11 mind-blowing facts about China's economy

VCG via Getty ImagesAn intelligent robot copies the movement of a visitor wearing sensor suit during the opening of 2019 Beijing International Horticultural Exhibition.

China is the world’s largest exporter. Your air conditioner was probably made in China, as was your computer and maybe even your shoes.

But there’s a lot more to China’s economy than the goods it exports to the US.

China’s booming economy means a booming demand for luxury brands and a growing list of billionaires. And old traditions have been given a modern twist – Lunar New Year is not only the most important and widely celebrated Chinese holiday, but now the biggest shopping week of the year, too.

Here are 12 facts you might not have known about the modern Chinese economy:


China imports more US agricultural products than Canada and Mexico

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

China is the main market for agricultural exports from the US, beating our closest neighbours, Canada and Mexico. Soybeans accounted for more than half of the $US9.2 billion China bought from US farmers in 2018.


China is home to a retailer bigger than Walmart and Amazon

If you think the world’s biggest retailer is Walmart, think again. If you think Amazon is the biggest online retailer, wrong again. Both titles go to Alibaba.

China’s online sales giant moves almost three times as much merchandise as Amazon and, when you count its subsidiaries, it has inched past Walmart as the biggest retailer. Alibaba is making a foray into the American e-commerce market with AliExpress, which is already the sixth-biggest online-shopping site in the US.


China has the second-largest number of billionaires, after the US

Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images

The number of billionaires in China (388) is a little more than half that of the US (680). And, collectively, US billionaires have almost three times as much money as those in China. But China is coming up fast, adding 55 new billionaires in 2017, the most of any country (though a 2018 downturn knocked 49 billionaires down to mere millionaires).


But the richest man in China is only the 21st richest person in the world

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, with a fortune of $US131 billion, owns the second biggest online retail business, Amazon. Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, the world’s largest retailer, is only No. 21 on the Forbes billionaires list, behind people like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg. Ma’s net worth is slightly less than $US40 billion.


Chinese consumers spend $US73 billion on luxury goods each year

According to McKinsey, there were 7.6 million Chinese families wealthy enough to buy luxury brands in 2016. Millennials are driving this trend, which added up to $US73 billion in spending in 2018, or nearly a third of the world’s market for high-end and high-status products.


China’s export economy grew 954% between 1970 and 2010

Xinhua/via Getty Images

For years, communist China had a closed economy that did almost no international trade. According to World Bank data, exports accounted for less than 3% of its GDP in 1970. By 2010, that figure had risen to over 26%, down from a high of 36% in 2006.


Average household income in China has increased by over 400% in 10 years

Shen Guo via Getty Images

China’s booming economy hasn’t just created billionaires, it has also helped raise living standards for working people. Between 2002 and 2012, China’s average household income rose from $US987 per year to $US4,273, an increase of over 400%. By 2013, that figure was up to $US4,806, almost five times as much as in 2002.


With a much bigger population, China has fewer poor people than the US

The World Bank poverty line, globally, is an income of $US1.90 per day. By 2015, only 0.7% of the Chinese population were at or below the poverty level, with about 9.9 million in this category out of a population of 1.35 billion.

China’s own national poverty line is higher, and even by that metric, only 3.1% of the population – 30.5 million people – lives in poverty.

Meanwhile, in the US, 12.3% of the population falls below the national poverty line, which in the 48 contiguous states is $US12,490 a year for an individual or $US25,750 a year for a family of four, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s 39.7 million Americans living in poverty.


Singles can hire a date for as little as $US0.15 an hour in China’s growing date-rental industry

STR/AFP/Getty Images

China’s one-child policy has resulted in an extreme gender imbalance. There are about 34 million more Chinese men than women. In a society that calls an unmarried adult a “leftover man,” this poses a problem.

One solution: hire a date. Newsweek reported that Chinese singles can hire a date for as little as 15 cents an hour, up to $US288 an hour (sex not included).


Read more:
Chinese men are using apps to hire fake girlfriends, and the story of a woman who got 700 offers illustrates the country’s growing marriage problem


Lunar New Year is the biggest shopping week in China

Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Lunar New Year is celebrated for a whole week each year, usually sometime in February. Many people travel home and buy gifts. Chinese consumers spent the equivalent of $US149 billion in 2019, according to Bloomberg.


China recently reopened a legal market in endangered tiger and rhino parts

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

China has long been the main destination for black-market endangered-animal parts, prized for their medicinal value. Ground rhino horn was supposed to cure fevers and reduce blood pressure. Tigers were thought to protect you from being cursed, and the parts from one tiger could sell for as much as $US50,000, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

For many years, China was part of a global effort to stop the poaching of threatened species. But, last year, China created a legal market for farmed tiger and rhino parts. Conservationists fear this could open the door to more poaching of these highly endangered animals.


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