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Articles Blog

China Today

Karyn Planett

What a Difference Five Thousand Years Makes 

You know, Napoleon was a rather bright fellow indeed. OK, so he took a drumming, a right proper thumping at Waterloo and was perhaps poisoned in St. Helena. Never mind. It was none other than this historic French Emperor who knew a force to be reckoned with when he stumbled upon one. Take China, for example. Napoleon supposedly said, and I quote, “China? There lies a sleeping giant. Let him sleep! For when he wakes he will move the world.” 

Too right. China is now wide, wide awake and what a giant among giants is he. Let’s now examine some of this powerful nation’s riveting statistics. 

Size Does Matter 

Well, according to the US State Department’s official statistics, the mega-country of China measures 3.7 million square miles. The U.S. is 3,531,822 square miles from sea to shining sea, so there’s approximately the same landmass in the two countries. However, the current population of the U.S. is, give or take, 313 million people. China, on the other hand, has 1,336,718,015 people roughly. Do the math. That’s about four times the number of people in China compared to the US in the same space. Look around. Count noses. That is a lot, especially if you’re calculating mouths to feed. 

The Center for Disease Control says our life expectancy is 78.5 years. Not bad. China comes in slightly lower at 74.68. You’d certainly miss those last four years if they were talking about you. But, here’s an amazing statistic. China has a labor force of some 780 million people. The majority, 38%, are farmers or connected somehow to agriculture. Those involved in industry account for another 27.8%. The country is a huge producer of rice, wheat, potatoes, corn, peanuts, tea, millet and many other crops. It’s claimed they feed 20% of the world’s population though only control a mere 7% of the world’s arable land. 

If we compare the economics, the State Department tells us that China’s “per capita GDP is $7,600 (purchasing power parity)”. So all these details bring us to the point of where the Chinese people are today. 

They’re on the Move 

Those of you who managed to visit China when it first pulled open the bamboo curtain for travelers from the West to pass through, and haven’t been back since, will be absolutely bowled over. No… run over by the changes in China. No longer are the majority of her people shuffling along in padded Mao suits, making their way on age-worn footpaths with bundles slung across their shoulders, moving about almost as if they were lifeless automatons. Few owned so much as even a bicycle. Many others were transported by rickshaw, even water buffalo especially in the countryside. Hoards, masses, legions, cadres, virtual armies of people all scurried about their day, hurried about their day, in a lifestyle trapped in time. Everything was painted with the broad brush of Communism. Everyone was faithful to Chairman Mao. No one questioned, no one stepped outside the norm, no one wanted to be noticed as being different. For an outsider, a Westerner, the spectacle was too big to even begin to comprehend. But that was then, and this is now. 

The Road Ahead 

Beijing and Shanghai and a host of other Chinese cities showcase the dazzling veneer of the 21st century. Remember the Olympics? Her upwardly mobile, well-educated, multi-lingual business professionals don designer shades and shoes, have only the latest techno-gadgets, and zip about in expensive cars. Oh, yes, some of the older generations still do tai-chi in the parks as the morning sun warms the day while their grandchildren are cutting deals, assistant to assistant, banker to banker, broker to broker. Again, the State Department indicates that the US exports to China in the year 2010 accounted for $91.9 billion. Billion! 

But all is not great for this awakened giant. A significant percentage of her people remain trapped in a world where the burgeoning economy has passed them by like a Peking duck on the fly. Success for them is more illusive than a fluttering butterfly. Plus, there are also problems with basic resources as is the case with clean water. Water, and the lack there of, is one of the country’s most challenging problems. In addition to the sporadic droughts China experiences thanks simply to Mother Nature, there are also the problems of water pollution, water distribution, and so on. This, in turn, leads of crop failures, poor sanitation, and more. Nearly half the nation’s entire population is unable to access improved sanitation. This staggering statistic leads to the issue of health care for the masses.  The country’s leaders are working diligently to address these concerns and have provided for long-range planning to remedy the situation. 

What This Means To You 

This means, one must say, you have before you the very rare opportunity to witness this extraordinary country as it continues its emergence from the past much like a silkworm wriggles free from its cocoon. The guides will provide further statistics and projections filling in the data blanks. But it is the man, and the woman, on the street who can share with you their vision of China’s future. Take time to engage them in conversation, if you can snag one passing by. The future is in their hands, the chapters in history are theirs to write. Perhaps they’ll give you a preview of what’s to come.

                                                 Karyn L. Planett