Since 1978 the Chinese economy has expanded 14 times in real terms. By
the early 1990s China had, after some false starts and obstreperous
objections from left-wing diehards and obtuse Marxist ideologues in
the 1980s, completed the transition from a clunky socialist command
economy to a modern, efficient, primarily market economy.
By the beginning of this century, there were already more cell
phones and television sets in China than anywhere else in the world.
Today it seems that the cell phones work everywhere in China; spotty
coverage is not the problem it is in North America. No area seems too
remote or rural for cell phone coverage in China.
Traditional heavy industries have also experienced phenomenal
growth in China over the past decade, and because of the voracious
Chinese demand for scrap iron, the world price for scrap iron went
from $77 U.S. a ton in 2001 to $300 U.S. a ton by the end of 2004. To
meet the demand, manhole covers began turning up missing in cities
all over the world, including Beijing itself, as thieves made off with
them and sought to cash in. (After losing 24,000 manhole covers,
Beijing began experimenting with composite manhole covers that
would have little recycling value.) In the United States, stainless steel
beer kegs were next because they were worth more than the deposits
paid on them. Resourceful criminals in Ukraine even stole a vintage
steam locomotive from an open-air museum and sold it to a scrap
dealer. In 2006, thieves in Vancouver tried to steal an entire Telus
phone booth. That same year, thieves in Quebec brazenly stole copper
from the roofs of the St-Charles-de-Limoilou and St-Francois-d' Assise
churches in Montr ´ al.
China has weathered some fairly serious economic storms, such as
the stock market's loss of more than 60 percent of its value in 2007,
when property prices began faltering. Inflation has become a problem,
primarily because of skyrocketing prices. But China takes these eco-
nomic fluctuations in stride, and there is no serious talk in the country
of ever turning away from capitalism and returning to the inefficien-
cies and inadequacies of planned command economies.
Economic growth in China has been fueled by extensive direct for-
eign investment and also by domestic capital; thrifty Chinese families
typically save or invest a staggering 50 percent of their income. By
2008 China was holding an estimated two trillion dollars U.S. in for-
eign exchange reserves. Late that year China passed Japan as the sin-
gle largest holder of U.S. government bonds and other debt. Indeed,
by 2009 it had become abundantly clear that China's economic health
was crucial to the world's economic well-being. That year a posting