Friday, April 04, 2014

How many were at the 3/30 protest? Thank god we have the establishment media to tell us +UPDATED+

Great Sunflower links at the bottom, don't miss 'em. On to WSJ's bizarre estimate of the crowd last weekend....

How many were at the 3/30 protest? Thank god we have the establishment media to tell us, otherwise we might believe the horrible crowd organizers and civic groups. WSJ China Realtime blog decided to tell us how many people attended the 3/30 protest with predictably political results....
Like Mr. Jacobs, student organizers in Taipei also used overhead photos, though they were somewhat less precise in analyzing them. According to Chen Rui-Guang, a representative of the protesters, students compared images of Sunday’s protest to those of the “Red Shirt” protests in 2006. Police had said that those protests drew 360,000 at their height, while organizers claimed the number was more than one million.

“We came to our estimate through observations on the scene and by comparing the pictures to previous protests,” Mr. Chen said. “We believe this is the biggest protest in Taiwan’s history.”

While the police approach is more systematic, the Jacobs method has its limits. Estimating the crowd density is difficult as crowds are not usually uniform.

Based on the surface area of the streets involved in Sunday’s gathering, its seem unlikely that half a million people showed up. There simply isn’t enough space for that many people. But there are reasons to doubt the government number as well: A police official told China Real Time the official estimate only included the main streets because it was impossible to tell if people in other places were part of the protest or just onlookers.

Even if only a fraction of those occupying the side streets were protesters, than 116,000 is likely too low.

For its part, the Associated Press estimated Sunday’s crowd size at 200,000. That’s not a mind-blowing number in Taiwan. But, for authorities in Beijing and Taipei, it’s not an insignificant one either.
The piece sets up a  false dichotomy and then reaches for the false middle to create false balance. An ugly example of establishment media ideological politics at its best. The WSJ even says the crowd organizers were "somewhat less precise" in analyzing their pictures, a remark comical in light of WSJ's failure. In fact those "imprecise" crowd organizers did a much better job than either AP or WSJ, as we shall shortly see.

I wasn't there, but I sent my son who took piles of images with his phone camera. I know his images were good and his reporting was good, because a major newspaper put both his images and words in one of its news reports, and one of the TV stations featured a couple of his images in its reporting on the rally (yeah, that's right, nine years on this blog and not one appearance in the local media, and my son puts up a few smartphone pics and shoots right in *sigh*). My son is also a veteran rally attender and reported that this was the biggest rally he had ever attended. In fact, that was the most common comment on the protest: it was the "biggest I ever attended". It was enormous and it sprawled. 200,000 is a ridiculously lowball figure. Naturally it is from AP, which has a long history of lowballing Taiwan protests (for example).

The WSJ piece positions itself wrongly in two ways. First, it erects a false polarity between between the civic group estimate and the police estimate. This was an entirely political and ideological move on WSJ's part. The civic group estimate was 500,000, but this was not the biggest estimate. Some of the media outlets had over 700,000. This falsely encourages the reader to think that 500,000 is an outlier figure, when in fact it is a moderate figure which also appeared in the pro-KMT China Post and the non-partisan Apply Daily. By positioning it as a police vs civic groups issue, the WSJ also removes the fact that non-partisan and pro-KMT sources also gave that figure, thus making it seem like each end is equally ideological. This creates a false credibility for AP's nonsense figure. Wrong!

Thanks guys, with reporting like this, blogs will always be in demand.

Speaking of blogging, one of the reasons I put up 5000 posts on this blog is because I like putting resources out there for others to use. It just so happens that I was at a rally several years ago when 130K showed on that exact spot. I pointed to counting methodologies in a related post. In fact, using that post it would have been possible to get some idea of the size of the 3/30 protest. The reporter at WSJ obviously attempted to use some kind of methodology, but failed.

I knew there had been at least 500,000 because I was in touch with many, many people at the rally and was able to follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and other media as it sprawled. At the 2008 rally as the crowd passed through a tight street bottleneck I sectioned it off, estimated the number of people in several sections, then counted the number of people marching in my wing. I eventually arrived at 50K for my wing and 130-140K for the rally. That rally did not sprawl into any of the streets this one did, nor did it cover the nearby parks and the CKS memorial. I knew that this had to be the biggest rally in the capital's history, probably at least 3X the size of the 2008 rally. Hence I knew the 500,000 was a credible estimate, not an ideological construct as WSJ presented it -- the ideological construct was in fact WSJ's presentation.

Here are some simple rules of the thumb for rally estimation in Taiwan:

1. Multiply the AP claim by 3. That will give you a good ballpark estimate.

2. 4 people per square meter in that post. Or the Jacobs method which you can easily find on the internet.

3. A former police rule of the thumb, in that post above: 40,000 per kilometer. Do your own calculation, here's a Google map link to Ketagalan Blvd. Streets which the rally was on are listed below...

The key is not only methodology but also making sure you understand where the crowd was. Leiven Hwang, an architect and acquaintance, posted this on Facebook which is a nice conservative estimate:

There has been some dispute about the numbers for yesterday's protest in Taipei, so I thought I'd offer my own calculation based on the estimates below:

Ketagalan Blvd.
50m wide x 90m long
100 people across, 50cm deep per person
18,000 people
Turnover: 1.2
27,000 people

景福門Traffic Circle
50m radius = 7,854m2
15m median = 706m2
clear path between 25m radius and 30m radius = 2,827m2 - 1,964m2 = 863m2
70cm2 per person
7,854m2 - 706m2 - 863m2 = 6,285m2
12,830 people
Turnover: 2
25,660 people

Renai Rd.
50m wide x 200m long
80 people across, 1m deep per person
16,000 people
Turnover: 2.5
40,000 people

Xinyi Rd.
50m wide x 200m long
80 people across, 1m deep per person
16,000 people
Turnover: 2.5
40,000 people

Zhongshan S. Rd. north of traffic circle to Zhongxiao E. Rd.
70m wide x 700m long
80 people across, 1m deep per person
56,000 people
Turnover: 2
112,000 people

Zhongshan S. Rd. south of traffic circle to Aiguo E. Rd.
50m wide x 400m long
80 people across, 1m deep per person
32,000 people
Turnover: 2
64,000 people

Jinan Rd.
25m wide x 360m long
40 people across, 50cm deep per person
28,800 people
Turnover: 1.2
34,560 people

Qingdao E. Rd.
20m wide x 360m long
30 people across, 50cm deep per person
21,600 people
Turnover: 1.2
25,920 people

Qingdao W. Rd.
20m wide x 190m long
30 people across, 1m deep per person
5,700 people
Turnover: 2
11,400 people

Zhejiang St.
10m wide x 110m long
10 people across, 1m deep per person
1,100 people
Turnover: 2
2,200 people

Gongyuan Rd.
20m wide x 560m long
20 people across, 1m deep per person
11,200 people
Turnover: 2
22,400 people

Changde St.
15m wide x 190m long
20 people across, 1m deep per person
3,800 people
Turnover: 2
7,600 people

This estimate totals 412,740 in the traffic-controlled protest area between 1PM - 8PM.

The estimates for most of the above areas are taken from personal observation as well as a review of available photographs. However,Gongyuan Rd., Changde St., and Qingdao W. Rd. are just blind estimates, as I was not in those areas and could not find photos of them which would provide a good estimate of numbers.

Note that in the WSJ piece and in Hwang's piece, there is no estimate of the people at CKS Memorial and and note also that the rally sprawled beyond the police barriers (Hwang said he counted those as turnover people). It's pretty obvious that 500,000 is a good moderate figure.

UPDATE: Working on getting some pics of the peace park, which was packed as well and is not in anyone's estimate. Here is one.

If you're on Facebook, this video is great.

UPDATE: Also want to add -- the importance of numbers is right here. Shannon Tiezzi of The Diplomat interviews Bonnie Glaser of CSIS on video, which generally takes a corporate establishment line. Tiezzi forthrightly declares that several hundred thousand protesters rallied on Mar 30. Good work, Ms Tiezzi.
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Joel Linton said...

Qingdao Road was so full, they were turning people away and asking them to head to the overflow space at Liberty Square. We tried to go in from the Linsen South Road side a little after 4 in the afternoon. This is not counting the crowds streaming back and forth along Linsen South Road.

Anonymous said...

last line: tade pact - trade pact

great writing, as always

STOP Ma said...

Check out this awesome flyover video of the protesters. This thing may go viral!


Mike Fagan said...

Are there police restrictions on using balloon-based aerial photography to help with crowd-size estimation?

That would be the obvious method to use, assuming you can get sufficient altitude without wind interference.

Anonymous said...

Most of 3/30 participants are white collar and students. 17 major labor unions have just issued a join statement in support of students. Looks like there will be a march on 5/1. If this crisis is not solved soon. There will be more than 1 million people in the next demonstration.

Ma is running out of time.

Mike Fagan said...

"Ma is running out of time."

Before what?

Are there other scenarios beyond him being forcibly removed by his own party, or impeached in a cross-party motion?

TaiwanJunkie said...

The huge gap between police estimate and the reality is symbolic of the reach of the KMT apparatus within civil institutions that other normal democratic societies take for granted elsewhere as nonpartisan and neutral entities.

This is why there is so much public distrust of government.

Taiwan is definitely not yet a true democracy, more work has yet to be done.

A nanotizen said...

Where can I see the photos and words of your son?

Michael Turton said...

Cant see my son's words. They were under his online ID.

Thanks Joel.

Anonymous said...

I wrote the comments that "Ma is running out of time" before Wang shows up on LY.

I still standby this statement. Here is my reasoning.

Ma wants two things:
1. 歷史地位: He has achieved it but not in the way that he wanted. I don't think China wants to invest in him anymore.

2. Avoid going to jail after he leave presidency: Ma has mishandle the student movement from the start. He can still mess up big time on how to end the student movement. We will know by tonight(4/7). The possibility of KMT losing big at the election this year is getting more and more likely. If that happen, KMT will need to take drastic action. What might seem impossible now can happen by that time.

The call for independent (台灣獨立) use to be the fading dream of DPP old guard. Within a 21 days period, this topic is now been openly discussed by the young students. No one expected it.

Ma is the best gift that Taiwan democracy ever received. He has single handed achieve what many people in green camp can only dream of. This is a very strange world.