The raw figures for what is now the second-largest economy in the world speak for themselves. Guangdong Province, the most populous and richest province in China, had a gross domestic product of $665 billion last year, meaning that if it were a country, it would be one of the 20 largest in the world in terms of GDP. If the same calculation were done for Shanghai, China’s most dynamic city would be the 34th largest economy in the world, placing it ahead of Finland. Thirty years of double-digit growth have lifted by some measures about 500 million Chinese out of poverty, in the process providing enough disposable income for 900 million – nearly two thirds of the population –to own a cell phone.
So is the rapid development that economic reforms have unleashed all thanks to a Communist Party master plan? Gordon Chang, in our first essay, thinks not.
“The world credits the diminutive Deng Xiaoping for the startling transformation of Chinese society. We believe, according to the universal narrative, that his dictatorial state first debated, then planned, and finally decreed change,” Chang writes. “Yet reform, in reality, progressed more by disobedience than design.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
“China has enjoyed an ‘economic miracle’ largely because desperate peasants and frustrated bureaucrats openly made themselves into plucky entrepreneurs. By ignoring central government decrees, they built large and small private businesses and changed the Chinese economy beyond recognition.”
Chang concludes with a statement that rings true for anyone that has visited China, and certainly anyone that has visited the country more than once and witnessed the breakneck pace of change – “In China today, almost anything is possible.” And this increasingly includes, it seems, an ability and desire to reach for the stars – quite literally.
At a time when the United States has retired the last of its iconic Space Shuttle fleet (leaving it with no homegrown means for getting its astronauts into orbit), China is becoming increasingly bold in its stellar endeavors.
As David Axe notes in the second essay in our series, last year marked the first time since the mid-1990s that another country had matched the United States in sheer number of successful rocket launches. That country, of course, was China. And it has continued to go from strength to strength.
Chinese achievements in space in recent years have included the launch of its first unmanned lunar orbiter, Chang'e-1, in 2007, a third manned Shenzhou mission and a spacewalk. Future plans include a manned lunar mission in 2017. The problem in U.S. eyes is that there’s more to China’s interest in space than advancing scientific understanding. Many argue that walking hand-in-hand with China’s civil advances in space is the People’s Liberation Army.
“Whoever controls the universe controls our world; whoever controls space controls initiative in war,” wrote Maj. Gen. Liu Jixian of the PLA Academy of Military Science. The PLA, Axe argues, “seems to view space as the ultimate expression of the most ancient of tactics: holding the high ground to boost one’s defenses, field of fire, view of the battlefield and line of sight to neighboring friendly forces.”