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.
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.
An Investing Megatrend: How Emerging Wealth is Shaping the Future
Emerging markets are ascending on the global stage and wielding more economic power—and it’s drastically altering the investment landscape.
Globalisation is a rising tide that lifts all boats.
In an increasingly connected world, countries are engaging with global markets more than ever before. As a result, global wealth is shifting towards emerging markets. This megatrend—a global trend with sustained impacts—is profoundly influencing everyday life, society, and business.
Shifting Economic Power
Today’s infographic from iShares by BlackRock explains how emerging markets are classified, along with which countries are growing the fastest—and how investors can follow the money.
What Is An Emerging Market?
Every economy goes through five distinct stages of growth:
- Traditional Society: Based on primary industries, such as subsistence farming.
- The Pre-Conditions of Take-off: Spread of technology creates a more productive agricultural economy.
- Take-off: Industrialisation begins, and technological breakthroughs occur.
- Drive to Maturity: More complex manufacturing, and large-scale infrastructure investment takes place.
- Age of Mass Consumption: Urban society and a tertiary industry dominate, as disposable income grows.
Emerging markets fall into the transitory stages between ‘Take-off’ and ‘Drive to maturity’ as their economies modernise. Today, such countries offer lots of promise, but also come with a range of challenges:
- Pro: Greater return potential, growing middle class, increasing consumption
- Risk: Political instability, lack of infrastructure, lack of market access
Between 2000–2018, emerging markets’ share of global wealth has more than doubled from 10% to 24%. China is a major player in this transformation.
China’s Economic Might
China’s impressive trajectory from agricultural economy to global superpower cannot be ignored. The nation is on track to overtake the U.S. in terms of gross domestic product (GDP, nominal) by the year 2030.
|Year||🇨🇳 China GDP||🇺🇸 U.S. GDP|
China’s enormous growth has a ripple effect on its GDP composition. A more affluent middle class is buying higher-priced discretionary goods—such as cars and electronics—boosting the country’s domestic consumption.
Investors must keep an eye out for other emerging markets that are emulating China’s example.
One Piece Of the Puzzle
China is just one case study—several other economies are also making strides on the world stage. Each country brings unique advantages, but also barriers to overcome.
|Country||Real GDP Growth (2019E)||Strengths||Weaknesses|
|🇮🇳 India||7.4%||✔ Rapidly growing economy|
✔ Vast working-age population
|✘ Red tape
✘ Lack of infrastructure
|🇨🇳 China||6.2%||✔ Good infrastructure |
✔ High R&D spending
|✘ Ageing population
✘ High debt
|🇮🇩 Indonesia||5.1%||✔ Cheap labour|
✔ Diversifying economy
|✘Wide income gap
✘ Lack of infrastructure
|🇲🇽 Mexico||2.5%||✔ Integrated with global economy|
✔ Cheap and qualified labour
|✘ Political unrest
✘ Reliant on U.S. ties
|🇧🇷 Brazil||2.4%||✔ Diversifying economy|
✔ Strategic location
|✘ High production costs
|🇳🇬 Nigeria||2.3%||✔ High FDI|
✔ Diversifying economy
|✘ Political unrest
✘ Lack of infrastructure
|🇷🇺 Russia||1.8%||✔ Natural resources|
✔ Educated workforce
|✘ Political unrest
✘ Lack of FDI
|🇹🇷 Turkey||0.4%||✔ Cheap labour|
✔ Strategic location
|✘ Political unrest
✘ Red tape
Source: Global Finance Magazine
With these major emerging markets in mind, how can investors tap into the global wealth shift?
Where Are the Opportunities?
There are several avenues for an investor to play into this megatrend: structural solutions, consumer goods, and international investment.
Emerging markets are increasingly gaining access to technology. Growth in connectivity is closely linked with improved productivity, and many countries are ripe for a surge in online users.
However, much can still be done to speed up technological adoption, such as boosting 3G/4G network volume and coverage, and lowering the cost of data and smartphones to be more economical.
By helping solve some of these structural constraints through technological innovation, investors can tap into the economic growth of emerging markets.
As disposable income increases, a sizeable middle class will seek out products that elevate the quality of life. In India, domestic consumption is estimated to hit $6 trillion by 2023—four times its 2018 level.
The region’s spending will likely be propelled by higher-priced goods, as well as a wider variety of choices across food, transport, and fitness categories.
Global brands that plan to expand into emerging markets, or companies with a proven track record in these areas, are potential winners for investment.
Last but not least, investors can identify local winners in emerging wealth markets, through active or passive investing.
An active investment strategy would be to directly buy into individual company stocks, listed on a country’s stock exchange. Meanwhile, a passive investing strategy would be to seek out exchange-traded funds (ETFs) covering specific markets, and/or sectors within emerging markets. Many of these are also listed on major exchanges.
Diversifying either or both strategies across two or more countries can help mitigate risk. Investors can also choose index funds that broadly encompass all emerging markets.
As countries climb the economic ladder, the emerging wealth shift continues to gain momentum. By staying attuned to these macro changes, investors may unlock long-term growth from emerging markets.
Visualized: Ranking the Goods Most Traded Between the U.S. and China
This infographic ranks the top 10 exports and imports of the U.S. and China, the two most significant global economic superpowers today.
The Most Traded Goods Between the U.S. and China
From a young age, many of us were taught that sharing is caring.
Many countries have also followed this simple principle, in the interest of growth and prosperity, when doing business on a global scale.
Today’s infographic from HowMuch.net charts the top imports and exports between the U.S. and China, pulled from the Observatory of Economic Complexity’s (OEC) global market data for 2017.
Which items do you find most surprising?
Give and Take: The Trade Relationship of the U.S. and China
Two of the world’s largest superpowers today, the U.S. and China have typically had a long-standing trade relationship going back decades.
The table below shows the top 10 exports the U.S. sent to China in 2017, along with the proportion of each item in the total export value of $132 billion. The top 10 items account for 39% of total exports to China.
The Top 10 Exports from the U.S. to China (2017)
|Items||Value (US$B)||% of Total Exports|
|Aeroplanes and other aircraft||$13.1||9.9%|
|Vehicles with only spark-ignition internal |
combustion reciprocating piston engine
|Electronic integrated circuits; Processors and controllers||$4.9||3.7%|
|Machines and apparatus for the manufacture of semiconductor |
devices or of electronic integrated circuits
|Vehicles for transport of persons||$1.9||1.4%|
|Petroleum gases and other gaseous hydrocarbons||$1.7||1.3%|
While the majority of these are highly specialized, manufactured products─such as airplanes, integrated circuits, and semiconductors─the U.S. still relies on exporting many basic commodities such as gold, copper, and soya beans.
Below is the list of the top 10 imported products from China, and the percent that each product accounts of the total $444 billion in 2017. These top 10 items make up 30% of all products imported from China.
The Top 10 Imports from China to the U.S. (2017)
|Items||Value (US$B)||% of Total Imports|
|Telephones for cellular networks or for other wireless networks||$43.7||9.8%|
|Automatic data processing machines||$37.2||8.4%|
|Trycicles, scooters and similar wheeled toys & other toys||$12.3||2.8%|
|Games; articles for funfair||$5.4||1.2%|
|Units of automatic data processing machines||$4.4||1.0%|
|Electrical static converters||$4.6||1.0%|
|Reception apparatus for television||$4.2||0.9%|
China is best known for its electronics and technology-focused products─with electronics products accounting for two-thirds of the top 10 Chinese imports. In 2017, China also dominated all electronics imports into the U.S., claiming over 60% of the market.
But how has the recent trade war impacted the imports and exports between the U.S. and China?
The U.S.-China Trade War Continues
At one point, China was the United States’ top trading partner in terms of the total value of imports and exports. Since the trade war began in 2018, China has fallen to third place.
For example, soybean exports to China in 2019 are predicted to only reach a third of numbers seen in 2018, and the price of this commodity has been nearly cut in half.
In the first nine months of 2019 alone, the U.S. saw a 13.5% drop in imported products from China, due to actual and threatened increased tariffs. In addition, U.S. exports to China dropped by 15.5%─a significant loss of $53 billion.
The Future of U.S.-China Trade
To date, the U.S. has enacted tariffs on over $550 billion worth of imported products from China. In response to the U.S. tariffs, China has added tariffs to $185 billion worth of exported goods from the United States.
With the 2020 U.S. presidential election looming on the horizon, threats of increased tariffs seem to dominate headlines internationally. If these trends continue, many U.S. businesses—both at home and abroad in China—could find their bottom lines threatened by rising trade costs.
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