In This Review
Seeking Truth and Hiding Facts: Information, Ideology, and Authoritarianism in China

Seeking Truth and Hiding Facts: Information, Ideology, and Authoritarianism in China

By Jeremy L. Wallace

Oxford University Press, 2022, 288 pp.

In this readable general narrative of Chinese politics since the end of the Mao era, Wallace focuses on the function of numbers, both as a tool to motivate regime agents and as a story the government tells to support its legitimacy. From 1976, when Mao Zedong died, until 2012, when Chinese President Xi Jinping took power, Beijing promoted economic growth by rewarding local leaders for their performance mainly on three metrics: GDP, fiscal revenue, and investment. This strategy worked to goose the economy (even though the data were commonly exaggerated), but it also led to a surge in undesirable factors that the government did not weigh heavily in personnel evaluations, such as corruption, pollution, local government debt, and income inequality. Xi has tried to rein in these negative externalities by imposing additional performance measures on local cadres. The more problems the Chinese Communist Party has faced, the more numbers it has collected, and the more untrustworthy statistics it has introduced.