewed by the People Net reporter and said that the National People's Congress Standing Committee had passed the People's Republic of China Law on Statistics on June 27.  The State Council will establish the methods of supervising statistical research activities in the civil sector.  But such regulations have not been published yet.  Meanwhile many civil organizations and non-government organizations keep releasing research results or conclusions on economic and social life in China.  The authenticity and completeness of such data are often impossible to verify.

When committee member Cai Jiming was interviewed by the People Net reporter, he also recommended that the relevant government departments tighten their control over statistical data.  He emphasized repeatedly that the relevant government departments should issue timely statements about the inaccurate data released by civil organizations inside and outside of China so as to leave no room for propagation.

During the investigation, the reporter also noted that when many netizens pay attention to or even re-post these data, they do not completely believe in the substance.  A netizen stated clearly: "The information on the Internet, including the proportion of the children of senior cadres among the wealthiest people, are not necessarily very accurate.  But the income disparity and the overreaching control of social wealth by the privileged class is not disputed."

But it may be said that the anxiety over the increasing rich-poor wealth gap, the desire to eradicate corruption, the dissatisfaction with living conditions and so on are reasons that would cause people to pay attention to and discuss this type of information.

A short time ago, the 24th Statistical Report on the Development of the Chinese Internet showed that there are 338 million Chinese Internet users, which is tops in the world.  A group that has more than 300 million members is no longer virtual.  They make posts, they start blogs and they write comments to express their needs and release their feelings.  The citation of data to support their speech is one of the most common methods of expression.

National Administrative Sciences Academy professor Liu Xirui was interviewed by the People Net reporter and he explained the reason behind the spread of such false information.  "The reason why such false data are circulating in the blogs and forums is that they represent an emotional catharsis for netizens or they are the means by which certain values are communicated."  He believes that even though such information is baseless, the sentiments of dissatisfaction behind the broad circulation of such types of information should draw the attention of the relevant departments.  Liu Xirui suggested that even as the various levels of government and relevant departments deal with the false and harmful information, they should pay attention to, analyze and study these phenomena and their underlying reasons, and take effective measures to solve the problems.

Chinese Renmin University School of Journalism vice dean and Opinion Research Institute director Yu Guoming interpreted this type of phenomena through a concept in communication theory: "stereotype."  He said that when data of uncertain truthfulness become widely circulated, even accepted, then the resonance occurs only because of the accumulation of large amounts of such incidents in society.  This is known as "stereotype" in communication studies.

He believes that wealth inequality is an important factor that may affect social stability.  In real life, on one hand, many people are able to squander public funds for eating and drinking.  On the other hand, there are still many people living in hardship.  Under such circumstances, the false data can easily seem logically truthful to people.  Actually, this is a alert warning to society.  He believed that the government departments ought to make policy adjustments and arrangements in response to these alert warnings and deal with the hot spots that the people are concerned about.  Also, the public should be given a platform to release their emotions.

At the end of the interview, Yu Guoming emphasized that when the media use data, they need to verify them.  If the information has not been verified, it should be annotated as unverified data so that the public is reminded to hold a skeptical attitude when they read it.

ESWN Comment:

Why did I assert that such data could not exist?  Because it is immensely difficult to collect such information.  In the United States, there does not exist information about how the sons and daughters of former state leaders fare in terms of economic prowess.  The following is a simplified version of why the data collection is so hard.

One assertion in the essay is that "0.4% of the population controls 70% of the wealth." 

How was that statistical data collected?

If you conduct a general population survey, then you have to deal with differential response rates.  You will find it easier to interview middle-class people with regular abodes.  You will find it impossible to find the underclass living in a shack underneath a railway bridge because there is no household registration or physical address data as such.  You will also find it impossible to gain access to a super-tycoon with 20 bodyguards to protect against kidnapping.  Your survey is necessarily flawed, and the impact on this kind of survey is much more than a survey on your favorite movie stars or some such.  But let us ignore this well-known hurdle for the sake of argument.

If your general population survey ends up with 1,000 respondents, then the top 0.4% is 1,000 x 0.004 = 4 cases.  You ask the respondents to state the value of their assets.  You add up the sum total of their asset values.  You determine that those 4 cases account for 70% of the sum total of the assets of all 1,000 respondent.  So there is your answer.

Well, it should even be obvious to any amateur that any estimate based upon a sample of 4 is very unreliable.  You need a larger sample size.  Suppose you conduct a national sample with a huge sample of 100,000 respondents, then the top 0.4% is 100,000 x 0.004 = 400.  Now that may be stable enough, but this will be enormously expensive survey (to the tune of several million or several tens of million of yuan).  Let us assume that you have the funding to do so for the sake of argument.

The biggest practical problem is that most people don't have a clue as to what their precise asset value is.  It is easy if you own absolutely nothing other than the clothes on your body.  It is harder for wealthy people.  So they own twenty apartments, but what are their values (after subtracting the bank mortgages)?  If they have not made any recent attempts to sell those apartments, they will only be guessing.  For example, there have been no recent sales in my apartment complex so I could not tell you what the likely price might be if I were to sell right now.  If they have investments in real estate, golf courses, shopping malls, publicly listed and private non-listed companies, stocks, bonds, futures, options, warrants, accumulators, term insurance policies, company stock options, yachts, jet planes, vehicle fleets, personal loans which may or may not be repaid, promissory notes and who knows what else, they will only be guessing at their total asset value at the moment.  The value of their portfolio may fluctuate wildly from one day to the next.  Besides, you don't know if they are lying to you, either on the low or high side.  They may lie to you on the low side because they want to appear modest and they don't want to draw attention to themselves.  They may lie to you on the high side because they want to be boastful and they are vain enough to want attention.  Who is to say?  Most survey organizations will not even bother to ask the net asset value question.

But let us ignore the difficulty for people to calculate their assets.  Let us assume for the sake of argument that we ask the question and the respondents provide estimates to the best of their ability in apparent good faith. 

Let us now look at the other assertion that "3,220 Chinese persons have assets more than 100 million yuan, of whom 2,932 are children of senior cadres."  This is where that 91% figure comes from.

China has a population of somewhere about 1.4 billion people (=1,400,000,000).  3,220 persons out of 1,400,000,000 is an incidence of 100 x 3,220 / 1,400,000,000 = 0.00023%.  If you run a survey with 100,000 respondents, the number of respondents with assets more than 100 million yuan is 100,000 x 3,220 / 1,400,000,000 = 0.23.  I dare you to explain how you figured out that 2,932 out of those 3,220 are children of senior cadres on the basis of this already massive survey.  It seems that you can't get to that level of precision.  Even if you surveyed 10,000,000 (= ten million) persons, you will only find 23 people with assets of 100 million yuan or more.  Nobody can afford to do a survey with such a sample size.

The reported numbers are also too precise.  3,220 persons with assets worth more than 100 million yuan?  2,932 with senior cadres as parents?   These numbers could not have been obtained via any sample survey.  The only way to arrive at this level of precision is that you have a complete listing.  In other words, you have census data.

Chinese citizens are not required to declare their net worth to anyone.  It is not as if some government agency has a listing of the net asset worth of all citizens from which they tally that 3,220 out of 1.4 billion people own more than 100 million yuan.  If all citizens are required to periodically declare their net asset worth to the government, then this is possible.  But no such procedure is known to exist.  Even if such a procedure exists, it does not mean that people will provide truthful answers.  Why would you tell the government that you have 100 million yuan in assets?  Do you want them to audit your tax returns?  If this procedure exists, many of the corruption problems would go away because it is possible, for example, to produce a list of government officials who earn 5,000 yuan or less per month but own more than 10 million yuan in assets.  That is called "having assets incommensurate with your known income" and those flagged need to explain their unexpected wealth.

Okay, let us even assume that such a procedure exists.  But there is no co-requirement that you declare the job histories of your parents or other immediate relatives (grandparents, uncles/aunts, in-laws, etc) such that they can be classified as "senior cadres" or not.  What is a senior cadre anyway (a member of the Politburo? a minister? a deputy minister? a provincial governor/party secretary? a city mayor? a county party secretary? ...)?  Furthermore, you know that it is a highly sensitive area to discuss anything about the families of the senior leaders (see, for example, the sudden clampdown on the business dealings of President Hu Jintao's son in Africa just recently).  The issue isn't even about the rank of the government officials.  In all likelihood, neither Hu Jintao nor Wen Jiabao are corrupt on a massive scale, because they don't personally handle any money.  A deputy director of the Land Resources Department in a small coastal town may actually have much more opportunity for illegal self-enrichment.

Highly connected people have accumulated disproportionately greater wealth?  Yes, it is logically reasonable, in China and anywhere else in the world.  2,932 of 3,220 Chinese persons with more than 100 million yuan in assets are children of senior cadres?  Bogus.

(Cat's Eye)  An Unofficial Statement on Time Weekly's <The danger of the rapidly increasing wealth gap>.  By Time Weekly reporter Peng Xiaoyun.  August 5, 2009.

At 15:38 on August 5, 2009, People's Net published on its front page an article entitled <How A Set of Fake Data Was Transmitted?  Concerning the news investigative report on 'the children of senior cadres account for 91% of rich people with more than 100 million yuan in assets> under the bylines of "Tang Weihong, Zhang Yuke and Chang Hong.."

This report pointed out that on June 29, Time Weekly published <The danger of the rapidly increasing wealth gap> on the page C12 opinion page, an article which cited a certain set of data that is alleged to be false.  This report was re-posted, re-published and simplified by certain irresponsible websites, so that the false rumors were circulating on the Internet.  This report claimed that our reporter Han Honggang quoted Chinese Communist Party Consultative Conference committee member Cai Jiming without actually interviewing him and hence created a bad influence.

The commentary in our publication began with the June 19 report in the <People's Political Consultative Conference News>, which is official organ of the Chinese Communist Party Political Consultative Conference, in which a Consultative Conference committee member said that "0.4% of the people possess 70% of the wealth."  Our reporter interviewed the Chinese Communist Party Political Consultative Conference committee member Cai Jiming for confirmation.  Prior to publication, our editorial committee met and discussed the matter seriously.  We decided to accept the description in the <People's Political Consultative Conference News> and used the statement as the lead-off of our news story.  Time Weekly was published on June 29.  Therefore, we could not have known about the "correction" made on Page 2 in the <People's Political Consultative Conference News> on July 1.

Our news story claimed that the statistic "91% of those who more than 100 million yuan are children of senior cadres" originated from Xinhua Net re-publishing the essay <Words of warning in a flourishing age: Behind a set of scary statistics> originally published on page A20, October 20, 2006 in <Shanghai Stock News>.  The author was the well-known economist and professor Zhao Xiao from the School of Management at the Beijing Science and Technology University.  This article by Zhao Xiao had been published in <Shanghai Stock News>.

1. On June 29, the commentary essay in our publication was entitled <The danger of the rapidly increasing wealth gap>.  It is not <91% of those who own more than 100 million yuan in assets are children of senior cadres> which was made up by certain Internet BBS's.

The "investigative" report at People's Net was based upon not having seen our publication (our publication is available in major cities all around China, and they are displayed prominently and sold at the various newsstands in Beijing).  So their report was not very rigorous and very unfair.  It is trying to rebut the article that were re-posted without permission and also altered.  People's Net looked at the BBS essays and beleived that the title was "91% of those who own more than 100 million yuan in assets are children of senior cadres."  Unfortunately, this is not the essay in Time Weekly.  But People Net mistakenly thought that it was and therefore raised questions on that basis.

2. People's Net pointed out that the Time Weekly reporter did not interview committee member Cai Jiming.  This is inaccurate.  Our reporter not only interviewed committee member Cai Jiming twice, but he has also kept the interview notes and can provide the phone bills as proof.

The "investigative" article also pointed out the Internet BBS's changed the title and distorted the intent during the process of re-posting -- "Time Weekly did not state that the last piece of data came from committee member Cai Jiming, but when the other media cited the data from Time Weekly, it became: 'Committee member Cai Jiming quoted at the recently held sixth meeting of the standing committee of the Eleventh Communist Party Political Consultative Conference some data from a joint research report from the State Council Research Office, the Central Communist Party School Research Office and other departments.'"

Here, People's Net also clearly and correctly point out that when our essay was re-posted and re-edited by the Internet media, our original intent was completely altered.  For example, our commentary essay only offered several sets of data and assertions, but we did not indicate which set of data or assertion is more authoritative or trustworthy.  As a commentary essay, we offered these assertions in order to show that the increasing wealth gap may pose danger to Chinese society.  This was a discussion of the possibilities without any definitive conclusion.  This is the legal, reasonable and plausible way in which media all over the world make comments.  It did not violate the professional ethics of journalistic practice or professional conduct code for commentators.

3. Cai Jiming protested not against the essay in our publication.  Instead, his case was about mistaking the inaccurate Internet re-postings as if it was our essay.

Actually, the People's Net essay had stated clearly that during the course of re-posting, the points of emphasis were refined and the other data were attributed to committee member Cai Jiming.  This was the fundamental reason why committee member Cai Jiming published his blog post.  But committee member Cai Jiming did not cite our original report.  Instead, he only read the inaccurate versions on the Internet, which frequently cited the source of Time Weekly while making their re-interpretations.  Committee member Cai Jiming therefore believed that all this came from our essay.  This is understandable.  If he wanted to strongly deny being interviewed by our reporter, we can understand that because nobody wants his words to be distorted.  The fact of the matter is that our essay did not distort his words.

4. The lead-off in our commentary <The danger of the rapidly increasing wealth gap> came from the authoritative state organ <People's Political Consultative Conference News>.  When we publish, we make a detailed verification.

The opinion section editor Peng Xiaoyun suggested this topic because on June 19, the <People's Political Consultative Conference News> reported that a Communist Party Political Consultative Conference member pointed out that "0.4% of the people owned 70% of the wealth."  Due to the confidence in the <People's Political Consultative Conference News> as an authoritative media source, the Time Weekly editorial committee accepted this topic.

Reporter Han Honggang confirmed that <People's Political Consultative Conference News> did publish the report  by reporter Lei Xin on June 19 under the title <Standing committee members Liu Moren and Deng Chuguang and committee member Cai Jiming spoke jointly on the degree of concentration of wealth>.  The main subject was that "re-distribution of income is not 'robbing the rich to give to the poor.'"  The report noted that "Even as social wealth is growing rapidly in China, there is a tendency of concentration of wealth into the hands of a small number of people.  A report from authoritative Chinese departments showed that 0.4% of the people controlled 70% of all wealth.  The degree of concentration of wealth is even higher than in the United States.  The high concentration of wealth in the hands of a small number of people has caused overall consumption to be inadequate, or even distorted.  According to research, China has become the biggest market in the world for international luxury products."  Committee member Cai Jiming said.  (URL: http://epaper.rmzxb.com.cn/2009/20090619/t20090619_258656.htm  )

On June 24, our reporter called committee member Cai Jiming for confirmation.  Cai was traveling on business in Shijiazhuang at the time.  He confirmed that he quoted that piece of data at the meeting.  When the reporter asked which "Chinese authoritative department" it was, Cai Jiming said: "It was obtained from a public source.  I can't remember the details."

As for the statement in <People's Political Consultative Conference News> on July 1st that the report mentioned by Cai Jiming did not come from the "authoritative Chinese departments" and was actually based upon an overseas study, this happened after our essay was published.  As a commentary essay and not a news report, we can only comment on "facts" that have been published so far.  We cite the reports in the authoritative sources and comment on them.  This is completely consistent with the practice by the media inside and outside of China.  There are no professional mistakes to speak off.

Otherwise, commentaries in all media become impossible.  Most of the scholars and professional commentators are not reporters.  They only comment on published reports in the news media.  They don't need to verify the published information.  Otherwise, no scholar or commentator would dare to practice this "dangerous profession."

5. All the related data in our essay <The danger of the rapidly increasing wealth gap> came from authoritative sources, and that is why we cited them.  The essay title was deliberately chosen to be plain and practical, without any desire to sensationalize.

Page C12 of Time Weekly is a page of commentaries, which are supposed to be based upon facts that have been publicly reported in the media.  Most media will not go through the verification of published facts again.  But Time Weekly is more rigorous and serious.  Thus many important commentaries are written by its own reporters who will conduct more interviews and verify the facts and sources of information.

For the topic <The danger of the rapidly increasing wealth gap>, the Time Weekly reporter confirmed with the sources, gathered information from the authoritative sources of Xinhua Net and Shanghai Stock News and also interviewed authoritative experts.

The "91% of those who own more than 100 million yuan are children of senior cadres" originated from the re-publication in Xinhua Net on October 20, 2006 of the essay <Words of warning in a flourishing age: Behind a set of scary statistics> published on the same day in Shanghai Stock News.  The author was professor Zhao Xiao of the School of Management at the Beijing Science and Technology University.  The essay mentioned that the State Council Research Office, the Central Communist Party School Research Office, the Central Publicity Department Research Office, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and other departments described in the most recent research report on economic conditions in society the various income levels of the various social strata: As of March that year, 27,310 persons own assets on the mainland (not including outside) over 50 million yuan; 3,220 persons own assets more than 100 million yuan.  Of those who own more than 100 million yuan, 2,932 are children of senior cadres with a total value of 2.045 trillion yuan.  The source of their assets was mainly through the legal and illegal gains from their powerful family backgrounds.

The "91%" figure came from the public announcements by the two aforementioned authoritative media.  Also the Time Weekly reporter interviewed Nanjing University School of Social Sciences dean and professor Zhou Xiaohong, who specialized in the research on the Chinese middle class.  The quotations from Zhou Xiaohong were approved by him for publication.

6.  The People's Net investigation of our reporter's professional conduct was sub-standard

On the afternoon of July 31, our reporter Han Honggang actually received a call from People's Net Viewpoint Channel reporter Zhang Yuke.  He did not say that this was an interview, but he only wanted to understand more about a certain essay as a fellow journalist.  Mainly, he asked Han for the source of "91% of those who own more than 100 million yuan are children of senior cadres."  It should be emphasized that the telephone conversation between Zhang Yuke and Han Honggang did not cover the matter of professor Cai Jiming.  The People's Net reporter thought that the Internet essay was the same as Han Honggang's essay and they thought that Han claimed that Cai Jiming provided the data.  During the "interview," Han said that the source was completely unrelated to Cai Jiming.  Therefore the People's Net data naturally thought that Han Honggang was contradicting himself and therefore wrote that "Han Honggang admitted" as such as if Han was acknowledging that he was at fault.  If this was not a misunderstanding, then it is a smear.

Let it be stated here that this is an unofficial statement.

(Chang Ping's blog)  The debate over 91%: An unfinished rebuttal.  August 8, 2009.

Summary:  It is true that it cannot be done at this point.  But it is this "impossibility" that vexes the netizens.  People are angry over this "impossibility" far more than the erroneous information.  The main objection is that in spite of more than a dozen years of discussion has still not led to the creation of a system under which officials disclose their wealth.  This possibly known information now becomes unknowable.  Meanwhile people are asked to view such data rigorously.  Obviously, people doubt the sincerity behind such demands.

What proportion of persons owning more than 100 million yuan are children of senior officials?  The netizens say: 91%!  People's Net says: Wrong!  The correct answer is -- "I don't know either."  That was the conclusion of the investigative report that just appeared in People's Net.

The figure 91% recently became popular on the Internet.  The People's Net reporter investigated the process by which the figure came about and found that its origins were suspect -- it came from a certain newspaper report, which quoted an article by an economist, who quoted it from the Internet, which claimed that it came from certain authoritative departments, which denied that they ever conducted such research ...

It can be said that the People's Net reporter did some work and that investigation has a certain value.  The study of how information spread on the Internet is a new subject area in communication research.  But many people believe that this investigation was made in order to dispel the rumor.  Because it was unable to come up with the correct figure, its effect was discounted.  Netizens asked for the right research for which the result is to be published.

So this becomes an issue in sociology or even political science.  According to the interpretation of some netizens, the People's Net conducted this research not because they were interested in seeking accuracy in journalism, but because the figure debased the image of the children of senior officials.  Therefore, the negative social impact has to be rectified.

More meaningfully, this investigation itself also thinks that the netizens were willing to spread this rumor because they held a pre-established position -- they are concerned about the increasing wealth gap, they want corruption to be eradicated, they are dissatisfied with their living conditions, etc.

I do not deny the value of investigating the data source, but I think that this is an unfinished rebuttal.  The reason is very simple.  Let us assume that there was a traffic accident.  The rumor was that five people died.  You spend a lot of time to establish that this figure was wrong, but you won't say how many people died.  Your effort will not be useful towards dispelling the rumor; if anything, it will start new rumors.  So it is that netizens say "It is not 91% -- it is only 90.99%" or "91% must be wrong because the figure is definitely higher."

The difference with the traffic accident example is that, as asserted in the investigative article, the experts don't believe in the 91% because it is impossible to come up with that figure.  The problem is: Is it really true that the number of people in China who own more than 100 million yuan is impossible to estimate?  Is the number of children of senior cadres among them also impossible to estimate?

I find that the unfinished rebuttal can only say that the other party was wrong.   But it does not preclude that reality is far worse, unfair, unjust and inhumane.  This is a currently popular style of doing things.  Someone exposes corruption on the Internet.  The officials send police across provincial arrests to arrest the netizen for libel.  But they do not say whether the exposé was materially accurate.  Also, people are dissatisfied with the wealth disparity.  The experts do not discuss whether this was a reasonable state of affairs.  Instead, they say that other nations encounter the same phenomenon during their development.  Also, some people criticize our legal system.  We do not discuss how things are wrong or how we can improve ourselves.  Instead, we say that their legal systems are a mess too.  Such unfinished rebuttals should be placed inside an open system and be discussed until the truth comes out and everybody agrees.  The relevant authorities should realize that people can only be convinced through a process of discussion.  Even if there is another essay that addresses the demand of netizens for data, this rebuttal still won't be complete.  Obviously, if this debate is being blocked instead, then there will only be more rumors.