China’s Economic Miracle
China’s economic development, from its withered state post-WW2, has been nothing but miraculous. Where there had been a destroyed country, now stands the world’s biggest economic superpower, all in less than a century. An even bigger achievement of China, complementing its growing economic prosperity, is its focus on human development. A country that used to hold the world’s largest share of the poor and the illiterate has transformed, collectively, into one that is actively reducing poverty. The tools at hand are education, occupational training, social welfare programmes, labour pools, and relocation.
Since the late 1970s, the Chinese government has lifted more than 700 million people from the shackles of poverty, through relocating them closer to cities and developing areas, providing free education and occupational training, and helping them get well-paying jobs that enable a sustainable and progressive lifestyle (Pinghui, 2017; Huang & Lahiri, 2017). Literacy rates have been climbing as well, growing at an average pace of 10% a year. In the 1980s, only 65% of the Chinese population could read or write. In 2016, more than 95% of the population was literate, leaving only a few years before China tackles the Western average of 100% (UNICEF, n.d.; Coughlan, 2017). From an economic lens, China’s GDP per-capita (per 1,000 people) has also increased phenomenally, from a mere $162 USD in 1962 (when U.S. GDP per-capita was $3,243) to $6894 in 2016 (TradingEconomics, n.d.). Although still far less than Western standards, China’s per-capita GDP is expected to continue growing at a fast rate for the foreseeable future. As this volume increases, the people’s necessary and expendable income rises as well.As it appears, China’s form of governance, although questionable in many regards, is indeed geared towards helping the people. The government plans to ‘eradicate’ poverty by 2020, a goal similar in spirit to the UAE’s Vision 2021, but at a much grander and powerful scale. This achievement, complemented with rapid economic growth and infrastructure development, shows that China, on the long-term trajectory is all set to assume the mantle of a global superpower. In doing so, China also tackles a large array of globally significant issues; poverty, healthcare, education, social development and much more. Appropriately, one can expect the world’s socio-political climate to have China in central attention.
However, in midst of all this growth and prosperity, has China pause for a moment to think what serious damages it has inflicted to its natural environment? Why is the country so centered on growth and development that it forgot to care about where they live? According to environmental statistics, China holds 20 of the world’s top 30 most-polluted cities (Times Magazine, 2007). Pollution and carbon emissions in Chinese cities and townships is so severe that only less than 1% of the urban population has access to ‘clean’ air (New York Times, 2007).
The problem is not limited to air pollution. According to the China government survey, more than 42% of the country’s rivers have been polluted to the point that they are no longer safe for human contact (The Economist, 2010). Rapid and unregulated industrialization has allowed corrupt businesses to dump wastes and chemicals into the rivers to save money. This pollution, has in turn, led to a severe reduction in wildlife along river banks. Even worse, more than one-third of river fishes in China’s ‘Yellow River’ have already gone extinct (Asia Water Project, 2007). As these polluted rivers are the only source of drinking water, more than 300 million Chinese nationals are vulnerable to polluted and poisonous drinking water (World Bank, 2009). There is no reset button either, because at current expansion rates, it is estimated that China will have exploited all of its potential fresh water sources (Asia Water Project, 2007).
So, what happens now? Was it worth it race the world for the mantle of superpower, only to destroy your own home in the process? What will happen when all of China’s natural resources are polluted or dried out? Was it worth it? We don’t know, and it is certain that China does not know either.
Asia Water Project. (2007). China says water supplies exploited by 2030. Beijing Reuters.
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Coughlan, S. (2017). How China became an education superpower. Retrieved December 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/business-40708421
Huang, Z., & Lahiri, T. (2017, September). China’s path out of poverty can never be repeated at scale by a country again. Retrieved December 2017, from https://qz.com/1136533/a-radical-startup-has-invented-the-worlds-first-zero-emissions-fossil-fuel-power-plant/
New York Times. (2007). As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/26/world/asia/26china.html
Pinghui, Z. (2017, September). Five things to know about China’s huge anti-poverty drive. Retrieved December 2017, from http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2109848/five-things-know-about-chinas-huge-anti-poverty-drive
The Economist. (2010). Raising a Stink. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/16744110
Times Magazine. (2007). World Bank Report, The World’s Most Polluted Places. Times Magazine. Retrieved from The World Bank; Time Magazine “The World’s Most Polluted Places” Sept. 12, 2007
TradingEconomics. (n.d.). China GDP per-capita. Retrieved December 2017, from https://tradingeconomics.com/china/gdp-per-capita
UNICEF. (n.d.). China Statistics. Retrieved December 2017, from https://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/china_statistics.html
World Bank. (2009). Addressing China’s Water Scarcity: Recommendations for Selected Water Resource Management Issues. World Bank.