(Princeton University Press, 2020)
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In 1949, at the end of a long period 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 reengineering its society and economy via socialist planning while having almost no reliable statistical data about their own 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 United States, 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 (1958–61), 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 globalizes 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.
“A fascinating, original look at the role of statistics in the formation of the early socialist state in China, Making It Count makes an insightful, important contribution to early PRC studies. With impeccable scholarship and access to archives in China, India, and the West, this valuable book not only tells us much about China, but also contributes to our understanding of the history of global science in the twentieth century.”
– Peter C. Perdue, Yale University
Arunabh Ghosh is associate professor of history at Harvard University.