New Internationalist

The Facts

Issue 170

new internationalist
issue 170 - April 1987

China - The Facts

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.

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PEOPLE
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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

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...Tibetan

One child families
China has the strictest family planning policy in the world. Each couple is only allowed one child and great pressure is put on women to abort a second pregnancy. But the real drop in China's birth rate came in the 1970s, before the one-child policy was introduced in 1979. Between 1965 and 1980 the 50-per-cent drop in China's birth rate was greater than that in any other country. This was due both to better living standards since the Revolution and to the availability of contraceptives.

Population changes3

1950

1965

1976

1985

Total population (millions)

552

725

933

1,059

Birth rate (per thousand people)

37

38

20

19

Death rate (per thousand people)

18

10

7

7

Natural rate of increase

19

28

13

12

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.

Child mortality
The decline in the death rate of Chinese children under five - from 202 per thousand in 1960 to 50 per thousand in 1985 - is the eleventh sharpest fall in the world over that period.1

 
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AGRICULTURE
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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

Farming changes

1965

1978

1984

Total area sown (million hectares)

143

150

144

Grain output (million tons)

195

305

407

Area under irrigation (million hectares)

33

45

45

Chemical fertilizer used (million tons)

2

9

18

Tractor-ploughed area (million hectares)

16

41

35

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.

 
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QUALITY OF LIFE
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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.

LIFE EXPECTANCY6

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FOOD1
Calories available daily to each person as a percentage of their requirements stood at 111 in 1985, similar to that in Japan (113) and Australia (115).

WEALTH
Between 1965 and 1984 the gross national product per head rose by an average of 4.5 per cent a year - the twelfth highest rise in the world over that period.7

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

 
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CONSUMPTION
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Consumer durables per hundred households2

Urban households

1981

1984

Sewing machines

70

77

Watches

241

283

Bicycles

136

163

Radios

100

103

Televisions

58

87


Rural households

1981

1984

Sewing machines

20

43

Watches

27

109

Bicycles

31

74

Radios

17

61

Televisions

0

7

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

Cultural boom2

1949

1978

1984

Books produced (millions of copies)

105

3,770

6,248

Newspapers (millions of copies)

410

10,950

18,080

Public libraries (actual number)

55

1,256

2,217

Film projection units (thousands)

1

116

178

Television sales (millions)

0

1

11

Cameras produced (thousands)

17

179

1,262

 
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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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