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China is a global economic powerhouse, consistently ranking as the world’s second-largest economy in terms of nominal gross domestic product (GDP). Measured by purchasing power parity (PPP), China has been the world´s largest economy since 2016.

China’s economic structure is a mix of a modern market system combined with the remnants of a state-dominated, centrally planned economy from the era of Mao Zedong. Over the last four decades, China has experienced transformative economic growth and development, evolving from a largely agrarian society to an international manufacturing centre and technological hub.

economy of china

China’s Economic System

China’s economic system, often dubbed as “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” is a blend of market capitalism and state ownership. The Chinese government maintains a tight grip on strategic sectors such as energy, telecommunications, and finance while allowing free-market principles to influence other sectors. This unique economic model has facilitated China’s rapid economic development, marked by an average growth rate of about 10% per annum from 1979 to 2010.

The Chinese economy consists of public sector enterprises, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), mixed-ownership enterprises, and a large private sector. The main drivers of economic growth are investments and exports, but the government has launched programs to emphasize and encourage domestic consumption. Today, China is the second-largest importer of goods and the world´s fastest-growing consumer market.

China’s Economic Growth Story

China’s economic ascension began with economic reforms in 1979, which opened its markets to foreign trade and investment. These reforms triggered a wave of economic transformation that has seen China become the world’s largest exporter and the second-largest importer of goods. Its export-driven economy is powered by manufacturing, with key industries including textiles, electronics, machinery, automobiles, and steel.

In recent years, China has been transitioning from an investment-led economy to a more consumption-driven model. It’s striving to increase domestic demand and reduce reliance on exports. The burgeoning middle class, characterized by higher disposable incomes and changing consumer habits, is a significant driver of this transition.

If we take a look at Chinese history for the most recent 50 years, we see that China has made amazing strides when it comes to reducing the number of people who live in extreme poverty. In the four decades from 1978 (when economic reforms were implemented) and 2018, China reduced extreme powerty by 800 million. Beetween 1981 and 2019, the percentage of the population living in extrem powerty in China shrunk from over 88% to 0.2%.

China’s Role in Global Trade

China’s induction into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 marked a significant milestone in its economic journey. As the world’s leading exporter, China plays a pivotal role in global trade, boasting significant trade partnerships with the United States, European Union, and ASEAN nations. China’s “Belt and Road Initiative,” an ambitious global infrastructure development strategy, exemplifies its growing influence on the global economic stage.

In 2022, mainland China´s largest trading partners were the European Union, the United States, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Australia, Malaysia, and Russia.

During the most recent 40 years, China’s economic development from a largely agrarian society to a heavily industrialized one that exports to the rest of the world has been astonishing. Between 1982 and 2021, the country´s current account surplus increased by a factor of 53. As an exporter, China started out with a focus on low-wage sectors, such as clothing production and later branched out into more middle-wage sectors, such as pharmaceuticals, computers, and cars. Of the global top 5 science and technology clusters, two are now found in China: Shenzhen-Hong Kong-Guangzhou (#2) and Beijing (#3).

Direct Foreign Investment Trends

As of 2020, China was the world’s largest recipient of foreign direct investment, with an inflow of $163 billion. Since then, the number for foreign direct investment has fallen sharply and is now at a negative level.

Impact of COVID-19 on China’s Economy

The COVID-19 pandemic, originating in Wuhan, had an initial significant impact on China’s economy. However, China was among the first to recover, partly due to significant stimulus packages. It was the only major economy to record positive growth in 2020.

Short facts about China

  • In 2022, China accounted for neary one fifth of the global economy in PPP terms.
  • Numbers from the year 2021 show 791 million workers in China – more than for any other country in the world.
  • China holds the world’s largest foreign-exchange reserves. At the time of writing, they exceed the eqvivalent of 3 trillion USD. If we add the foreign assets held by China’s state-owned commercial banks, the number rises to almost 4 trillion USD.
  • China accounts for roughly half of the world’s consumption of metals.
  • China is a net importer of services products.
  • China has significant income and wealth inequality.
  • In 2022, China was ranked #2 when it comes to the number of billionaires in a country.
  • In early 2022, China had over 500 million 5G users.
  • Of the 10 largest stock exchanges in the world (both by market capitalization and by trade volume), three are located in China.

Challenges Ahead for China’s Economy

Despite its impressive growth, China’s economy faces several challenges. These include a rapidly aging population, environmental degradation, income inequality, and an over-reliance on debt-driven growth. The recent imposition of the “3 Red Lines” on devleoper borrowing has helped fuel a complex real estate crisis. Additionally, trade tensions with the United States and other Western economies have added significant pressure.

Moreover, China’s high corporate debt levels and its sustainability are a concern for global investors. To counter these challenges, the Chinese government is implementing structural reforms, promoting innovation, and improving the social security system.


China’s economic journey is remarkable, propelled by significant economic reforms and a strategic blend of capitalism and state control. Although it faces challenges, its growing middle class, robust manufacturing sector, and expanding global influence suggest that China will continue to play a significant role in the global economy. As the world grapples with economic uncertainties, the trajectory of China’s economy will undoubtedly be closely watched.