By Bonita Chen

Since the beginning of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in 1978, China has undergone unrivaled rapid economic growth, boosting an average GDP growth rate of 10 percent over the last three decades. But as China’s break-neck expansion settles into the “New Normal” and its economy matures, measures beyond GDP gain significance when looking at the big picture of China. Below we examine how China fares in world rankings from nine distinct categories that look at how a country is doing overall, helping to provide a comprehensive view of China’s standing in the world.


Although China is the world’s most populous country with approximately 1.35 billion people, its annual population growth rate currently stands at only 0.44 percent (largely due to its three-decade-old one-child policy). This growth rate ranks China 159th among the world’s fastest growing countries, and it is expected that India will overtake China as the most populous country in a little over a decade. China’s life expectancy at birth is 75.15 years, giving it a ranking of 101th in the world. Both the low fertility rate and the prolonged life expectancy contribute to China’s slowing population, revealing a new demographic landscape in China with a growing aged population.

The literacy rate is high in China, with 95.1 percent of all Chinese age 15 and over being able to read and write. This percentage places China 99th in the world, higher than developed country Norway (103th) and fellow developing country India (185th). This high literacy rate can be attributed to the prioritization of education by the PRC government, in an effort to both produce a better-educated work force to achieve economic growth objectives, and to break the elite classes’ monopoly on education to spread the egalitarian principle.

In the 2015 World Happiness report, published by an international team of economists, statisticians, and neuroscientists, China ranks 84th on the list, followed by Zambia, Romania, Serbia, and Portugal. This third annual ranking is based on six main factors, namely GDP per capita, social support, years of healthy life expectancy (the average number of years that a person can expect to live in full health), freedom to make life choices, prevalence of generosity, and perceptions of corruption. It appears that perception of corruption in China prevented it from moving further up on the list. The United States ranks 15th behind Mexico. Switzerland passed Denmark and topped the list as the happiest nation.


Since the 1990s, China has achieved immense growth in its economy. It surpassed the United States in terms of GDP based on purchasing power parity (PPP) at the end of 2014, making it the country with the largest GDP in the world. In recent years, China ended its double-digit annual economic expansion and entered into an era of slower growth; however, even with slowing growth, China’s annual GDP growth rate is still 7.4 percent, ranking it as the 14th fastest growing country in the world. China’s gross national saving is 49.5 percent of its GDP, making China fifth among countries with the highest saving rate. The low unemployment rate of 4.1 percent is also impressive for a country with such a large population, placing it 36th in the world for lowest unemployment rate, with a lower rate than many developed nations such as Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

On the other hand, China’s economic statistics fail to impress when looking at GDP per capita. China ranks 113th in the world with an average of $12,900 per person sandwiched between Macedonia and the Dominican Republic. In comparison, the United States ranks 19th with $54,800 per capita. There is also room for improvement in terms of equality. China has a Gini index of 47.3, making it the 26th most unequal country in the world. Ranked 41th, the United States is not too far down the list itself.

China surpassed the United States as the world’s largest trading nation, as measured by the sum of its exports and imports. China is the biggest exporter in the world, exporting $2.25 trillion in goods in 2014, according to the World Factbook. In comparison, the EU and the United States follow closely behind as second and third respectively. The United States remains the biggest importer in the world, followed by the European Union and China.


As the world’s population grows and stretches resources even further, agriculture production becomes even more important. As a top agricultural producing country, China ranks high for a couple of key products.

For example, China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of pork. In 2014 alone, Chinese pork production amounted to 56.71 million metric tons, and currently, half of all pigs on the planet are raised and eaten in China. During the past year, China slaughtered 735.1 million pigs—more than twice the population of the United States.

Traditionally, milk and dairy products have not been a component of the predominant Han Chinese diet; however, both dairy production and consumption have soared in China over the past three decades thanks to income growth, effective advertising, and convenience of purchase. China is now the fourth largest dairy producer in the world.

In addition, China is the world’s largest producer of potatoes, wheat, tomatoes, rice, and apples, and the top destination for the United States agricultural exports. Although China is a large agricultural producing country, it is increasingly dependent on imports to fully sustain its population.


China has spent enormous amounts of time and money trying to absorb foreign technologies and innovate on its own, but is it paying off? According to Bloomberg’s 2015 ranking of the world’s 50 most innovative countries, China ranked 22nd of more than 200. This ranking is based on six equally weighted measures: research and development expenditure per capita, gross value added by manufacturing, number of high-tech companies, postsecondary education levels, the number of research personnel per capita, and the number of patents per capita. South Korea claimed first place, followed by Japan and Germany, and the United States finished sixth. The United States, China, and Japan lead in hi-tech companies, while China’s Tencent Holdings Limited ranked as the tenth largest tech companies by market value. The prevalence of its use of Internet reflects China’s fast growth pace in technology. China has the largest number of global Internet users according to CIA World Factbook, and the fifth largest Internet host.


According to the World Bank’s 2015 “Doing Business” ranking (which measures the ease of opening and running business in 189 countries worldwide), China ranks in 90th out of 189 countries. Although this ranking is low, it appears that China is on track when compared to other developing countries. Fellow developing countries such as Brazil and India rank behind China, they rank at 120th and 142th respectively. Developed countries like Singapore (first) and the United States (seventh) fare much better in this measure. However, it should be noted that China made both starting a business and paying taxes easier for all companies this year—state-owned, domestic, and foreign—helping China move up from 96th in 2014. The minimum capital requirement has been eliminated and the electronic system for filing and paying taxes has been enhanced. In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest Business Environment rankings, China places 50th in the world’s most investor-friendly location in 2014-18, one place lower than its ranking from 2009-13. Singapore is ranked as the world’s most investor-friendly location in both periods.

Energy and Environment

China is often criticized for its large carbon dioxide emission and huge energy appetite. It is the world’s sixth largest natural gas importer, second largest crude oil importer, and the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. However, per capita statistics paint a somewhat different picture. The United States emits the most carbon per head by a large margin, with more than twice the per capita emissions of China.

China has made tremendous strides in the fight against carbon emission and is leading in the global race to cleaner energy. In 2014, China was home to six of the world’s ten leading solar module manufacturers, and places second in solar power usage, only behind Germany and is followed by Italy, Japan, and the United States, respectively.

Furthermore, China has the most installed wind power capacity, at 114,609 MW, ahead of the United States’ 65,879 MW. According to data from Global Wind Energy Council and American Wind Energy Association, China ranks second in total amount of electricity produced by wind, immediately followed the United States.

China’s commitment to clean energy as well as it’s curtail of coal use, is projected to make China the country with the most green energy in the world.


China has developed a very comprehensive transportation system, ranking third in the world in terms of total length of railways at 86000km, closely behind the United States and Russia. China has a total of 507 airports in the country, placing it 14th worldwide in terms of total number of airports built in the country. China’s more complete infrastructure will aid its development by making it easier to attract foreign talent and provide a more convenient environment for business and trade.


Aside from producing top athletes in the realm of gymnastics and table tennis, China also boasts popularity and success in basketball, badminton, soccer, and volleyball. According to Badminton World Federation (BWF) ranking, China holds the world top position in badminton. Ranking wise, China’s women’s team consistently ranks higher than the men’s team. The women’s team places 14th in FIFA world ranking for soccer in 2015 while the men’s team did not make top 50. Its women’s volleyball team ranks fifth in the world while the men’s team ranks 18th in the world. According to the FIBA ranking for basketball, China places eighth in women’s national teams and 14th in men’s national teams. A Brookings’s article suggest that China’s soft power can be developed through various means, such as through its rich cultural heritage, its experience of spectacular growth over the last three decades, and its newly acquired status of athletic powerhouse. According to Asia Times, China has been using sports to extend its influence in world. These good rankings hint at China’s rising soft power in the global community.

[author]Bonita Chen ([email protected]) is a summer intern at the US-China Business Council’s Washington, DC office. She is a rising senior at Dartmouth College double majoring in Economics and Government. Born in Beijing, China, she is interested in the advancement of US-China trade relations.[/author]

(Photo by Charlie Loyd via Flickr)

Posted by Bonita Chen