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Earthquakes, Floods, Vanishing Schools & Missing Kids: The Year’s Top Data Journalism from China


Screenshot: NDB

Interactive pages, 3D maps, integrated reports, games, videos, ink wash drawings and elements from the comics — you name it and they’re doing it in Chinese data journalism. As the technology for data visualization swiftly advances, various media platforms in the region are serving up seriously beautiful — and seriously impressive — presentations.

GIJN invited data scientists and experts who have focused on data journalism for years to select the most noteworthy data journalism of 2018. The selection criteria included the ability to reveal new events or facts, thoroughly explain the meaning of a concept, the use of advanced technology and aesthetic design.

Data journalism trainer Ma Jinxin shared her observations on the region’s current data journalism: “What is really interesting is the growth of new trends. For example, the community building of Data Warrior(数据侠), Guyu Data’s (谷雨数据)cooperation model, the commercialization of digital visualization, The Paper’s(澎湃新闻)Paike(湃客) Column. These new attempts are quite interesting.”

Veteran journalist Ying Chan said she’s noted a rise in the diversity of the sources of digital data, including data collected from official websites, commercial databases and the public documents of listed companies. There are also data from media gathering websites, as well as individuals and organizations who are collecting data and building databases for analysis and visualization.

“The outside world often believes there is a lack of data in Mainland China,” Chan said. “In fact, with the marketization of the economy and the government’s promotion of digitization policies, there has been a large amount of data emerging in China, with rich stories remaining to be discovered.”

The Truth About Anbang

Caixin Data Visualization Lab(财新数据可视化实验室) and Data Works(数可视) Joint Production

In April 2017, Caixin reporter Guo Tingbing published a cover story in Weekly Caixin, “Looking Through Anbang’s Magic.” The story revealed that behind the 37 shareholders of the company, 86 individuals could be traced from 101 different companies — all of them relatives of Wu Xiaohui, the head of the Anbang Insurance Group in Zhejiang.

Through an investment scheme which bloated the company’s capital, Wu was suspected of — and later prosecuted for — misusing company funds.

Meanwhile, “Disclosing the Truth About Anbang’s Self-Injection” was a collaboration between Caixin Data Visualisation Lab and Data Works, where they showed the intricate details of the investigation through a data visualization. For their work, the Caixin Data Visualization Lab was the first Chinese media house to receive the 2018 Data Journalism Award for best data journalism team.

Memories of Wenchuan

The Paper(澎湃新闻)Production

On May 12, 2008, a 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck Yingxiu Town, Wenchuan County, about 80 kilometres northwest of Chengdu. According to a report from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, as of September 18, 2008, 69,277 people died, 374,643 were injured and 17,824 were still missing. On September 4, 2008, the State Council Information Office announced that direct economic losses amounted to 845.1 billion yuan. Grief became the keyword for Wenchuan in 2008.

The Paper used interactive pages to produce a user-based data story. Readers could state their locations when the earthquake occurred, and express their feelings about the earthquake. There were love stories, stories about rushing to the disaster area to help others; some told of preparing for their college entrance examination or donating money or stories of the lost elderly people. The various stories merge on the final page where all the feelings during the earthquake are represented.

National Treasures

Caixin Data Visualization Lab Production

At the end of 2017 and early 2018, CCTV’s premier TV show “National Treasures” cooperated with nine national museums, including the Palace Museums, inviting 27 curators and collectors of the country’s national treasures to tell stories about what the museums have in their archives, using documentary techniques and stage performances.  Caixin’s project of “National Treasures in the Museum” (paywall) is a visual interpretation of what has helped fuel a cultural revival.

Screenshot: The Paper

Flooding in the Mihe River

The Paper (澎湃新闻) Production

In August 2018, many areas in Shandong suffered from heavy rains due to Tropical Storm Rumbia. According to Guangming Online, heavy rain caused the steep rise of the storage water level in the Yeyuan Reservoir, the Tangshuiya Reservoir and the Heihushan Reservoir in the upper reaches of the Mihe River Basin. When water levels hit their maximum, the local government decided to release dams, and several villages along the river were flooded.

The Paper produced an illustration of the flood, explaining the path of the water and the damage on the affected area, as well as a timeline and the impact the damage had on the local communities. The visualization team collected data on water storage from the Provincial Hydrographic Bureau and explained the changes in storage capacity of three major reservoirs during that time period. They also checked the changes in the prices of wholesale vegetables from ShouGuang Administration for Commodity Prices and most vegetables prices showed a clear upward trend.

Uncovering Kidnapping Routes

Data Works and Gu Yu Lab(谷雨实验室)Joint Production

Through the mining and analysis of data on the “Baby Coming Home” platform — currently the largest public website for missing children — along with data from the Ministry of Public Security, the most common routes used by kidnappers were uncovered.

The Incomplete Archives of Missing Children

DY Data (镝次元) Production

Also using the “Baby Coming Home” website for missing children, DY Data’s project, “The Tears of Tearing: Incomplete Archives of Missing Children in China” combines infographics and videos to tell a story in three chapters. In the first, readers can check the figures of missing children via various categories, such as the gender of the children, the month of disappearance, the year and their ages. In the second, the producer interviews the parents of the missing children, as well as volunteers, rescue workers, academics and officials in the Ministry of Public Security. The final chapter is a searchable database produced by the team based on the platforms to collect data by province, gender and year.

Screenshot: NDB

A Lonely Business

Daily Economic News(每日经济新闻) Production

Using data from the National Bureau of Statistics, the book Stories of China’s Empty Nest Youth and the “Lonely Economy White Paper,” the Daily Economic News’ Number Gallery found that the number of single young adults who had moved out of their hometowns had reached 58 million. Those singles gave birth to a “lonely” business of eating alone, watching movies alone, mini KTV boxes (Chinese karaoke booths), small household appliances and solo travel. The project features the daily life of every lonely man and woman in the city, using a variety of infographics to show readers they are not alone!

How 916,000 Primary Schools Disappeared

NetEase Data(网易数读) Production

From 1976 to 2016, 916,000 primary schools disappeared in China. From the millions of primary schools before the “reform and opening up” period in the 1970’s, the number of primary schools in the country has dropped to less than 200,000. Data Blog collected and analyzed data from the China Education Statistical Yearbook and confirmed that the issue may pose serious consequences to education.

Data Blog further analyzed the the areas where the schools disappeared; finding that those with the sharpest decline were mainly in the rural areas. Various factors were attributed to the drop, such as the spike in the number primary schools during the “Cultural Revolution,” the family planning policy of 1982 — which led to a drop in school-aged children — as well as a policy from the 1990’s of combining schools.

Fan Bingbing’s Company Network

A Melon Elf (微信公众号“一头倭瓜精”)Production

Complex data journalism isn’t only being produced by China’s major media platforms; enthusiastic fans of data are also producing it. A great example of that is the “Fan Bingbing’s Company Network” which was produced by two college students. The duo focused on TianYanCha, a public platform which provides company information. They found out that Fan Bingbing was the “legal representative for five companies, with shares in a total of 13 companies.” This huge network aroused their curiosity. They referred to the company’s prospectus and collected materials about the group to make visualized chart to outline Fan Bingbing‘s investment landscape, acquisition cases, capital flows and their related interests.

This piece was assembled by the GIJN in Chinese team and translated by Sharon Tan.

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