In “How to Make China More Honest,” The Heritage Foundation‘s Derek Scissors contends that Chinese statistics are little more than politically-motiviated lies. He suggests that this means that the “Chinese miracle” could be part of the grand fib. More to the point, though, he says that the only way to keep China honest is to collect enough data about China to give lie to its own prevarications, and use that data to undermine China’s propaganda. The challenge, of course, is how to collect that data if China really doesn’t want you to do so.
When I began covering China and writing a monthly newsletter in the early 1990s (the long-gone and unmourned “China Business and Economic Review,”) daily coverage of the region was scant and very general. As late as 1996, I was able to keep a weekly clippings file on all China coverage in the mainstream english media. (I did this with scissors, glue, and manila folders.)
Things have changed. Coverage of China has exploded, and keeping up with it all is a job I now leave to professional clipping services. But those services, whatever their virtues, do not give me or anyone an idea of what in this avalanche of copy is important, or how it all fits together.
For the past 18 months, Bill Bishop has tried to do that and more with his outstanding Sinocism newsletter. Fluent in Chinese and able to read through both the mass of English and Chinese coverage, Bill has provided a daily roundup of all of the news worth reading on China, curating all sources, clustering them as topics, and adding his own thoughtful annotations that put everyting into context.
For many of us, his was a vital resource. We stepped out into the day fortified with at least a feel for how things were going in China, all without having to slog through our RSS feeds or a stack of newspapers. Given how fast things move in China, that daily feel for the market was a lifeline for those of us whose jobs depend on knowing what is going on.
Today that all ends.
Despite having over 14,000 email subscribers, such a tiny percentage of those readers actually paid the paltry $5 per month for the service that Bill could not make a go of it. Bill has folded the daily publication, returned any prepaid subscription fees (did I mention he’s a mensch on top of everything else?), and out of pure passion has gone to a weekly publication.
China is a vexing place, I suspect no less for Chinese than for those of us born in parts far flung from the People’s Republic.
No single viewpoint will ever be sufficient to understand this complex place. But to lose the glasses provided by an astute observer like Bill Bishop is a mighty loss indeed.
I hope he will find some other way to continue his service, and that more of us will see fit to dig deep and support it. I fear, however, that Bill is destined to have his insights privatized and put to work for a small coterie of wealth managers and high net worth clients.
He would only be continuing a trend. One by one, the wiser heads on China have been snapped up by organizations willing to pay them for their insights. In the process, they have either slowed their published sharing, curtailed it, or placed it behind a paywall. Those wise heads receive the compensation they richly deserve. We, on the other hand, are left at a growing disadvantage to those of greater means.
This is something for us to contemplate the next time a Bill Bishop comes along. We can either shell out to support wisdom and insight, or we can lose out to those who will.