China is the world's most populous country, with a continuous culture stretching back nearly 4,000 years. Many of the elements that make up the foundation of the modern world originated in China, including paper, gunpowder, credit banking, the compass, and paper money. Today, it has the world's fastest-growing economy and is undergoing what has been described as a second industrial revolution.
In 1949 the Chinese Communist Party led by its Chairman Mao Zedong took control of the nation and established the People’s Republic of China. For two decades, until the death of Mao in 1976, it was inward-looking and suffered a series of internal political movements, most noteably the Cultural Revolution of the mid-1960s which had disastrous affects on the nation and its people.
Following Mao’s death, the party’s new leadership led by Deng Xiaoping introduced a series of economic reforms, dismantling collective farming and also introducing private enterprises. In the three decades since, China has become a global economic giant with high domestic growth rate, attracting foreign investments and also investing huge amounts of money abroad. From 2005-2008, China allowed the yuan to float 20 percent, and has more recently eased its currency controls.
The current Chinese leadership continues to encourage further economic liberalization. China’s membership of the World Trade Organization in 2001 has opened its economy to more foreign investments. The government encourages a private sector consisting of domestic and foreign-funded interests, which can work parallel to the state sector.
Despite the economic liberalization, China’s political system continues to be a closed party-controlled operation, with little tolerance for opposition. The benefits of liberalization have not altogether trickled down to rural areas, where protests against corruption, land seizures and evictions are common. China is often criticized by international monitoring groups for its human rights abuses. China’s control over Tibet and its gradual attempts to eradicate the ancient Buddhist civilization have met with protests across the world, for instance, during the recent rally of the Olympic flame.
Other concerns include the increasing rates of HIV infections, pollution and environmental degradation, and China’s desire to reunite Taiwan with the mainland. The ongoing conflict between the Uighurs and Han Chinese continue to be of special concern, as ethnic conflicts rise. In 2009, hundreds were killed in ethnic clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
China is also on the Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth consecutive year for its failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat human trafficking, particularly in terms of punishment of trafficking crimes and the protection of Chinese and foreign victims of trafficking.
Last updated: July 13, 2010
Sources: BBC, UN Data, World Bank, International Crisis Group, CIA World Factbook.