China’s transition from a centrally controlled command economy to a market-led economy has got to be one of the most dramatic stories of the 20th century – and certainly one with the most far-reaching consequences. Since Deng Xioping’s market reforms of the 1970s, economic growth has lifted the average per capita income significantly, and dragged the poverty rate down from 85 per cent in 1981 to 16 per cent in 2005, as well as widening the rift between rich and poor.
China’s population has grown from 93,267,000 in 1976 – the year Mao died – to now include more than 1.27 billion mostly urban dwellers. China has been variously described as the world’s fastest growing economy, the world’s hero during the GFC, the next ‘Great Power,’ and the biggest new market for, well, pretty much everything.
But China’s transformation extends beyond the jargon of economists and political scientists. Lives there are different. Values are changing. Power relationships have shifted. Interest in the Communist Party is waning, as it’s state-sponsored successor, the market, takes the limelight. Consumerism is the new ‘ism’ in this world.