Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Special Report - Modern China

Courtesy of Shanghai Junction


China's 1.3bn people make up one-fifth of the world's population. But strict rules and changing lifestyles have led to lower growth rates. Most urban couples are bound by the "One Child" policy. Rural families are allowed a second child if their first-born is a girl. Many go to great lengths to ensure they have boys which officials believe is leading to a growing gender imbalance.
China is seeing a great movement of population from the rural interior to the cities in the east. In 1950, the urban population represented less than 13% of the total - it is now about 40% and is expected to reach 60% by 2030.


China covers an area of about 9,572,900 sq km (3,696,100 sq miles), making it the third-largest country in the world. In many respects, its development has been shaped by its geography. The East Asian country has deserts, mountains and fertile river basins as well as the highest and one of the lowest places on Earth. It is high in the west and low in the east. Most of China's recent economic development has taken place in the eastern coastal provinces, leaving the rural interior underdeveloped.


The Han Chinese make up over 92% of the population of China, which is also home to 55 other official ethnic groups. Most of the minority groups live in sparsely populated border areas. Beijing faces two separatist conflicts in the western region - the Tibetans in Tibet and the Uighur in Xinjiang. Although tensions between other minority groups and the majority Han have mostly been hidden they have always been sensitive. And, after an outbreak of violence in Henan province in 2004, there are fears they could further deteriorate.


Since the communist regime decided to open up to foreign investment in 1978, China has become one of the world's fastest growing economies and is among its 10 largest. But, with growth rates over 10%, some experts warn the Chinese economy may be overheating and that should it falter the rest of the world could suffer. In recent years, China has also become a trading giant - it is the world's fifth largest exporter of merchandise after the US, Germany, Japan, and France. The economic boom has, however, created new social and environmental problems.


China says the number of rural poor has fallen to 26.1 million people, from 85 million people in 1990. However, the way China measures poverty is disputed and the World Bank says it is much higher. China is seeing the emergence of a new class of dispossessed - the urban poor. This is due in part to massive redundancies at state-run companies and migration to the cities. The economic boom has also led to a widening wealth gap, most acute between coastal and interior regions. The richest richest 10% of the population account for 33.1% of consumption, while the poorest 10% do not even reach 2%.


China's growth - with its increasing energy demands - has had a dramatic impact on the environment. The World Bank says 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in China, which is also blamed for some of the air pollution in Japan and Korea. China is the world's second biggest individual emitter of energy-related CO2 - but as a developing nation, it is not required by the Kyoto Protocol to reduce its emissions. Water concerns are also growing. Rivers in the north are drying up, a situation blamed in part on the overuse of river water and the preponderence of dams. Urbanisation, on the other hand, has exacerbated flooding in certain areas by reducing drainage.


Chinese society has undergone a transformation in recent years. More and more people are moving to the cities, giving up their traditional lifestyles. In many cities, skyscrapers dominate the skyline and Western brands fill smart new shopping centres. Take-up of mobile phones and computers has soared in recent years, and there are an estimated 90 million internet users, four times more than in 2000. But the modernisation of China also highlights a country of marked contrasts, with millions being left on the margins of the new prosperity.

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