Lost in translation

More than 10 years ago, Forbes reported:

China Daily reported Friday that unnatural deaths have taken the lives of 72 mainland billionaires over the past eight years. (Do the math.)

Which means that if you’re one of China’s 115 current billionaires, as listed on the 2011 Forbes Billionaires List, you should be more than a little nervous.

I seem to recall that I criticized this article, but I cannot find the post. In any case, it’s hard to keep down fake news. Just a couple months ago the Financial Times repeated this nonsense:

Citing statistics from the Chinese press, the article pointed out that 72 of the country’s billionaires had died premature deaths in the previous eight years. The original piece in China Daily, which is published by the Communist party, provided the details: “Among the 72 billionaires, 15 were murdered, 17 committed suicide, seven died from accidents, 14 were executed according to the law and 19 died from diseases.”

Doesn’t the FT have a fact checker?

This is from the original China Daily story from 2011:

Since 2003, 72 billionaires in the Chinese mainland have died an unnatural death, the Changchun-based New Culture News reported Friday. . . .

Among the 72 billionaires, 15 were murdered, 17 committed suicide, seven died from accidents, 14 were executed according to the law and 19 died from diseases.

There were approximately 60,000 people with 100 million yuan in the Chinese mainland at the end of 2010, according to the GroupM Knowledge – Hurun Wealth Report 2011.

So all of this comes from the obscure New Culture News. Let’s take a closer look.

The first problem is that Forbes refers to the fact that in 2011 China had 115 US dollar billionaires, whereas the New Culture News is referring to yuan billionaires. A billion yuan is more like 150 million US dollars.

The second problem is that the article cites the fact that back in 2011 there were 60,000 people with 100 million in wealth. But 100 million yuan is not a billion. The most likely explanation for this discrepancy is that round numbers are defined differently in China. In the West, a thousand, a million, and a billion are considered focal points. In China the basic units are a hundred (bai), ten thousand (wan), and a hundred million (yi). A Chinese newspaper aimed at a local audience would be unlikely to use the term “billionaire” unless perhaps referring to a Western concept, like US dollar billionaires. Certainly not for a wealthy Chinese person.

So they are almost certainly referring to people with a net worth of at least $15,000,000. And 72 premature deaths among 60,000 people is much less shocking that 72 deaths among 187 people (leaving 115 survivors.)

Think about this logically. Does it really seem likely that 72 of 187 Chinese dollar billionaires would have suffered premature deaths in a brief period of time and only the “New Culture News” would have noticed the problem? These people are celebrities, and their lifestyles are widely reported on both in and out of China.

In fact, the Chinese new story is almost useless. It’s not clear that a single Chinese US dollar billionaire has suffered a premature death. I suspect a few have, as China occasionally executes a businessman for corruption. But the article cited by both Forbes and the FT doesn’t tell us anything useful.

PS. I’d like to thank my wife for help with the Chinese numbering system.

HT: Jordan Schneider



25 Responses to “Lost in translation”

  1. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullian Patrick R. Sullian
    21. January 2022 at 10:40

    Review of ‘ Money Illusion: Market Monetarism, the Great Recession, and the Future of Monetary Policy.’ by
    Joaqim Book:


    ‘Given the explosive arguments and spicy rejection of mostly every other economist, the tone of Money Illusion is surprisingly calm and well-mannered.

    ‘“Nothing is as it seems in the world of money,” Sumner concludes, and worse so as of late. In his grand attempt at rectifying the many blunders in understanding the Great Recession, there’s something for everyone to learn.’

  2. Gravatar of mira mira
    22. January 2022 at 08:21

    There’s a lot of trash stats about China out there, Scott. I’m not sure it’s worth the time debunking all of them, anyone with a brain knows they haven’t lost half their billionaires in the last 8 years

  3. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. January 2022 at 08:38

    Thanks Patrick.

    Mira, Yes, but I sort of expect more from the Financial Times. (Less so from Forbes.)

  4. Gravatar of Brandon Berg Brandon Berg
    22. January 2022 at 08:55

    New Culture News (新文化报) seems to have shut down in 2020, and archiving wasn’t working in 2011, so I wasn’t able to find the original story. Their web site was http://www.xwh.cn.

    Here’s a contemporary Chinese story, though: https://www.epochtimes.com/gb/11/7/22/n3322843.htm. The term used is 亿万富翁, which, as you suggested, means someone with a net worth of 100 million yuan or more.

  5. Gravatar of Rinat Rinat
    22. January 2022 at 10:56

    Are you also going to fact check the NYT, CNN, FOX, NPR and Biden, when they make up stories, omit data, limit the market place of ideas, centralize industry through subsidization and regulation, and promote tyrannical propositions such as “hate speech lists” that threaten the inalienable?

    Or do you only target stories that are unfavorable to the CCP?

    The CCP is the most corrupt, tyrannical, and disgusting regime on the face of the earth. They make Kim Jong Un, and his train of 15 year old virgins, look like little babies. They don’t just “kill the corrupt”, (which, by the way is a violation of the inalienable right to due process) as you allude too; rather they go after anyone who is in their way: including, but not limited too, businessesmen who speak out against the destruction of individual rights (jimmy lai), people who own property and land that is in the way of a new development complex, and anyone else who might pose a threat to their great firewall of propaganda (Jack Ma’s sudden rise or a tennis player who speaks out). If you are a nobody, you are never seen again. If you are a somebody, you are “reeducated”. If you look different (uighyers), you might be ordered to marry a han chinese or spend your days in prison.

    Centralizing government is a BAD solution to the centralization of industry. One cannot solve the tyrannical MNC problem by creating a tyrannical state. The fact that you continually allude to China as the neo-symbol of “good governance” is in itself evidence that you have no historical understanding.

    In summary, the CCP propaganda machine is the greatest threat to humanity since Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and attacking the FT for making an error (wittingly or unwittingly) doesn’t minimize that threat.

  6. Gravatar of ankh ankh
    22. January 2022 at 12:43

    It’s called criticism Mira, not “trash talk”. Are you an academic or a street thug? Did you learn anything about word choice in eight years of schooling?

    The U.S. is in worse shape than I thought.

    Your people better keep voting for businessmen, as you did in Virginia, because your academics & mba’s are mega dummies.

  7. Gravatar of Henry Henry
    22. January 2022 at 13:04


    Ah yes, Sumner’s propaganda articles are back. Once a month, he writes an article that tries to show how wonderful and amazing China is, lol.

    But as you can see, tyrannical thinkers on the left – like sumner – all think alike. Take this article, for example, that calls for senators to be “punished” because they didn’t follow the “party line”.

    Thinking for yourself is now a crime.

    I remember this exact line of thinking in Fidel’s Cuba, Mao’s China, and Stalinist Russia. It didn’t end well for the majority, but it did create a nice life for government officials and the influencers who were LOYAL to the party line.

  8. Gravatar of nick nick
    22. January 2022 at 13:19

    Sumtard’s WEF cabal boyfriend and prime minitard in France gets destroyed by Croatian liberty lover


    The CABAL is trying to take us out. Stop the Schwab/Sumner/Gates & their minions before it’s too late.

  9. Gravatar of Jayne Jayne
    22. January 2022 at 21:21

    CNN and the Guardian, two of the worlds largest neo-communist networks, said 270 doctors signed a letter requesting that Rogan be canceled. It turns out that of the supposed 250, fewer than 10 are doctors.

    Still no retraction for that fake news story. And still no mention of the 10,000 + real doctors who signed the great barrington declaration.

    We could play this fake news game all day. What is your next brilliant post? I am waiting with bated breath.

  10. Gravatar of Farrell Farrell
    23. January 2022 at 06:42

    I was with the post until the questionable hand wavy reference to the execution of businessmen. Like it was non-controversial.

  11. Gravatar of Farrell Farrell
    23. January 2022 at 06:47

    Having said that, I agree with the ‘conspiracy theory’ that large cap news sites like Forbes and FT are pushers of fake news.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. January 2022 at 09:17

    Farrell, Every media outlet pushes “fake news” on occasion.

    And what does “hand wavy” mean? Are you suggesting that I approve of executions for corruption?

  13. Gravatar of Rinat Rinat
    23. January 2022 at 14:17

    You can see the propaganda in real time. Take a moment to google Robert F. Kennedy jr today.

    Top two articles, 1/23, on the search engine google, are “Forbes” and the “The Washington Post”.

    Now let’s take a look at the titles.

    Forbes title: “RFK jr, Lara Logan speaking at anti vaccine mandate protest in D.C.”

    – Relatively reasonable and objective title. Pretty accurate & informative. Unfortunetly, the body of the article is not so accurate. The journalist at forbes viciously attacks Robert Malone, claiming his line of thinking is “false” despite not having any medical expertise. The journalist omits key information such as Malones many PCR patents, the fact that thousands upon thousands of scientists agree with him, and the fact that we have a raging debate in the medical community at all levels over this expiremental vaccine. It’s not “settled science”.

    Now let’s look at the propaganda outlet “The Washington Post”.

    WP’s title: “A different Kennedy – the anti-vaxxer – is coming to march on Washington this weekend.

    – Hmm..very interesting. Look at how they try to label him not only as an “anti-vaxxer”, but also a “different Kennedy”. In other words, they imply that you should not view him as a beloved populist kennedy, and that because he is a wacko kennedy you should ignore all of the data he presents.

    Additionally, look at how the left changes the definition of words to fit their needs. This, of course, is a marxist concept. Let’s take a look at the word anti-vaxxer.

    The word anti-vaxxer was primarily used to define those who were opposed to ALL vaccines, of ALL kinds, in ALL cirumstances. But if you are against this vaccine because it doesn’t have the same historical record of efficacy and safety, the left now places you into the “anti-vaxx” category. Why the shift? Because the term “anti-vaxx” is now a part of people’s muscle memory, and so the best way to denigrate someone’s message is to label them crazy. This is a concerted effort to isolate a subsection of society and/or diminish the data presented by a particular individual or individuals, and to hide independent data from arising to the publics attention.

    But I suggest taking this one step further. Let’s look at all of the media outlets currently subscribed to the WEF’s “trusted news intitiative”. What does that mean? It means they have agreed, in principal, to align themselves with the WEF agenda (e.g, publish that which aligns with the WEF’s version of truth). And for those of you who think this is conspiracy, I encourage you to stop watching bucks games, or movies, as Sumner likes to do, and read what the WEF prints. This is not hidden information or wild speculation, rather it is all out in the open. Notice how all of these particular outlets use the same variations of the Washington Posts title. Doesn’t anyone else think it is extremely interesting that a coalition of news agencies – supposedly independent – all have the same variation, and all express the same sentiment?

    Imagine twenty students turning in the same essay, with all variations of the same title. Would it not strike you as odd?

    FT’s numerical blunder should be the least of our concerns.

  14. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    24. January 2022 at 09:40

    I tend to not read essays from certain publications. Maybe Forbes was good at one time, but today it is just another noise machine. It is a simple heuristic I developed over time just based on experience. I am sure I miss some decent stories, but I probably would have seen them elsewhere. Surprisingly, I still read most of Scott’s essays. 🙂

  15. Gravatar of Harry Harry
    24. January 2022 at 10:27


    Good to see dawkins finally speaking out. Will other radicals, like Sumner, finally see the light?

    Sumner says “words are just words” in his other poorly written blog: the econlog, or econlosers….I forgot the URL.

    Words are not just words. If words were just words, Hitler, one of the world’s greatest orators, would not have obtained the majority of votes in 1933. If words were just words, nobody would care if their speech was silenced; after all, according to Sumner they are just petty little things that can be ignored.

    Words do matter. They are the most powerful weapon we have against tyranny. They are the very foundation of self expression. Only tyrannical thugs create lists of words you cannot use.

  16. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    24. January 2022 at 15:51

    It seems crazy that a story this wrong with such serious implications written in periodicals with such large readership could go so long without a retraction. Wow.

  17. Gravatar of Farrell Farrell
    24. January 2022 at 16:49

    “Farrell, Every media outlet pushes “fake news” on occasion.”

    Yes but the key is to look how each media outlet reacts to having their information corrected, and whether they intentionally push fake news which can be gleaned from their track record. Some media outlets push fake news all the time, but thankfully their viewership is collapsing.

    If a media outlet buries a correction in a place where it has the lowest probability of being viewed, or if the corrections are completely ignored and go unacknowledged, with the original error remaining, that tells us the intention of the editors.

    “And what does “hand wavy” mean? Are you suggesting that I approve of executions for corruption?”

    The way it was written, it read like it was trivializing it, a “no big deal”, ‘meh’, Hannah Arendt “Banality of Evil” kind of way. I don’t normally see such casual references to executions, maybe I’m just naive…
    I tried to find a food definition for it, found this:

  18. Gravatar of Farrell Farrell
    24. January 2022 at 17:09

    I am interested to learn what monetary experts think about Joe Biden’s response to a question of whether inflation is a political liability (for the mid terms). Biden caught on hot mic saying in reply:

    “It’s a great asset, inflation. What a stupid son of a bitch.”


    If you were an advisor to Biden, apart from advising on the questionable decorum in calling a member of the press a “stupid son of a bitch”, what would you recommend? (looking for something other than “High consumer price inflation being a bad thing is Russia propaganda”, not that I am expecting that)

  19. Gravatar of nick nick
    24. January 2022 at 18:14

    Great news for liberty lovers.

    Sumtard lost in NY today. State Supreme court strikes down his tyrannical mask mandate, which forced New Yorkers to breathe cloth bacteria up their noses. Thug boy and petty tyrant Scott “CCP” Sumner refused to permit legislators to do their jobs, and instead chose to use an apparatchiks pen to force his view upon everyone else.


    He’s still trying to pick a fight with Russians, Indians and Tawianese, but the world is waking up to his CCP/WEF/NATO thuggery.

  20. Gravatar of Anon Anon
    24. January 2022 at 19:23

    Offtopic question, but I read your article about expanding the 401k to be unlimited and no withdrawl penalty. What would be the immediate economic impacts of such an idea, such as the impact on growth rates and the deficit?
    I think that trillions of dollars going into savings would be placed into investment causing a goods boom in the US and limiting the trade deficit, and might increase growth rates but I am not sure of what the full implications would be. We are often told that China’s economic miracle is due to their high savings rates, and I think that sharply increasing US savings rates might help us with our stagnant growth.
    Also, in a political sense, having people with trillions of dollars in their accounts would make it very difficult for Democrats to expand government much, since it would be difficult to touch that money and the increased net wealth might make more people conservative.
    What do you think?

  21. Gravatar of Johannes Johannes
    25. January 2022 at 09:39

    Yeah, at this point the WEF’s propaganda is extremely obvious.

    Emirates didn’t want to fly to some U.S. cities over possible 5G complications, so the “trusted news initiative” now attacks the Emirates – in unison – for asking their staff to please lose weight.

    There is no airline in the world, outside of the hyper sensitive U.S. and E.U., that hires ugly woman to represent their company. Contrary to popular belief, flight attendants don’t just serve food and drinks. They also represent the airlines marketing image. If you don’t want to be at a healthy weight, wear makeup, and have your hair done up, don’t apply.

    The emirates has no obligation to hire fat lards.

  22. Gravatar of Henry Henry
    25. January 2022 at 10:57

    Like Sumner, it appears the Biden administration is also favoring CCP style governance.

    The government has now created what they call “employee religious exception request information system”, which seeks to track and trace all individuals who file for an exemption.

    Why would the United States government seek to create a database of those who apply for religious exemption?

    When they say that this information will be transferred to other agencies, what does that mean exactly? Which agencies? What is the purpose? How will the information be used?

    Of course, we never get answers to those questions. And we probably won’t until those folks find themselves at a reeducation camp, harrassed by the IRS, terminated from thier jobs, placed on the no fly list, or investigated on some other trumped up charge.

    The left is moving towards totalitarianism, and the midterms is our last chance to stop them. It’s time to bring America back to the middle & stand up to the mentally sick academics. Commie thugs are not welcome at our universities.

  23. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. January 2022 at 12:31

    Carl, Farrell would say there’s no media retraction because the media thinks it’s “no big deal”. Unlike the media, I think it is a big deal.

    Farrell, I have no idea what you mean by “the way it was written”. I simply said that China occasionally executes people for corruption. That’s a factual statement that happens to be true. Where did I say I approve? It’s so obviously a cruel policy that I didn’t think I needed to insult my readers’ intelligence by adding “and that’s a bad thing.” But going forward maybe I do need to state the obvious.

    Anon, It would probably boost saving (and shrink the CA deficit), but I’m not sure by how much.

  24. Gravatar of Farrell Farrell
    25. January 2022 at 17:44

    “But going forward maybe I do need to state the obvious.”

    After the flippant reply trivializing satanic pedophile cults, maybe reader’s intelligence does need to be insulted. But again, I’m probably just too naive to get it.

  25. Gravatar of Farrell Farrell
    25. January 2022 at 17:45

    “Farrell would say there’s no media retraction because the media thinks it’s “no big deal”. Unlike the media, I think it is a big deal.”

    On the contrary, I would say that when there is no retraction it’s likely because the source wants its readers to believe the lie.

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