issue 170 - April 1987
China is booming. In the 1960s that would have meant its population was expanding fast but since then birth rates have slowed dramatically. Now it is industry and consumer spending which are booming as China opens its doors to the capitalist West. The facts on these pages show how the quality of Chinese life has been affected by the Revolution's changes, both before and after Mao.
China's 1,059 million people make it by far the world's most populous country.1 The vast majority of these belong to the dominant ethnic group, the Han (those we conventionally think of as 'Chinese') but China contains 56 nationalities.2
One child families
First official figures for 1986 indicate the birth rate has risen sharply, making the rate of natural increase - the difference between the birth and death rates - 14.4 An even stricter application of the one-child rule - more observed in the breach than the practice in the countryside - is likely as a result.
China feeds 22 per cent of the world's population on only 7 per cent of the world's cultivable land. It has successfully boosted food production by more intensive use of irrigation and chemical fertilizers.2
As the figures show, grain production soared to an all-time peak in 1984. One key reason was the increase in the price paid for grain by the State; another was the responsibility system by which farmers kept their own profits. But grain production fell sharply in 1985 to 380 million tons because peasants started to neglect staples for more profitable crops like sugar. Anxiety about this was allayed by the recovery to 390 million tons in 1986.5 But the figures also bear out that the division of the land into thin, privately-worked strips has meant that tractors are less used.
There is certainly more money around in the new China - and a consumer boom is resulting, with sales of televisions and washing machines rocketing. But any new prosperity is founded on the dramatic improvements in health, education and nutrition brought about by the 1949 Revolution.
Between 1978 and 1985 the average farmer's annual income increased by 14.8 per cent after allowing for inflation.8
But the Chinese Government admits that 60 million rural people still live in poverty, especially in arid western China (which includes Tibet).6
Consumer durables per hundred households2
Television was made available in the countryside only a decade ago but by 1986 TV sets were found in 30 million rural homes - 11 per cent of rural households. 3,000 villages are called 'TV villages' where every family has at least one TV.10
1. UNICEF State of the World's Children Report 1987.
2. State Statistical Bureau, People's Republic of China
3. Figures from World Bank Study 1983, except 1985 from UNICEF State of the World's Children Report 1987.
4. BBC Radio report from Beijing, 17 Feb 1987.
5. Both 1985 and 1986 figures from Beijing Review, 5 Jan 1987.
6. 1948-9 and 1973-5 figures from World Bank Country Study 1983, 1960 and 1985 figures from UNCIEF State of the World's Children Report 1987.
7. World Bank, World Development Report 1986.
8. Beijing Review 29 Sep 1986.
9. Figures for 1984, from State Statistical Bureau sample survey.
10. Beijing Review 8 Sep 1986.
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