In a short parable titled "A Message from the Emperor," the early 20th century German-language writer Franz Kafka describes the process by which a herald relays a message from a dying Chinese emperor to the outer provinces of the empire. It turns out that the empire is so huge that the herald could spend his entire life trying to make his way to the distant hinterland.
Throughout history, China's rulers have struggled to get reliable data about its vast and diverse population. The late Chinese historian Ray Huang noted that classical China failed to develop the administrative institutions necessary to make it "mathematically manageable." Local leaders fabricated and reported rosy facts to the capital for personal ends. The inability of the state to gather reliable data precluded the development of capitalism and China's modernization.