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The People’s Republic of China: 70 Years of Economic History

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View a high-resolution version of this graphic here.

70 Years of China’s Economic Growth in One Chart

Chart: 70 Years of China’s Economic Growth

View a high-resolution version of this graphic here.

From agrarian economy to global superpower in half a century—China’s transformation has been an economic success story unlike any other.

Today, China is the world’s second largest economy, making up 16% of $86 trillion global GDP in nominal terms. If you adjust numbers for purchasing power parity (PPP), the Chinese economy has already been the world’s largest since 2014.

The upward trajectory over the last 70 years has been filled with watershed moments, strategic directives, and shocking tragedies — and all of this can be traced back to the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on October 1st, 1949.

How the PRC Came to Be

The Chinese Civil War (1927–1949) between the Republic of China (ROC) and the Communist Party of China (CPC) caused a fractal split in the nation’s leadership. The CPC emerged victorious, and mainland China was established as the PRC.

Communist leader Mao Zedong set out a few chief goals for the PRC: to overhaul land ownership, to reduce social inequality, and to restore the economy after decades of war. The first State Planning Commission and China’s first 5-year plan were introduced to achieve these goals.

Today’s timely chart looks back on seven decades of notable events and policies that helped shape the country China has become. The base data draws from a graphic by Bert Hofman, the World Bank’s Country Director for China and other Asia-Pacific regions.

The Mao Era: 1949–1977

Mao Zedong’s tenure as Chairman of the PRC triggered sweeping changes for the country.

1953–1957: First 5-Year Plan
The program’s aim was to boost China’s industrialization. Steel production grew four-fold in four years, from 1.3 million tonnes to 5.2 million tonnes. Agricultural output also rose, but it couldn’t keep pace with industrial production.

1958–1962: Great Leap Forward
The campaign emphasized China’s agrarian-to-industrial transformation, via a communal farming system. However, the plan failed—causing an economic breakdown and the deaths of tens of millions in the Great Chinese Famine.

1959–1962: Lushan Conference and 7,000 Cadres meeting
Top leaders in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) met to create detailed policy frameworks for the PRC’s future.

1966–1976: Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
Mao Zedong attempted to regain power and support after the failures of the Great Leap Forward. However, this was another plan that backfired, causing millions more deaths by violence and again crippling the Chinese economy.

1971: Joined the United Nations
The PRC replaced the ROC (Taiwan) as a permanent member of the United Nations. This addition also made it one of only five members of the UN Security Council—including the UK, the U.S., France, and Russia.

1972: President Nixon’s visit
After 25 years of radio silence, Richard Nixon was the first sitting U.S. President to step foot into the PRC. This helped re-establish diplomatic relations between the two nations.

1976–1977: Mao Zedong Death, and “Two Whatevers”
After Mao Zedong’s passing, the interim government promised to “resolutely uphold whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made, and unswervingly follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave.”

1979: “One-Child Policy”
The government enacted an aggressive birth-planning program to control the size of the country’s population, which it viewed as growing too fast.

A Wave of Socio-Economic Reforms: 1980-1999

From 1980 onward, China worked on opening up its markets to the outside world, and closing the inequality gap.

1980–1984: Special Economic Zones (SEZs) established
Several cities were designated SEZs, and provided with measures such as tax incentives to attract foreign investment. Today, the economies of cities like Shenzhen have grown to rival the GDPs of entire countries.

1981: National Household Responsibility System implemented
In the Mao era, quotas were set on how many goods farmers could produce, shifting the responsibility of profits to local managers instead. This rapidly increased the standard of living, and the quota system spread from agriculture into other sectors.

1989: Coastal Development Strategy
Post-Mao leadership saw the coastal region as the potential “catalyst” for the entire country’s modernization.

1989–1991: Post-Tiananmen retrenchment
Early 1980s economic reforms had mixed results, and the growing anxiety eventually culminated in a series of protests. After tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square in 1989, the government “retrenched” itself by initially attempting to roll back economic reforms and liberalization. The country’s annual growth plunged from 8.6% between 1979-1989 to 6.5% between 1989-1991.

1990–1991: Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges open
Combined, the Shanghai (SSE) and Shenzhen (SZSE) stock exchanges are worth over $8.5 trillion in total market capitalization today.

1994: Shandong Huaneng lists on the NYSE
The power company was the first PRC enterprise to list on the NYSE. This added a new N-shares group to the existing Chinese capital market options of A-shares, B-shares, and H-shares.

1994–1996: National “8-7” Poverty Reduction Plan
China successfully lifted over 400 million poor people out of poverty between 1981 and 2002 through this endeavor.

1996: “Grasp the Large, Let Go of the Small”
Efforts were made to downsize the state sector. Policy makers were urged to maintain control over state-owned enterprises to “grasp the large”. Meanwhile, the central government was encouraged to relinquish control over smaller SOEs, or “let go of the small”.

1997: Urban Dibao (低保)
China’s social safety net went through restructuring from 1993, and became a nationwide program after strong success in Shanghai.

1997-1999: Hong Kong and Macao handover, Asian Financial Crisis
China was largely unscathed by the regional financial crisis, thanks to the RMB (¥) currency’s non-convertibility. Meanwhile, the PRC regained sovereignty of Hong Kong and Macau back from the UK and Portugal, respectively.

1999: Western Development Strategy
The “Open Up the West” program built out 6 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, and 1 municipality—each becoming integral to the Chinese economy.

Turn of the Century: 2000-present

China’s entry to the World Trade Organization, and the Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) program – which let foreign investors participate in the PRC’s stock exchanges – contributed to the country’s economic growth.

Source: CNBC

2006: Medium-term Plan for Scientific Development
The PRC State Council’s 15-year plan outlines that 2.5% or more of national GDP should be devoted to research and development by 2020.

2008-2009: Global Financial Crisis
The PRC experienced only a mild economic slowdown during the crisis. The country’s GDP growth in 2007 was a staggering 14.2%, but this dropped to 9.7% and 9.5% respectively in the two years following.

2013: Belt and Road Initiative
China’s ambitious plans to develop road, rail, and sea routes across 152 countries is scheduled for completion by 2049—in time for the PRC’s 100th anniversary. More than $900 billion is budgeted for these infrastructure projects.

2015: Made in China 2025
The PRC refuses to be the world’s “factory” any longer. In response, it will invest nearly $300 billion to boost its manufacturing capabilities in high-tech fields like pharmaceuticals, aerospace, and robotics.

Despite the recent ongoing trade dispute with the U.S. and an increasingly aging population, the Chinese growth story seems destined to continue on.

China Paving the Way?

The 70th anniversary of the PRC offers a moment to reflect on the country’s journey from humble beginnings to a powerhouse on the world stage.

Because of China’s economic success, more and more countries see China as an example to emulate, a model of development that could mean moving from rags to riches within a generation.

Bert Hofman, World Bank

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Visualized: A Global Risk Assessment of 2021 And Beyond

Which risks are top of mind in 2021? We visualize the World Economic Forum’s risk assessment for top global risks by impact and livelihood.

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Visualized: A Global Risk Assessment of 2021 And Beyond

Risk is all around us. After the events of 2020, it’s not surprising that the level and variety of risks we face have become more pronounced than ever.

Every year, the World Economic Forum analyzes the top risks in the world in its Global Risks Report. Risks were identified based on 800+ responses of surveyed leaders across various levels of expertise, organizations, and regional distribution.

Which risks are top of mind in 2021?

The World’s Top Risks by Likelihood and Impact

According to WEF’s risk assessment methodology, all the global risks in 2021 fall into the following broad categories:

  • 🔵 Economic
  • 🟢 Environmental
  • 🟠 Geopolitical
  • 🔴 Societal
  • 🟣 Technological

It goes without saying that infectious diseases have now become one of the top societal risks on both metrics of likelihood and impact.

That said, environmental risks continue to dominate the leaderboard, accounting for five of the top 10 risks by impact, especially when it comes to climate action failure.

Several countries are off-track in meeting emissions goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, while the pandemic has also delayed progress in the shift towards a carbon-neutral economy. Meanwhile, biodiversity loss is occurring at unprecedented rates.

RankTop Risks by LikelihoodTop Risks by Impact
#1🟢Extreme weather🔴Infectious diseases
#2🟢Climate action failure🟢Climate action failure
#3🟢Human environmental damage🟠Weapons of mass destruction
#4🔴Infectious diseases🟢Biodiversity loss
#5🟢Biodiversity loss🟢Natural resource crises
#6🟣Digital power concentration🟢Human environmental damage
#7🟣Digital inequality🔴Livelihood crises
#8🟠Interstate relations fracture🟢Extreme weather
#9🟣Cybersecurity failure🔵Debt crises
#10🔴Livelihood crises🟣IT Infrastructure breakdown

As for other risks, the prospect of weapons of mass destruction ranks in third place for potential impact. In the global arms race, a single misstep would trigger severe consequences on civil and political stability.

New Risks in 2021

While many of the risks included in the Global Risks Report 2021 are familiar to those who have read the editions of years past, there are a flurry of new entries to the list this year.

Here are some of the most interesting ones in the risk assessment, sorted by category:

Societal Risks

COVID-19 has resulted in a myriad of knock-on societal risks, from youth disillusionment and mental health deterioration to livelihood crises. The first two risks in particular go hand-in-hand, as “pandemials” (youth aged 15-24) are staring down a turbulent future. This generation is more likely to report high distress from disrupted educational and economic prospects.

At the same time, as countries prepare for widespread immunization against COVID-19, another related societal risk is the backlash against science. The WEF identifies vaccines and immunization as subjects susceptible to disinformation and denial of scientific evidence.

Economic Risks

As monetary stimulus was kicked into high gear to prop up markets and support many closed businesses and quarantined families, the economic outlook seems more fragile than ever. Debt-to-GDP ratios continue to rise across advanced economies—if GDP growth stagnates for too long, a potential debt crisis could see many businesses and major nations default on their debt.

With greater stress accumulating on a range of major industries such as travel and hospitality, the economy risks a build-up of “zombie” firms that drag down overall productivity. Despite this, market valuations and asset prices continue to rise, with equity markets rewarding investors betting on a swift recovery so far.

Technological Risks

Last but not least, COVID-19 has raised the alert on various technological risks. Despite the accelerated shift towards remote work and digitalization of entire industries, the reality is that digital inequality leaves those with lower digital literacy behind—worsening existing inequalities.

Big Tech is also bloating even further, growing its digital power concentration. The market share some companies hold in their respective sectors, such as Amazon in online retail, threatens to erode the agency of other players.

Assessing the Top 10 Risks On the Horizon

Back in mid-2020, the WEF attempted to quantify the biggest risks over an 18-month period, with a prolonged economic recession emerging on top.

In this report’s risk assessment, global risks are further classified by how soon their resulting threats are expected to occur. Weapons of mass destruction remain the top risk, though on a much longer scale of up to 10 years in the future.

RankRisk%Time Horizon
#1🟠Weapons of mass destruction62.7Long-term (5-10 years)
#2🔴Infectious diseases58Short-term risks (0-2 years)
#3🔴Livelihood crises55.1Short-term risks (0-2 years)
#4🔵Asset bubble burst53.3Medium-term risks (3-5 years)
#5🟣 IT infrastructure breakdown53.3Medium-term risks (3-5 years)
#6🔵Price instability52.9Medium-term risks (3-5 years)
#7🟢Extreme weather events52.7Short-term risks (0-2 years)
#8🔵Commodity shocks52.7Medium-term risks (3-5 years)
#9🔵Debt crises52.3Medium-term risks (3-5 years)
#10🟠State collapse51.8Long-term (5-10 years)

Through this perspective, COVID-19 (and its variants) remains high in the next two years as the world scrambles to return to normal.

It’s also clear that more economic risks are taking center stage, from an asset bubble burst to price instability that could have a profound effect over the next five years.

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Technology

The World’s Top Car Manufacturers by Market Capitalization

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The World’s Top Car Manufacturers by Market Cap

View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.

Ever since Apple and other Big Tech companies hit a market capitalization of $1 trillion, many sectors are revving to follow suit—including the automotive industry.

But among those car brands racing to reach this total valuation, some are closer to the finish line than others. This visualization uses data from Yahoo Finance to rank the world’s top car manufacturers by market capitalization.

What could this spell for the future of the automotive industry?

A special hat-tip to Brandon Knoblauch for compiling the original, regularly-updated spreadsheet.

The World’s Top Car Manufacturers

It’s clear one company is pulling far ahead of the pack. In the competition to clinch this coveted title, Tesla is the undoubted favorite so far.

The electric vehicle (EV) and clean energy company first became the world’s most valuable car manufacturer in June 2020, and shows no signs of slowing its trajectory.

RankCompanyMarket Cap (US$B)Country
#1Tesla$795.8🇺🇸 U.S.
#2Toyota$207.5🇯🇵 Japan
#3Volkswagen$96.7🇩🇪 Germany
#4BYD$92.7🇨🇳 China
#5NIO$89.5🇨🇳 China
#6Daimler$72.8🇩🇪 Germany
#7General Motors$71.3🇺🇸 U.S.
#8BMW$54.2🇩🇪 Germany
#9Stellantis$54.2🇳🇱 Netherlands
#10Ferrari$52.5🇮🇹 Italy
#11Honda$46.9🇯🇵 Japan
#12Hyundai$46.8🇰🇷 South Korea
#13SAIC$45.2🇨🇳 China
#14Geely$39.5🇨🇳 China
#15Ford$39.4🇺🇸 U.S.
#16Xpeng$33.9🇨🇳 China
#17Maruti Suzuki$33.1🇮🇳 India
#18Li Auto$29.5🇨🇳 China
#19Suzuki$23.7🇯🇵 Japan
#20Nissan$20.1🇯🇵 Japan
#21Subaru$15.2🇯🇵 Japan
#22Changan$14.6🇨🇳 China
#23Mahindra$13.9🇮🇳 India
#24Renault$12.0🇫🇷 France

All data as of January 15, 2021 (9:30AM PST)

Tesla’s competitive advantage comes as a result of its dedicated emphasis on research and development (R&D). In fact, many of its rivals have admitted that Tesla’s electronics far surpass their own—a teardown revealed that its batteries and AI chips are roughly six years ahead of other industry giants such as Toyota and Volkswagen.

The Green Revolution is Underway

The sheer growth of Tesla may spell the inevitability of a green revolution in the industry. Already, many major brands have followed in the company’s tracks, announcing their own ambitious plans to add more EVs to their vehicle line-ups.

Here’s how a selection of car manufacturers are embracing the electric future:

Toyota: Ranked #2

The second-most valuable car manufacturer in the world, Toyota is steadily ramping up its EV output. In 2020, it produced 10,000 EVs and plans to increase this to 30,000 in 2021.

Through this gradual increase, the company hopes to hit an expected target of 500,000 EVs by 2025. Toyota also aims to debut 10 new models internationally to achieve this goal.

Volkswagen: Ranked #3

By 2025, Volkswagen plans to invest $86 billion into digital and EV technologies. Considering the car manufacturer generates the most gross revenue per second of all automakers, it’s no wonder Volkswagen is looking to the future in order to keep such numbers up.

The company is also well-positioned to ride the wave of a potential consumer shift towards EVs in Europe. In response to the region’s strict emissions targets, Volkswagen upped its planned sales proportions for European hybrid and EV sales from 40% to 60% by 2030.

BYD and Nio: Ranked #4-5

China jumped on the electric bandwagon early. Eager to make its mark as a global leader in the emerging technology of lithium ion batteries (an essential component of any EV), the Chinese government handed out billions of dollars in subsidies—fueling the growths of domestic car manufacturers BYD and Nio alike.

BYD gained the interest and attention of its billionaire backer Warren Buffett, while Nio is China’s response to Tesla and an attempt to capture the EV market locally.

General Motors: Ranked #7

Also with a 2025 target year in mind, General Motors is investing $27 billion into electric and fully autonomous vehicles. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too—the company also hopes to launch 30 new fully electric vehicles by the same year.

One particular factor is giving GM confidence: its new EV battery creations. They will be able to extend the range of its new EVs to 400 miles (644km) on a single charge, at a rate that rivals Tesla’s Model S.

Stellantis: Ranked #9

In a long-anticipated move, Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot S.A. finalized their merger into Stellantis N.V. on January 16, 2021.

With the combined forces and funds of a $52 billion deal, the new Dutch-based car manufacturer hopes to rival bigger brands and race even more quickly towards the electric shift.

Honda: Ranked #11

Speaking of fast-paced races, Honda has decided to bow out of future Formula One (F1) World Championships. As these competitions were usually a way for the company to show off its engineering prowess, the move was a surprising one.

However, there’s a noble reason behind this decision. Honda is choosing instead to focus on its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050. To do so, it’ll be shifting its financial resources away from F1 and towards R&D into fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies.

Ford: Ranked #15

Ford knows exactly what its fans want. In that regard, its electrification plans begin with its most popular commercial cars, such as the Mustang Mach-E SUV. This is Ford’s major strategy for attracting new EV buyers, part of a larger $11.5 billion investment agenda into EVs through 2022.

While the car’s specs compare to Tesla’s Model Y, its engineers also drew from the iPhone and Netflix to incorporate an infotainment system and driver profiles to create a truly tech-first specimen.

Speeding into the Horizon

As more and more companies enter the racetrack, EV innovation across the entire industry may power the move to lower overall costs, extend the total range of vehicles, and put any other concerns by potential buyers to rest.

While Tesla is currently in the best position to become the first car manufacturer to reach the $1 trillion milestone, how long will it be for the others to catch up?

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