70 Years of China’s Economic Growth In One Chart
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History

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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Demographics

Animated Chart: America’s Demographics Over 100+ Years

From 1901 to 2020, the U.S. population has changed significantly. This video reveals the change in America’s demographics over 100+ years.

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This video reveals the change in America's demographics over 100+ years.

Animated: America’s Demographics Over 100+ Years

The United States has famously been called a melting pot, due its demographic makeup of various cultures, races, religions, and languages. But what shape does that mixture take? And how has it changed over time?

Beginning over 100 years ago, this video from Kaj Tallungs assesses how America’s demographics have changed from 1901 to 2020. It uses data from multiple sources including the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Human Mortality Database.

A Look at the Total Population

The most obvious takeaway from this animation is that America’s population has soared over the last century. America’s population grew from 77 million in 1901 to over 330 million in 2020—or total growth of 330% over the 119 years.

And the U.S. has continued to add to its population totals. Here’s a brief look at at the population in 2021 by regional breakdowns:

RegionPopulation (2021)Share of Total Population
South127,225,32938.3%
West78,667,13423.7%
Midwest68,841,44420.7%
Northeast57,159,83817.2%

And here’s a glance at how some of the population shakes out, across the top 10 most populous states in the country:

RankStatePopulation (2021)
#1California39,237,836
#2Texas29,527,941
#3Florida21,781,128
#4New York19,835,913
#5Pennsylvania12,964,056
#6Illinois12,671,469
#7Ohio11,780,017
#8Georgia10,799,566
#9North Carolina10,551,162
#10Michigan10,050,811

Demographic Breakdowns

Diving a little deeper, the country’s demographic breakdowns have also changed significantly over the last 100+ years. While the share of men and women is an obvious near-even split, age and race distributions have changed drastically.

For starters, though birth rates have remained fairly strong in the U.S., they have been slowing over time. This is similar to many other Western countries, and can eventually result in a larger share of elderly people as well as an increased financial cost of subsidizing their care. Additionally, fewer births results in a depleting workforce as the young population shrinks.

The shares of Black, Asian, Hispanic, and people of two or more races have also been growing. In fact, between 2010–2020 the population of people identifying as two races or more increased by a whopping 276%.

Here’s a glance at some of the other demographic growth rates over the 2010-2020 period:

  • Black or African American alone population: +5.6%
  • Asian alone population: +35.5%
  • Hispanic or Latino alone population: +23%
  • White population: -9%

Looking Ahead

Like many countries, a “graying” of the population will become a concern in the United States.

By 2060, it is expected that 95 million Americans will be over 65. But the share of those 18 and under will also continue to grow (albeit at a much slower pace) from 74 million people in 2020 to 80 million in 2060.

Another interesting insight from the Census Bureau is that from 2016–2060, the American-born population is expected to grow by only 20%, whereas the foreign-born population—the share of population who will immigrate to the U.S.—is expected to rise 58%.

True to the melting pot moniker, America’s demographics will continue to change dramatically over the coming decades.

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Misc

What Types of People Appear Most on International Currencies?

What types of people are celebrated on our money? Here’s a look at the various occupations that are featured on international currencies.

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People on the world's currencies shareable

What Types of People Appear Most on International Currencies?

On currencies throughout the world, you’ll see everything from revolutionaries to poets featured prominently. But how does this mix of notable people break down quantitatively?

This graphic by NetCredit shows the types of people, by their main occupations and roles, that are featured on banknotes and coins worldwide.

Global Money Features Power

To find out the types of people most featured on money, NetCredit analyzed all the banknotes and coins in circulation in every country across the globe in 2022.

From monarchs to athletes, the analysis found that many types of people appear on banknotes and coins worldwide. In fact, 51 different main occupations and roles were identified, which were then organized into eight overarching categories:

  • Leadership
  • Government
  • Society
  • Sport & Recreation
  • Military & Espionage
  • Religion
  • The Arts
  • Humanity

Here’s a breakdown of all 51 different occupations, and what percentage of worldwide currencies they’re featured on:

OccupationCategory% on Currencies
MonarchLeadership30.24%
Head of governmentGovernment20.74%
PoliticianGovernment10.03%
MilitaryMilitary & Esionage8.22%
PoetThe Arts5.13%
Religious leaderReligion3.02%
AuthorThe Arts2.26%
ArtistThe Arts1.73%
WriterThe Arts1.51%
MusicianThe Arts1.51%
ActivistSociety1.28%
ScientistScience & Humanities1.21%
Movement leaderLeadership0.98%
SaintReligion0.98%
ExplorerScience & Humanities0.90%
InventorScience & Humanities0.83%
ScholarScience & Humanities0.83%
RevolutionaryLeadership0.60%
BusinessSociety0.60%
HeroSociety0.60%
AthleteSport & Recreation0.60%
Supreme leaderLeadership0.53%
EducatorScience & Humanities0.53%
HistorianScience & Humanities0.45%
SingerThe Arts0.45%
Nationalist leaderLeadership0.38%
DoctorScience & Humanities0.38%
MathematicianScience & Humanities0.38%
ChiefLeadership0.30%
ArchitectScience & Humanities0.30%
EconomistScience & Humanities0.30%
PhilosopherScience & Humanities0.23%
ActorThe Arts0.23%
Chief of stateGovernment0.15%
Revolutionary leaderLeadership0.15%
IntellectualScience & Humanities0.15%
LawyerScience & Humanities0.15%
WifeSociety0.15%
SpyMilitary & Esionage0.08%
RectorReligion0.08%
Civil engineerScience & Humanities0.08%
LinguistScience & Humanities0.08%
PhilanthropistScience & Humanities0.08%
AnthropologistScience and Humanities0.08%
Social workerSociety0.08%
BallerinaSport & Recreation0.08%
Chess championSport & Recreation0.08%
MountaineerSport & Recreation0.08%
ActressThe Arts0.08%
Film directorThe Arts0.08%

The analysis shows that over 50% of the people featured on money are either monarchs or heads of government, many of which are no longer in power.

For instance, Belize was once a British colony and still features the late Elizabeth II on all of its currency—even though the country gained independence from the UK in 1981.

And everyone featured on U.S. currency is also a historical figure. Putting living celebrities on U.S. money has been banned since 1866, after Spencer Clark, who was the Superintendent of the U.S. National Currency Bureau at the time, printed his own face on the 5-cent banknote instead of the explorer William Clark of “Lewis and Clark.”

International Currencies: The Most Popular Figure Heads

Featured on over 100 different currencies around the world, the late Elizabeth II is the most featured person on banknotes and coins.

This makes sense considering the UK’s widespread historical reach. During the height of its reign in the early 20th century, the British Empire ruled nearly a quarter of the world.

"Most common faces on international currencies"

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 6 of the top 10 most-featured people on currencies are monarchs, while the rest are heads of government.

Women on Banknotes

While Elizabeth II is the most featured person on currencies around the world, it’s worth mentioning that few other women have been given the same honor.

A study analyzed 1,006 current international banknotes and found that only 15% featured images of women.

However, some countries are actively trying to celebrate more women on their money. For example, the U.S. has been planning to put Harriet Tubman on the U.S. $20 bill for years, and while there have been some delays, the bill is currently on track to get released by 2030.

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