Examining Eric Li and China’s Vox Populi

WARNING: If you are not a fan of VERY long, badly-organized posts, you should probably leave right now.

The Article

Shanghai-based venture capitalist and Fudan doctoral candidate Eric Li has popped up a couple times in the past few weeks. First, he was here, debunking China “myths” in the New York Times, and then yesterday here in the Christian Science Monitor, debunking…well, anyone who is critical of China. I found this second article especially problematic. Let’s dive right in!

Two trains collided and 40 people died. The transportation accident seems to be riveting the Chinese nation and dominating its newspaper pages, TV screens, and the Internet. It has claimed prominent spaces in leading international media outlets.

All of a sudden, the entire Chinese political system seems to be on trial, its economic development model – with the high-speed rail project its latest symbol – discredited; the Chinese people are in an uproar; and Western commentators are again pronouncing a sea change that this time, with the overwhelming force of microblogs, will finally begin to bring down the Chinese miracle. One would imagine, at the very least, the trains would be totally empty.

Already we can see Mr. Li setting up a straw-man of sorts. The implication he’s making is that if China’s trains aren’t empty, this means that Chinese people aren’t really as dissatisfied as the internet would make it seem. Why? So that he can then say, “Look, Chinese people are riding the trains; therefore, no one is angry at the government.”

Unfortunately, that logic doesn’t make an awful lot of sense. First of all, no one would expect China’s trains to be empty; just the high speed ones. But even there, China’s need for some form of transportation is just too great for anything to stop people from taking the train. I’m sure high speed rail numbers are down following the crash, but the fact is that millions and millions of people still need to travel, and there simply aren’t enough regular trains or airplanes or buses to hold all of them.

In fact, I myself will be taking a high speed train in China in a couple weeks. Does this reflect my confidence in the Chinese government, or even my confidence in the Chinese rail system? No. What it reflects is that I need to get somewhere quickly and I can’t afford a plane ticket.

Yet again, reality is intervening.

The Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line finished its first month of operation having carried five and a quarter million passengers – a number not in dispute. The percentage of capacity number is very much in dispute because of differing statistical models [my emphasis], but even the most conservative interpretations would have the trains half full. This is not shabby for such a large-scale project in its first month, during which a much publicized fatal accident occurred. In the rest of the regular rail system, where the accident actually happened, even the fiercest critics of the railway project are admitting that the trains are nearly full as usual.

First of all, given that the crash happened late on July 23rd, I don’t think that an examination of high-speed rail passenger statistics for July is going to be much indication of how the Chinese public has responded to the crash. But, as I said earlier, obviously people are riding trains in China, so whatever.

More interesting are the “differing statistical models” he mentions. Specifically, what he means is that the Railway Ministy counts a seat as being full as long as one person books on it at some point on a train trip. So if, for example, I take the train from Beijing to Shanghai, but I get off halfway. If no one replaces me, that seat is counted as having been at 100% capacity for the trip. If someone replaces me, the seat counts as 200% capacity. If a third person were to book that seat for another leg of the journey, it would count as 300%. This is how the Ministry was able to announce that the Beijing-Shanghai rail operated at 107% capacity this month ((Here’s a Chinese source for the haters: http://news.163.com/11/0801/19/7AD679J600014JB6.html )).

I’ll leave it to you whether “differing statistical models” is a fair way of categorizing the controversy there.

In the past decade, rapid growth of the Internet has created a digital public square, and its ferocity has become a unique phenomenon. While the vast majority of China’s 480 million netizens use the Internet for entertainment and commerce, a smaller group uses it to vent dissatisfaction about life, society, and the world. They express their most intense feelings about what they are most dissatisfied with in the loudest voices possible.

In the loudest voices possible? What does that even mean? Large fonts? The Chinese state media makes this same claim all the time — that “dissenters” are “drowning out” pro government voices on sites like Sina Weibo. But the fact is that the only way to “drown someone out” on Weibo is with numbers. There’s way to affect what posts other people see and no way to “amplify” your own posts. Dissenting opinions are “louder” on Weibo because, at the moment, most people on Weibo hold dissenting opinions.

If “the vast majority” of people were using Weibo to talk about entertainment and commerce, for example, how did the train crash remain that site’s most popular discussion topic for nine days? Certainly no one would deny that a great many of the comments about the accident were expressing dissatisfaction with the government. And it’s not like Sina, or anyone else, was censoring pro-government views. So how can we explain the tens of millions of Weibo posts about the crash? Were they all made by a select few people while “the vast majority” of China’s internet users took a nine-day holiday from using Weibo? That seems pretty unlikely, especially given the many user polls that were passed around on Weibo and racked up hundreds of thousands of responses in days (users can only vote once per poll).

Now, certainly, those polls are only indicative of “public opinion” to a point, as participants are self-selecting and Weibo users in general skew towards young, urban and educated; they’re not an accurate representation of China’s overall demographics. At the same time, though, they reach sample sizes that are absolutely massive compared to the relatively few scientific opinion polls that are conducted in China; and given that there’s no trustworthy recent (last six months) poll data that I’m aware of, we can’t totally discount the value of Weibo user polls.

The nature of the Internet is such that these sentiments [negative sentiments] are amplified and assume a semblance of dominance. Its manifestation is by definition partial but not holistic, extreme but not representative. Little wonder that any casual visitor to the Chinese digital public square would find a China filled with the most extreme expressions of populism and nationalism.

Really? That’s the “nature of the internet”? Negative sentiments about the government “are amplified” (by who? how?) and “become dominant”? Because when a few years ago when any Chinese post on politics was flooded with hundreds of comments about how the economy was doing better, China had the Olympics, and foreigners should shut up, was that not the internet?

I’m pretty sure it was, but if the “nature of the internet” amplifies negative sentiments (somehow) and makes them “dominant,” how is that possible?

The only reasonable conclusion is that the internet is a communication tool. Because it grants anonymity, it does tend to skew towards obnoxiousness and rudeness, but there is nothing inherent about the internet that reinforces a particular set of political beliefs.

Those who understand the nature of this medium would know that these expressions, while legitimate, are far from reflecting the general views of average netizens, much less the population at large. When put into an objective analytical framework, it is, at best, but one of the barometers of public opinion, and certainly not the most significant. At worst it is what Foreign Policy magazine has recently termed the “People’s Republic of Rumors.”

Ah yes. Here we enter familiar territory; the old “if you disagree with me it is because you don’t understand” argument. Li wields it somewhat clumsily here and then moves on to reenforcing the idea that “these expressions, while legitimate, are far from reflecting the general views of average netizens.”

What, then, reflects the general views of average netizens, I wonder? Millions of negative comments on Weibo, negative train crash posts dominating all the major BBS forums and Chinese SNS…if these do not “reflect” the views of netizens then what, pray tell, does? Why should we discount these views that were expressed so widely and uniformly? Li doesn’t really offer an answer for that.

Instead, he enters into a long argument about how these views are advocated and promoted by the “pseudo-literati,” who are apparently frustrated that they are no longer governing the way they used to during imperial times, and that they have been replaced by ‘obviously more competent’ ((I am here paraphrasing something Li says on page 2 of his article, in the second paragraph.)) political and commercial technocrats.

Not being able to go into politics, many pseudo-literati have over the years gone to work in China’s highly fragmented media industry. In that, they found themselves even more frustrated. Their desire to influence politics is restrained and sometimes repressed by the political authority of the central government. Such is China’s political system.

In their frustration they have bought into the Western ideological notion that the media must be independent of political authority and has the moral responsibility to check the power of the state. Combining this ideological conversion with their feeling of lost entitlement to power, they have appointed themselves as the rightful opposition to Communist Party rule. And they have found the partiality and extremism of the digital public square their most fertile soil. They have sought to interpret the venting of dissatisfaction on the digital public square as representative of the will of the people.

First of all, arguments about modern people’s motivations that begin with a comparison to imperial times are pretty much all total horseshit. Yes, Chinese people have a strong historical memory, but no one alive in China today makes their life decisions based on what they could have expected if they were living in the Qing Dynasty.

As far as the literati goes, a far more useful historical context for their “opposition” to the Chinese government might be the anti-Rightist campaigns (for example), since that’s something that some of them actually experienced and it would certainly be motivation enough to make anyone mad at the government for a long time.

But honestly, I don’t think that’s what’s happening either. In fact, I don’t think what Li’s saying is even happening. China’s media has not positioned itself in opposition to the government, and in fact, a large portion of it is the government. To return to the train crash story, for example, some of the harshest criticism of all came from CCTV. Now, I’m sure some educated liberals work at CCTV, but could it really be characterized as having “appointed [itself] as the rightful opposition to Communist Party rule”?

Moreover, while I’ll grant that the digital sphere is fertile ground for extremism and partisanship, that goes both ways. So if the “vast majority of netizens” are actually pro-government, as Li argued earlier in the piece, how have these disenfrancised literati managed to shut them up? Shouldn’t the “fertile ground” of the internet be nourishing their extremism and partisanship too?

Certainly, there are people in the media with an anti-government motive. I don’t deny that, although I think Li’s explanation of the cause of those motives is ridiculous. But Chinese netizens are not retarded puppets; the fact that negative opinion has become so prevalent on the net is a reaction to real-world conditions, not some kind of shadow media group that is manipulating the stupid public so it can return itself to the glory days of Imperial China. People — yes, real people — are critical of the government because of housing prices, inflation, and safety issues that affect their lives.

Again, Li does have a bit of a point mixed in there. The voices on the internet are not — necessarily — “the will of the people.” The thing is, they aren’t necessarily not “the will of the people” either. Just because an opinion is expressed on the internet doesn’t mean it’s confined there, and in fact, while it’s not as easily quantifiable, I’ve certainly seen plenty of these “internet” sentiments in evidence offline. Just after the crash, for example, I heard a colleague say into his phone with genuine shock in his voice, “You still trust the Communist Party?” This was not a dissident or some dissatisfied media liberal. Nor is it some idiot who would be easily swayed by peer pressure or media guidance. This was a well-educated, well-to-do guy working a good job at a promising tech company.

Now, he’s not necessarily representative of “the will of the people” either. In fact, “the will of the people” is kind of a dumb phrase for a nation of over a billion; there are just too many people to ever be able to really say they have one “will.” My point is that people outside of the (apparently biased) internet are sharing equally negative sentiments about the government on a daily basis, even in public. If Mr. Li wants to talk about “the will of the people”, he ought to at least offer some alternative measurement of it, but he really doesn’t. His argument that regular Chinese people aren’t dissatisfied because they’re still riding the trains ignores the economic and logistical realities that essentially guarantee people will be riding these trains regardless of how they feel about the Railway Ministry or the government. (Additionally, as I pointed out earlier, his statistics for that point are somewhat questionable anyway).

Also in the paragraphs quoted above is the popular notion that a free press is somehow incompatible with China. This argument is so common now that Li apparently feels no need to even attempt to support it, which is good, because it would be difficult to support. What makes a free press so incompatible with China? It’s certainly incompatible with the Chinese government’s wishes, but that’s not the same thing. In fact, I believe a free and independent press could work well under the current system, more or less.

The narrative of dissatisfaction isn’t real

We have indeed seen this movie many times before. The dissatisfaction expressed around the dislocations caused by the building of the Three Gorges Dam was interpreted as a strong general opposition to the dam project itself. The Shanghai World Expo was attacked as a wasteful project unwelcome by the residents of Shanghai. One of their pieces of evidence was the loud expression of dissatisfaction many netizens expressed online about the construction chaos caused by the building of the large-scale Shanghai subway as a part of the Expo. They widely publicized the empty trains during the initial months of the new subway lines’ operation as proof.

But of course, any rider today will tell you that now one would have to squeeze into these trains every day – an interesting replay of what is being said about the high-speed railways.

Again, Li is confusing the fact that people use things they’re upset about some aspect of as evidence that they were never actually upset. This doesn’t make a lot of sense. In the US, for example, when the TSA introduced full-body scanners, many people were upset, but they kept flying. Why? Because they had to. The fact that they took planes doesn’t mean they weren’t angry at the TSA, it means they needed to get somewhere by plane.

He may be right about some people in the media using the empty trains as evidence of people’s anger, but he turns around and makes the exact same (foolish) assumption, just going in the opposite direction.

What is central to all this is that the pseudo-literati, in their effort to carve out a moral space for themselves in the Chinese political landscape, have taken the expressions in the digital public square and created an Orwellian 1984 of Chinese public opinion. They are writing in their newspapers and spreading through their microblogs a virtual and parallel reality of Chinese society.

This is where it becomes clear we’re definitely on the train to Crazytown. An “Orwellian 1984”? Ignoring for a moment the blinding irony (not to mention the redundancy), this isn’t actually true. Millions of regular people — not reporters or “pseudo literati” — were talking about the train crash (for example) or food scandals (for example) or inflation (for example) and complaining about the government. The media, both Chinese and foreign, may have overemphasized this in some cases — we’ll get to that later — but they did not make it up.

The narrative goes like this: The Chinese people are generally dissatisfied with the rapid economic development of the last 30 years; the benefits of speedy development are not worth the costs of its byproducts, namely the wealth gap and corruption, just as an accident discredits the entire infrastructure undertaking of the high-speed rail project. Every disaster, whether natural or due to human error, is proof that the current political system has lost the trust of the people.

No, that’s not how the narrative goes at all ((I’m talking about the narrative on Weibo here, there are number of narratives in foreign and domestic coverage depending on who you read)), and that’s the problem. Because Li is right. That narrative is a load of crap. But it’s also a figment of his imagination. Here’s what the actual narrative is: The Chinese people are generally satisfied with the rapid economic development of the last 30 years. The benefits of speedy development have generally outweighed the costs of its byproducts, but now that China has lifted millions out of poverty and is one of the world’s largest economies, it’s time to slow down a bit and start fixing some of those byproducts; namely the wealth gap and corruption. An accident doesn’t discredit the entire infrastructure undertaking of the high-speed rail project; quite the contrary, nearly everyone would agree that China should and can have high speed rail lines; what the accident does is indicate to people that the implementation of this infrastructure was too hasty and apparently not thorough enough. People are dissatisfied with that because they feel that in this, a period of relative stability, China should have and could have done better. Disasters, whether natural or due to human error, are not proof that the current political system has lost the trust of the people. But the government does lose trust when they handle the aftermath of a disaster poorly, and they seem to be making something of a habit of that.

And who is to represent the will of the people to overturn all this injustice? Of course it’s them, and the media is somehow ordained to lead this revolution. The opinion piece in the immediate aftermath of the accident by a respected commentator essentially repeats this storyline for Westerners in English.

Uh…what? Most of the pieces I’ve seen, in Chinese and English, say nothing about the “media”. If there’s going to be a revolution, everyone seems to think it will be led by Weibo. Yes, there are some reporters on Weibo, but it is not the media, just as it is not the government even though many government officials have Weibo accounts.

I’m not sure what opinion piece, specifically, Li is referring to, but the vasty majority of media reports I’ve seen on this topic have been about “the Weibo revolution”. The media isn’t really involved at all.

There are only two problems with this plan. One, the Chinese people don’t seem to be in on it. Just about every credible public-opinion survey points to strong satisfaction of the Chinese people with the rapid economic development that has been taking place, and they look to the future with unprecedented optimism. The pseudo-literati are loudly demanding a dramatic slowdown in GDP growth. If the Communist Party acceded to their demand, would the Chinese people tolerate that?

Just about every credible public-opinion survey….and how many is that exactly? There’s the PEW polls and, um…hmm. Of course, there isn’t a PEW poll (or any other credible poll) on this topic that’s recent enough to reflect public opinion following any of the high-profile issues that have cropped up in the past year, so I’m not sure how valuable any of those surveys really are. Beyond that, there are other questions, but I don’t want to get into that here — this post is already way too long. My point is, if the “narrative” Li laid out above really represented the narrative that’s presented in the press, then these surveys would be fair game. But that’s not really the popular narrative, and I’m not sure what a survey from two years ago can tell me about public response to social problems that have only really emerged in the past six months.

As for the “Slow down, China” mantra we’ve heard in the wake of the crash, it’s not a media invention. Hundreds of thousands of regular people — not “pseudo-literati” — were saying similar things on Weibo and offline in the week following the crash. Generally speaking, I don’t think Chinese people care much about the GDP in the abstract, and I think it’s unfair to assume Chinese people wouldn’t be willing to put up with slower growth and the effect that would have on their own lives in exchange for things like safer transportation and food and a more level playing ground for businesses (if corruption could be slowed).

Two, China is moving along a political trajectory that is uniquely suitable to its own cultural context and not following a Western model in which the media is an independent forth estate. China will never have its own Rupert Murdoch.

I don’t think I even need to comment on this; I addressed this same idea when it cropped up earlier in the piece.

The victims of this terrible train accident will be properly mourned and their families fairly compensated with respect and dignity. The cause of the accident must be thoroughly investigated and prevented for the future. The country will move on.

Yes, because nothing says “respect and dignity” quite like, “We’ll give you 100,000. Oh, uh, did we say 100,000? We meant 500,000. Still no? OK, fine, 900,000. And an extra 25,000 if you’ll sign fast and get your grieving ass out of our hair!” ((This is satire, not a direct quote, as far as I know.)) But I agree, China will move on.

This author predicts that, in a few years’ time, China’s high-speed railways will be transporting hundreds of millions of people and bringing enormous economic and social benefits to the Chinese people, just as the Three Gorges Dam is delivering much-needed electricity to tens of millions of ordinary families and Chinese industry, and the Shanghai subway built for the World Expo is providing efficiency and convenience to 20 million Shanghai residents.

I’m certain the railroad will be transporting hundreds of millions of people. And hopefully, as a result of the anger that followed this incident, the Railway Ministry will have been cowed into making it at least marginally safer. But I fail to see what that has to do with public opinion, or how the fact that in the future the trains will run successfully somehow means that what people are saying on Weibo or elsewhere now isn’t valid.

There is an old Chinese saying: The people are like water and the ruler is a ship on that water; water can carry the ship, water can overturn the ship. Chinese vox populi – that is the water. What is the vox populi saying? Those who seek to understand China and predict its future course should not misjudge the people’s voice. For those who rule China, misreading that voice carries greater peril than not reading it at all.

Wait, the people are the water? Or the people’s opinions are the water? And other people are misjudging the water? Misreading the water is more dangerous than ignoring it? I don’t see what this simile has to do with anything but I think there’s a law somewhere that says all China op-eds must end with an “old Chinese saying”, so I’ll let Li off the hook.

A better metaphor might be that the people are the water, and that public sentiment as it appears on Weibo is more like the waves. It may represent the real motion of the water, and it may not. There could be other currents underneath the waves that rulers can’t see from the boat. But that would be a very foolish reason to ignore the waves entirely.

Internet Public Opinion and the Vox Populi in China

So, now that I’ve spent 4,000 words tearing it apart, I’ll admit it: there is a good point underlying Li’s post. Specifically, the media (Chinese and foreign) is prone to over-emphasizing the importance of Weibo and other Chinese internet public opinion channels. Part of this — and I should note up front that I am as or more guilty of this than anyone — is laziness. Reporters can log on to Weibo and have a few punchy quotes picked out before lunchtime. They can search for exactly what they want, and moreover, it’s what their editors want. Social media is hot, the internet is hot, and people are clamoring for these stories, so there’s even some pressure on reporters to work this way.

That said, the reporting environment in China greatly exacerbates these factors by failing to reward, and in fact punishing, writers who attempt to collect public opinion by more traditional means. At best, they’ll find a lot of people not willing to talk to the press, at worst they may be met with harassment and even physical violence from whatever party their investigation threatens to damage. The same is true for their subjects, which makes interviewing anyone in China about political topics a bit dicey under even the best of conditions.

Another problem is that the lack of government transparency pushes people to other sources. This is especially true for members of the foreign press. China regularly complains that these reporters never tell China’s side of the story, but Chinese officials almost always refuse to speak to foreign reporters. I feel certain that most media outlets would prefer a quote from Wen Jiabao to a quote from some random Weibo user, but Chinese officials don’t tend to give interviews to foreign media outlets beyond the occasional press conference.

Anyway, regardless of the reasons, Li is right that Weibo and net public opinion in general gets over-emphasized (although I think the fact that Weibo gets over-emphasized is also over-emphasized). This is not only true when it’s negative opinions about the government that are being expressed, either. Remember all the scare stories in the Western press a few years ago when the Fifty Cents Party was in full blossom and nationalist posts were popping up everywhere? The importance of that was over-emphasized too, although something tells me Li probably didn’t write a piece on it.

That said, just because an opinion comes from the internet does not mean that it is invalid or not representative. In the case of the train crash, the feedback was so massive and so uniformly negative that it seems insane to dismiss it as meaningless just because it was typed on a website rather than shouted in the street. We can’t necessarily take any online trend as indicative of something larger until we’ve done a more thorough investigation, but nor can we dismiss it.

Moreover, in discussions of this we have to acknowledge that such an investigation would be exceedingly difficult in the current political environment. If I, for example, were to go around conducting a public opinion poll to support my claims about how Chinese people feel about government in the wake of the Wenzhou accident, how long do you think it would take for me to end up in a police station?

In some cases, we have to take what we can get. The internet is a flawed source of Chinese public opinion, but so are any other sources we might turn to. Moreover, the internet does offer a sample size that’s pretty impossible to compete with even for professional pollsters, and as China continues to develop, the demographic skews are evening out. We’re still a long ways away from the ‘net being a pure representation of all of Chinese society, but what we’ve got now is still useful to examine so long as we are aware of its flaws.

0 thoughts on “Examining Eric Li and China’s Vox Populi”

  1. @FOARP

    ”By this logic, because some people lie on the census (and they do), the census is not credible. Is this what you mean? I hope not, because the possibility of false reporting exists in all statistics.”

    Not quite. We are pretty sure PEW conducted their poll inside China, people answered the poll are actual Chinese, lying or not, it qualifies as a “China Poll”. On the other hand, the possibility of outside source disqualifies Internet polls as “China polls,” which means it has no scientific merits.

    ”Instead, all data should be weighed objectively according its merits. The less likely false reporting is, the more weight the data may be given – this is science.”


    ”Similarly, if the question is “how did the users of Weibo feel about the Chiense government’s handling of the rail crash”

    “government’s handling” should be “government’s initial handling.” The official report is still a month away.

    ” the it would seem that, in abscence of other data, that the Weibo polls are the best data we have, whilst remaining aware of its limitations.”

    Only true when people were not influenced by all those proven false rumors.

    ” Therefore, if your question is “how did urban Chinese feel about the direction of the economy in 2010″, trying to answer this with data using only Weibo polls on the government’s handling of the 2011 train crash, when polls taken in 2010 related to this very question exist, would be wrong.”

    Totally agreed. But isn’t that what Custer was trying to suggest in his post?

    ” Likewise, if your question is “how did Weibo users feel about the Chinese government’s handling of the 2011 train crash”, trying to determine this based only on a 2010 survey of urban Chinese, when Weibo polls taken after the train crash exist, would also be wrong.”

    Agreed. But nobody is suggesting that.

    “Data suggests that during 2010-11, Chinese people were generally happy with the economy, not happy with handling of rail crash”

    I can not completely agree with the statement. I can not accept putting the two data on equal grounds. The Weibo polls have no scientific merit whatsoever. However, I agree that the outrage expressed on Weibo towards the railway ministry’s handling of the accident is real. But I have to remind you that, 1) it was heavily influenced by false rumors, 2) it was taken right after the crash while independent investigation has not even started yet, 3) the “handling” is still ongoing. The hasty judgments is another reason why we shouldn’t take internet opinion at face value.


  2. @2329:
    It would be silly to argue for weibo’s significance by trashing pew data. But no one is doing that. No one is attributing to weibo any more significance than it deserves. But I am trashing pew data because that is what it is for purposes of generalization to all of china. Pew data is what it is. But it is certainly not what you hope it to be. Anyone who understands it’s methodology would have realized that a long time ago.

    It would also be silly to trash weibo’s significance by using pew data. But that is precisely what Li attempted to do. And that is what Custer called him on, with good reason.

    Your “gold” analogy is silly. Pew would be better than weibo if and only if pew was in fact 14k gold and weibo was 10 k gold, but you have not established the basis for your premise. So your analogy is baseless. Anyone with an understanding of logic would not have tried such a silly analogy. Yet here you are.

    It is absolutely true, as foarp suggests, that someone could be angry at government for it’s handling of the rail crash, while being satisfied with china’s economic progress. That is the same logic you apply by admitting that you could simultaneously be “optimistic” and “struggling”. If you would never “dispute a Gallup poll using Internet polls”, then why would you support Li using pew data to dispute Internet opinion?

    The comparison of pew and weibo does NOT come down to science vs pseudoscience. It’s amusing watching you trying to disparage the Internet opinion you don’t like by merely calling it ” pseudoscience”. The names you want to affix are meaningless. What it comes down to is that, to arrive some scientific assessment of Chinese opinion as a whole, you need data that can be generalizable to the entirety of Chinese people. Neither pew nor weibo have the scientific merits for the job. As I said before, they are both flawed independent of one another. Comparing which is “better” is pointless. So why do you keep doing it?

    If one person lying on a poll disqualifies the whole thing, then there is nothing in china that can be believed. I mean, especially in china, how can you be certain that not even one of the people polled in any given survey did not have their answer coerced? Especially on sensitive topics. After all, it’s china, and her reputation precedes her.

    “the two have no direct relations”
    Hey, good work. So finally, you should also realize by now that it makes no sense to attack weibo using pew…which is what Li did. Finally, you are coming around to criticizing Li for poor logic,which is what Custer did.


  3. @XYZ

    I haven’t taken your words out of context at all. What I have done is present your baseline rationale for the dispute. The rest off what you offer is an illustration of that point.

    “Let’s put it this way, 14K gold holds more gold than 10K gold per unit weight, it’s a self-evident truth. Every impurity you accuse the 14K gold of having exists in the 10K gold and more. It can not and will not change the fact that 10K is the lesser one. If the PEW data is 14K gold, the Weibo polls do not even qualify as gold despite it might contain some gold element.”

    The weakness in this metaphor is obvious. A K of Gold is a known quantity of a known element. However, “science” is not an element. Should a person completely familiar with the periodic table use it for divination, the little science that individual practiced to gain that knowledge would be insufficient to grant his efforts value. Likewise, the only “known element” in the Pew polls would be that defined by the questions–namely, economic conditions. Since you have attempted above to attribute this element to CCP governance, you are shifting the domain of the element into the unknown. Which leaves you with a known quantity. Now, would you make the same argument on the basis of a decidedly impure or unknown material? Is quantity of itself sufficient? This is what you would call common sense above, I believe.

    “Besides, “optimism” and “struggles” are not mutually exclusive. One can be happy about a country’s direction and feel he/she is struggling at the same time.”

    Precisely. And, though he shouldn’t have had to, SKC made this exact point. Few things we’ve discussed are mutually exclusive, including (divergent) attitudes toward economic conditions and governance.

    “But, I would never dispute the Gallup poll using any Internet polls.”

    Well, my point above was that the Gallup poll could be questioned on the basis of its methodology. If determined to be inadequate, that would not make relevant internet polls on a related issue, say how many people feel comfortable about their retirement, informative. They would be informative (i.e. significant) regardless, though the inadequacy of the Gallup poll may help us to understand the specific constellation of the data. To repurpose your attempt at an analogy earlier: rather than saying the “rioters’ posts on UK social media” (gotta love your implicit analogy here) represent the British population, could we not consider a sum of the internet polls on The Times, The Guardian, and The Daily Telegraph informative concerning the prevailing attitudes of the British population toward this incident? Yes, their readership does extend beyond Britain’s borders far more than Weibo’s does China’s, which is a concern. Moreso for Britain than for Weibo.

    “There is real science, and there is pseudoscience. Some people would rather believe in pseudoscience theory because it fits their beliefs. What do you call these people?”

    TCM practitioners? If you mean to reduce this to binaries, which is rarely necessary, I’m afraid we’d have to include the Pew poll in the latter group for reasons mentioned above. People can be informed by science yet still carry out pseudoscience.

    “You are missing the point again. You only need ONE such instance to destroy the credibility of Weibo. Even the possibility of such instance disqualifies Weibo polls as science. Yet another scientific concept you are unable to grasp.”

    Actually, once such instance does not destroy the credibility of Weibo. If that is your point, I’m afraid it was lost in diversions you threw up. But now it is found in order to reveal its inadequacy. Again, the only science you are referring to is that of probability, a statistical science.

    You are not showing any awareness of science above. You cannot without an understanding of probability. You are trying to make a strictly logical argument.


  4. @SWX

    The “known element” in PEW data is that there is a set of scientifically defined methodologies behind it. What methodology does Weibo polls have to speak of?

    ”Actually, once such instance does not destroy the credibility of Weibo. If that is your point, I’m afraid it was lost in diversions you threw up. But now it is found in order to reveal its inadequacy. Again, the only science you are referring to is that of probability, a statistical science.”

    The first and foremost methodology you need to apply in a China poll is that you need to make sure survey targets are actual Chinese. At least we know PEW were polling people inside China. On the other hand, do you have confidence to say the same with Weibo? If you can’t even guarantee that, the rest is just total BS. It does not qualify as a China poll.


  5. @XYZ – Weibo data is first a foremost a sample of Weibo users – who are overwhelmingly Chinese-born. All surveys of the Chinese population ordinarily include foreign opinion, since foreigners live in China- the mere fact a portion of the sample may be foreign should not lead to the survey being unrepresentative where the portion is likely to be very small.

    Whilst the limitations of Weibo data should be understood, I not believe that they can be dismissed as non-Chinese. This can only be so where foreign use of Weibo becomes a significant portion of those who use the service – which I do not think anyone could say is the case, given the obvious language, cultural, and technical barriers to foreign use of Weibo.

    Whilst I would not argue that there is any of the controlling of sample seen in surveys, the polls are useful since they are the only data available at this time. As for them being scientific or not, in my own studies in astrophysics I made use of plenty of data which around which there was much uncertainty – but this didn’t make what I was doing unscientific, it just meant that I was using the best information available.

    As for the impact of initial rumours, certainly there were rumours swirling around the crash at the time it happened which have not since been substantiated, and these have and do affect people’s views on this. Perhaps when the final report is released people will change their mind, but this has not happened yet.

    To pick a particularly catastrophic example of the impact that false rumours may have, one which we (unless there is a ten-year-old reading this blog) all remember, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, rumours flew around that a car bomb had gone off in Washington, that a fifth plane had been shot down etc. These rumours created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion which has never gone away, despite the release of the US government’s report explaining in convincing detail how the attacks occurred.

    However, are you going to say, merely because some people still believe the various conspiracy theories, that their views should not be counted in a survey of opinion on the handling of the attacks? The fact that people within a population are responding to unsubstantiated rumours does not mean their opinions should be left out. Instead, from it we can also learn things about credulity and trust within the relevant group.


  6. To 0148:
    I would be happy to stipulate that the 3308 people pew interviewed were in fact Chinese people in china. It is entirely plausible that some of the millions and millions of weibo comments were in fact made by people outside if china. However, it is probable that the vast majority were from Chinese people in china. The fact that pew surveyed Chinese people is NOT what confers it scientific value, or lack thereof. It is its methodology that bespeaks, and in this case limits, its scientific value. Similarly, it is not the possible foreign content that limits weibo’s generalizability. It is the inherent biases that have previously been enumerated. Besides, if you are finally coming around to the fact that pew and weibo can be mutually exclusive, it is interesting that you are still trying to “talk-up” pew while “talking-down” weibo.

    The government report might tell you what the government wants people to think about its handling of the accident. That may have nothing to do with how people would judge the government’s handling thereof. It is hilarious that you would equate a Ccp assessment of itself with Chinese people’s assessment thereof.

    In the absence of better data, weibo IS the best data we have. The conjecture about rumours etc only means “the best data we have” still leaves lots to be desired.

    After all this time, it is incredible that you still miss custer’s point. Custer criticized Li for precisely the reason that Li tried to dismiss 2011 Internet opinion about the train crash by using 2010 pew data about economic satisfaction. “nobody is suggesting that”? Wrong. Li was suggesting precisely that, and Custer called him on it. Only a card-carrying Ccp apologist could fail to see that, or acknowledge it, after so much discussion.

    Of course you can’t consider the two data sets on equal ground. You prefer what one has to say, and abhor what the other one has to say. “heavily influenced”by rumour? LOL. On the other hand, it us entirely predictable that a Ccp apologist would have such faith in this upcoming Ccp report. It is also ironic that you don’t want to take weibo at face value, but are happy to accept pew at more than face value (since you attribute to pew stuff that it can’t possibly say, like satisfaction with governance and the authoritarian way).

    You are right. We do know pew methodology, so we know exactly how bad it is. We dont know weibo methodology, so we don’t know precisely how bad it is. But we do know it is pretty bad. From a scientific standpoint, that means we can’t rely on either one. It is amusing watching you try to suggest that, despite everything, we should still believe the one whose answers you prefer.

    But since you want to compare (and let’s face it, the hallmark of a Ccp apologist is to make comparisons even when things aren’t actually comparable), your pew data represents 57% of china’s population. Do you think more or less than 57% of weibo entries came from within china? I fully recognize that those two things aren’t actually comparable, but if you accept one thing containing 57% chinese, shouldn’t you accept something else with 57% Chinese?


  7. “The “known element” in PEW data is that there is a set of scientifically defined methodologies behind it.”

    It certainly is known. It is a composite set of practices intending to approximate science. However, like science, it is not an element, which was precisely the point of the first rejection of your metaphor. If used compositely, its value may be destroyed. Your metaphor is inadequate for many reasons, but the most obvious is that once you have determined science is not an element, one must determine whether the quantity (i.e. the quality of science) matters, when what you really wanted to say is look it has this “stuff” in it, and that makes it more valuable. I know you want to push a superficial binary choice upon us, but the “quantity” of science is absolutely necessary for your argument.

    By the way: a better metaphor would be gems and cuts. This would properly take into account the handling of material as a component of value, which reflects methodology far more than cataloguing something as an element. Now, I’ve entertained your metaphor. Would you care to entertain mine?


  8. i miss pugster. his existence and the unease it causes and the hypocrisy it exposes among the self-righteous expats who are driven to the point of advocating banning free speech are fun to observe.


  9. @FOARP

    Excuses, excuses and more excuses. 🙂

    You choose to believe because it’s the only data available at this time? Or can we say you can “make use of the data “ because it supports your personal belief?

    Let’s just say you are the chief engineer of a new plane, you only have very limited safety analysis and testing data, the deadline is tomorrow. Would you “make use of the data“ and put you signature on the release form of the design? Are those limited data “useful”? Maybe. Are those data significant? Hardly!

    Those comments and polls on Weibo right after the crash can only be described as reactions to those false rumors and that spokesman’s infamous idiotic remark, because facts were so scarce at the time. Just look at how many false rumors this blog has forwarded? Did Custer bother to add a link to the piece that debunks the rumors to his “updates?”

    I personally was outraged when I heard somebody called off the search so early, but then I felt so cheated after the cop who rescued the baby girl came out and say no such order was ever given.

    ” However, are you going to say, merely because some people still believe the various conspiracy theories, that their views should not be counted in a survey of opinion on the handling of the attacks?”

    No that’s not what I am saying. I am saying that the Weibo comments and poll results could have been a lot different if those people knew the rumors were false. The reaction is on rumors, not facts. Therefore the weobo polls and comments have no value as to reflecting people’s true feelings.


  10. @SWX

    ” Now, I’ve entertained your metaphor. Would you care to entertain mine?”

    If you answer my question,

    The “known element” in PEW data is that there is a set of scientifically defined methodologies behind it. What methodology does Weibo polls have to speak of?

    then I will entertain your metaphor. Fair enough?

    Otherwise I see no point continuing our discussion.


  11. @keisaat

    That was funny! 🙂

    Maybe we should have a poll on Chinageeks on whether we should keep the comment section. But then again, the result would be insignificant, because I can make up 1000 IDs and using fake email addresses and I will vote “YES!”


  12. To keissat:
    I miss pugster too. Seldom do you see someone so devoid of logic regularly making a fool of himself. On the other hand, it is a pervasive trait shared to some degree by every Ccp apologist I’ve ever come across.

    To xyz:
    if there is a better gauge of opinion after the accident other than weibo, you should share it with us. This I’d love to hear. I’ll wait. Will I be waiting long?

    Your examples are as idiotic as I’ve ever seen, and this included wahaha on FM. How does weibo Internet opinion parallel aeronautic safety? Assessing weibo opinion is nothing like determining whether there is sufficient data to support an airplane’s air-worthiness. Only an idiot Ccp apologist would float such pathetic stuff, yet here you are. And you clearly have no concept of “significant”, let alone “scientific significance”.

    Which “rumors” would you like to characterize as false after the accident? Do you have any quantitative evaluation of the effect of those apparently false rumors on overall Internet opinion? Or are you just reaching for lame excuses to disregard an opinion you don’t like?

    The cop who rescued the girl said there was no order to stop searching. And that “proves” that there was no such order? ever consider that the cop was “ordered” to say that so the railway ministry can try to save some face? And if they were still searching, why were they starting to bulldoze the cars? Were they willfully endangering the searchers? Would you rather believe that? It is funny with you Ccp apologists. You are willing to believe just about anything as long as it reaffirms your tightly held beliefs. Logic is not a concern for you people. You guys are sure slamming some strong kool-aid.

    Some people on weibo may have been responding to some false rumours. That is reason to take weibo opinion with a grain if salt. But then if you recognized the biases of weibo, you’d be taking it with a grain if salt anyway. That is no reason to disregard weibo in it’s entirety, as you are lamely trying to suggest. Then again, logic was never your strong-suit.

    We already know internet opinion is not scientifically significant. However, it bespeaks your ignorance when you think that you can just use a new name and fake email addresses. Ever heard of your ip address? Custer would know it was you even if you were stupid enough to come up with a thousand fake names and email addresses. But thanks for giving me a good laugh. If you were really desperate enough to try to amplify your vote (and you do seem lame enough to be that type of dude), you would need an ip anonymizer or a bunch of proxies. Good luck.


  13. Come to think of it, ” whether you believe it or not, I believe it” really sums it up for any card-carrying Ccp apologist. It may become a new phrase in the lexicon, maybe on par with “river crabs”.


  14. There are things online polls can do to make them more scientifically palatable–things like limiting to polls to people on the basis of period of registry, switching the order of possible responses to avoid the primacy effect, or even restricting the imput by region. I’m not certain Weibo has attempted to do any of this or taken any other legitimate measure, and I’m not even aware that they’ve commented whether they have any regulation on their polls. Do you have a link which presents Weibo’s policy on these matters in any detail? I would appreciate it if you do.

    Is that fair enough?


  15. @SWX

    ”There are things online polls can do to make them more scientifically palatable–things like limiting to polls to people on the basis of period of registry, switching the order of possible responses to avoid the primacy effect, or even restricting the imput by region….”

    Is this what you wish they did, or is this what they were actually doing?

    ”…. I’m not certain Weibo has attempted to do any of this or taken any other legitimate measure, and I’m not even aware that they’ve commented whether they have any regulation on their polls. Do you have a link which presents Weibo’s policy on these matters in any detail? I would appreciate it if you do. ”

    Oh, now we know you just MADE ALL THAT UP. And you expect me to find proof for you to support your BS? And if I can’t find it then you BS must be true, is that it?

    The only thing online polls can do is limit the votes to unique IP addresses, which can be easily bypassed with proxies. No matter how much lipstick you put on a pig, it’s still a pig.

    I start to feel that you are just another SKC. We should just end the discussion here.



  16. @XYZ – All I can tell you is that when you have to make a decision, you must do so based on the best information available at the time, whilst being aware of the limitations of the data you’re acting on. The Weibo polls, flawed as they are, are the only information we have on the views of the Chinese people on the subject of the government’s handling of the rail disaster.

    Therefore, if I absolutely had to make a decision based on information that was potentially flawed, I would (and, actually, I regularly do) do so. Given the option of being able to gather more accurate information, of course I would. What is your opinion of the current policy of forbidding opinion-polls on political questions?

    It is, I’m afraid, not meaningful to talk about the ‘true feelings’ of people as being what they would have felt had they only believed what you believe to be true. You cannot control what people believe – therefore people believe both true and false information.


  17. Good grief xyz, why can’t Ccp apologists just perform the basic task of reading? Are you some early prototype that got pushed into service without full training?

    Swx first says there are things that can be done to try to limit some of the inherent biases of Internet polls. In the same paragraph, he acknowledges that he has no idea whether weibo employs any of them or not. So what do you do? You take the first part out of context and ask the most retarded question, when his answer is immediately after where you arbitrarily cut him off in the same paragraph. You then take the second part of the same paragraph out of context, and accuse him of making stuff up? My gosh. Is this what the Ccp pays for? To get not only lame ass arguments, but also pathetic and disingenuous argument styles as demonstrated by losers like you? You ( and the Ccp) should be embarrassed. I agree that swx can try to look up weibo methods himself. However, I wasn’t sure about pew methods, so I looked them up in order to rip it to shreds. One would think, if you wanted to be precise in your criticism if weibo, that you would actually familiarize yourself with exactly what you were criticizing. Clearly, you don’t have the intellectual capacity for that type of activity. Besides, Ccp apologists like you already know what you want to believe, and wouldn’t want facts to get in the way, I suspect.

    Hey, at least you clued in about ip addresses. Much better than that stupid remark earlier about fake names and email addresses. But as usual, you gave me a good laugh. So thank you for that.

    I noticed youve given up all hope of answering my questions. That’s too bad. But at least you have the good sense of knowing when you are beyond your depth…although that really doesn’t take much for you.


  18. XYZ

    That was unnecessarily rude, considering that I’m asking you for help and offering you a chance to prove your point.

    You must recognize by now that only your argument requires a thoroughly detailed knowledge of Weibo’s policies/methodology or the lack thereof; mine does not. You should be able to point to what they could have done and did not do. I certainly don’t expect you to find proof of my argument, but I do expect you to be able to provide proof of your own.

    If you are going to argue solely on the base of IP addresses because they can be bypassed by proxies, then clearly your argument is flawed as badly as your metaphor, as FOARP has already revealed. You are once again trying to reduce probability to possibility, with the accompanying underlying assumption of a determined antagonist intent on distorting the poll. This borders on conspiracy theory.

    My apologies if I’ve come across as someone asking another to do his work for him. The internet is a vast place and this is not necessary for my argument, but I will put in some time and see if I can discover anything about Weibo’s polling methods.


  19. SKC

    You know, I’ve just found there is a kind of spiritual liberation in treating devout Ccp apologists like actual human beings, though they may not deserve it. At the very least it allows others watch their innards boil over with illogical, unfocused and ultimately misused anger.

    I’m not recommending this to anyone else, however.


  20. Swx:
    You expect xyz to provide fact-based criticism of weibo methodology? Come now. That may be a reasonable expectation of someone capable of an intellectually honest discussion. But it is pretty evident that xyz is not that type of individual. Maybe it’s the training. This is the same guy who would try to pass off pew data as showing that 85% of Chinese people support the CCP’S method of governance, except for the minor detail that its methodology clearly precludes any such type of interpretation. Not exactly a case study in strong character.

    Similarly, trying to get him to distinguish what is possible with what is probable is futile. We might expect to be engaged in discussion with someone who possesses a brain, when in fact all we’re getting is someone well- versed in Ccp catchphrases.


  21. Aside from the content of the debate going on, you really should change the tone SKC. You’re being downright nasty and have been since the beginning of this whole exchange.

    If you really do think you’re arguing with an irrational brainless moron then why bother in the first place? If you’re going to have a discussion with someone then at least give them the modicum of respect that’s necessary for anything other than a degenerate cesspit of a conversation, or have the self-worth not to bother. This isn’t to say you’re the only culprit here, but you definitely take the prize for champion snark.


  22. To brightgrey:
    Respect is earned. In my mind, xyz deserves none, based on his full frontal assault on the concepts of logic, and his disingenuous argument style as evidenced by his comment of august 19 0240hrs.

    However, those who deserve no respect can still fully deserve vigorous rebuttal, which is what xyz requires. Perhaps a few years ago, when I hadn’t yet seen quite as much of the Ccp apologist routine, I might have greeted it with more tolerance, or sense of amusement. You might argue that those who deserve no respect might still deserve some courtesy. I agree. If you return to the early comments on this thread, you might find that more courtesy was in evidence from me. However, after nearly 120 comments with a substantial contribution from xyz, that ship has also sailed.


  23. XYZ,

    You should just ignore that ignorant troll SKC. He doesn’t get the hint that I am not going to respond to his nonsensical rants anyways.


  24. To pug:
    They’re only nonsensical to those who have no common sense, nor capacity for comprehension. That’s right, sunshine… Here’s looking at you and your type, like xyz also.

    Anyhow, looking forward to your next comment, so I can beat it into the ground as per usual. You can ignore me, but you can’t ignore logic…wait, what am I saying, this is you we’re talking about.


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