National Day 2019: China’s modern transformation in review, on the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic

Staff writer

The country has seen many economic, scientific and infrastructure advances since Mao Zedong declared the creation of the PRC in 1949

Staff writer |

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Yang Liwei, who became China's first astronaut in space, emerges from his Shenzhou reentry capsule in October 2003.

In 1949, the Communist Party took control of mainland China, bringing 22 years of civil war to an end and ushering in a new era for the country. The party’s chairman at the time, Mao Zedong, proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

A massive celebration was held in Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, on October 1, 1949. It was the new country’s first National Day. Seventy years on, although it still bears some of the wounds of the past, China has moved forward. Let’s take a look at modern China’s transformation since its founding.

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Today, China plays an important role in global trade, making products that are exported and sold all over the world. Some of its biggest industries include manufacturing, retail, mining, steel, textiles, and cars.

China first began its journey to becoming the world’s factory in 1978, when it introduced a series of economic reforms that tackled widespread poverty in the country. For the most part, the reforms worked; between 1978 and 2018, China has lifted some 800 million people out of extreme poverty, according to the World Bank. 

Since last year, China also has the second-largest economy in the world. According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, it has a GDP,  or gross domestic product – that’s the total value of all goods and services in the country — of around US$13.5 trillion.

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China also has the second-highest number of billionaires and millionaires in the world, with 338 Chinese billionaires and 3.5 million millionaires, according to CNBC and Bloomberg reports.

But despite all this wealth, many people in the country still live in poverty. The enormous gap between China’s richest and poorest citizens means that the average living wage in the country is still quite low. On a global scale, China ranks behind more than 70 other countries, out of 180, in standard of living. 

This aerial image taken on June 6, 2019 shows a steel factory in Chengde, China's northern Hebei province.
Photo: AFP

Science and technology

Ever since China launched its first satellite in 1970, it has continued to invest in space science, and citizens are proud of the country’s space programme. 

In 2003, China became the third country, after only the US and the former Soviet Union, to send a human into space, when it launched the spacecraft Shenzhou 5, carrying astronaut Yang Liwei. As of 2017, 11 Chinese taikonauts have travelled in space, including two women, Liu Yang and Wang Yaping.

Meanwhile, in 2018, China launched more satellites into space than any other country, according to the MIT Technology Review.

Yang Liwei, who became China's first astronaut in space, emerges from his Shenzhou reentry capsule in October 2003.
Photo: CMSA


Air pollution is a serious problem in the country. According to the World Health Organisation, poor air quality was responsible for 1.03 million deaths in 2012.

That same year, the International Energy Agency also announced that China was the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.

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In addition to bad air, China also suffers from dirty water. In 2011, 40 per cent of China’s rivers had been polluted by industrial waste – a side effect of the country’s push for rapid of economic growth.

But China is making an effort to fix these problems. It is a leading producer of renewable energy technology, according to a New York Times report. In 2011, China had invested US$52 billion in renewable energy projects. And by 2015, more than 24 per cent of China’s energy came from renewable sources. 

Severe pollution along the Yangtze River in the eastern Chinese city of Jiujiang.
Photo: Shutterstock



China began building a new network of highways in the late 1990s, and it hasn’t stopped since. As of last year, the network covered a total length  of 142,500 kilometres — the longest in the world.

China also has the longest high-speed railway network in the world. As of 2018, it stretched across 29,000 kilometres. It’s longer the rest of the world’s high-speed rail tracks combined, according to a Forbes magazine report.

A Fuxing high-speed train rides on the Shanghai-Nanjing railway, Jan. 4, 2019
Photo: Huan Yueliang