China by the Numbers

Thumbing through an in-flight magazine recently, I came across a graph showing the rate of global population growth since 1960. The overall trend is downward, from more than two percent in the 1960s and early 1970s to about 1.1 percent today.

What immediately caught my eye, however, was the v-shaped dip occurring just after 1960, when the global growth rate plummeted to a low of 1.35 percent before bouncing back up over two percent. Taking a closer look at the color-coded regional data underneath the global trend line revealed the cause of the dip. China’s population growth rate fell below zero in 1961, following the massive deaths that occurred as a result of the failed Great Leap Forward campaign in the late 1950s and the subsequent nationwide famine.

By 1963 China’s growth rate had shot back up, contributing to a stabilizing of global population growth until the early 1970s. Then the global numbers began a slow decline as China’s one-child policy took hold with dramatic effect into the early 1980s.

China Tips the Scales

This simple graph in an airline magazine was yet another example of how China, by virtue of its sheer size, changes the face of the world as the dynamics affecting life in China shape global trends. Similar examples could be found in China’s impact upon global urbanization rates, numbers of people lifted out of poverty, consumption of energy resources worldwide and many other measures of global change as a result of China’s rapid development during the past three decades.

The example above also suggests the global ripples caused by Chinese government policies. Whether economic measures, food policy or family planning, the results extend far beyond China’s borders, leaving their mark on everything from the Dow Jones Industrial Average to the average age of the world’s population.

In this issue we seek to put a face on some of the many statistics that are commonly used to try and make sense of what is happening in China today. In most cases a line can be drawn between official policy and the resulting social phenomenon. The predicament of urban migrant children, for example, stems from an outdated household registration policy that has effectively kept city and countryside apart, both geographically and in the collective psyche of the people. China’s “soft landing” can be attributed to the government’s monetary policies. Its education policy is contributing to the lopsided development and increased alienation of youtheven within the church, where parents and pastors alike are reticent to intervene for fear of their children falling behind in China’s ultra-competitive, test-based culture.

One statistic that appears to have defied government policy for decades, however, is the continued growth of the Chinese church. As Tony Lambert points out, accurate numbers are still hard to come by. Nonetheless, this church growth has already placed China squarely on the map when it comes to the global Christian population. As China moves steadily toward becoming the nation with the largest number of Christians, its church will increasingly be in a position to leave a lasting mark on Christianity worldwide.

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Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio