China’s GDP On Par With 1949 Levels

September 15, 2011 8:51 pm Last Updated: September 21, 2011 11:13 am

China’s economy may have grown to become the world’s second-largest, but its share of global gross domestic product has only reached a level comparable to when the Communists first came to power in 1949, a prominent Chinese economist has said.

China’s GDP accounts for but 5 to 6 percent of the world’s economic activity, which is a level China last reached six decades ago, notes Hu Xingdou, professor of economics at Beijing Institute of Technology.

According to a recent Radio France Internationale report, China’s aggregate economy amounts to US$4.5 trillion, while the United States’ is triple that at US$14 trillion. America’s per capita income swamps China’s by 14 times.

Hu said he and many other academics believe that the economy should not be used by itself to measure the heyday of prosperity. Instead, in evaluating a country’s economic wealth one should consider issues such as the difference between the rich and the poor and living standards.

Hu noted that in the 17th century under the rule of emperor Kangxi, a native of Mongolia, China’s GDP accounted for 32 percent of the world’s; during the Opium War in the 19th century, it was 20 percent at least; in the final years of China’s last dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, it dropped to 11 percent; in 1949, when the Communists took over, it fell to 6 percent. During the Great Cultural Revolution, which lasted from 1966 to 1976, it fell to 2 percent, the lowest it’s ever been in recent history. Although the current GDP has risen back to about 5 to 6 percent, it still accounts for a small percentage of the world’s total economic activity.

While Hu played down communist China’s economic importance in the world, a Chinese independent filmmaker, Yang Weidong, dismissed the measuring system all together. Yang has interviewed 200 intellectuals as part of a forthcoming book titled "The Minds of 500 Chinese." Many of the interviewees cast doubts on the GDP measuring standards for China.

"Using the GDP to measure economic development could sometimes also be a big trap," Hu agreed.

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