HONG KONG -- In the 1980s, when I was a Beijing-based correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, I had occasion to interview an official in Shanghai. How much of China's trade, I asked, pass through Shanghai? The official responded: "I don't think that figure has appeared in the newspapers."

That official was keeping himself from running afoul of China's numerous laws on state secrets. In fact, then -- and even now -- anything that has not appeared in the official press can be considered a state secret, no matter how innocuous.

Well, things are improving, we are told. Earlier this month, China announced that, from now on, the number of people killed in natural disasters will no longer be considered a state secret.