[Book Talk] Making It Count: Statistics and Statecraft in the Early People’s Republic of China

Introduction to ‘Inter-Asia Book Talk Series’

The Arabia-Asia cluster was established with the unique and vital mission of developing an Asia-centric view of the Middle East. Eschewing the conventional area-studies framework, we explore the overlapping ideas, people, commodities and histories that inextricably tie together these seemingly distant geographies. In furthering this mission, we kickstart an ‘Inter-Asia Book Talk Series’ with authors of notable new books offering innovative, comparative and connective approaches to inter-Asian studies. Ideally, we hope that our audience attend the webinar having read the assigned text to have an in-depth discussion with the author on furthering the Arabia-Asia mission. However, we welcome everyone, regardless, to join the moderated online reading group on cutting-edge inter-Asian methodologies. It gives me great pleasure to inaugurate the series with
Dr. Arunabh Ghosh’s Making It Count: Statistics and Statecraft in the Early People’s Republic of China

In 1949, at the end of long periods of wars, one of the biggest challenges facing leaders of the new People’s Republic of China was how much they did not know. The government of one of the world’s largest nations was committed to fundamentally re-engineering its society and economy via socialist planning while having almost no reliable statistical data of the country. Making It Count is the history of efforts to resolve this “crisis in counting”. Drawing on a wealth of sources culled from China, India and the US, Arunabh Ghosh explores the choices made by political leaders, statisticians, academics, statistical workers and even literary figures in attempts to know the nation through numbers.

Ghosh shows that early reliance on Soviet-inspired methods of exhaustive enumeration became increasingly untenable in China by the mid-1950s. Unprecedented and unexpected exchanges with Indian statisticians followed, as the Chinese sought to learn about the then-exciting new technology of random sampling. These developments were overtaken by the tumult of the Great Leap Forward (1958–1961), when probabilistic and exhaustive methods were rejected and statistics was refashioned into an ethnographic enterprise. By acknowledging Soviet and Indian influences, Ghosh not only revises existing models of Cold War science but also globalises wider developments in the history of statistics and data.

Anchored in debates about statistics and its relationship to state building, Making It Count offers fresh perspectives on China’s transition to socialism.

Reading Suggestion: Introduction, Conclusion, and Chapter 7 (“Seeking Common Ground Amidst Differences: The Turn to India”)

Note: For those having difficulty accessing the text, please contact the series convenor, Dr. Ameem Lutfi at meial@nus.edu.sg

This public talk will be conducted online via Zoom on Wednesday, 19 May 2021, from 7.30pm to 9.00pm (SGT). All are welcome to participate. This event is free, however, registration is compulsory. Successful registrants will receive a confirmation email with the Zoom details closer to the date of the event.

For more infomation of the event please click on this link - https://mei.nus.edu.sg/event/making-it-count-statistics-and-statecraft-in-the-early-peoples-republic-of-china/

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