What on earth is China?

Wikipedia is quite remarkable. And it reminds me every day how little I know. Their iOS app is stunning. So I've been taking some time every day to read a little. I've relegated other more "junk food" apps to some folder on the second page of my homescreen. Wikipedia isn't as instantly dopamine releasing as an Instagram or a Twitter, but if you hang in there, the stories are exquisite.

I'll start with some whimsical topic, whatever comes to mind, and begin reading until I find a hyperlinked word to which my brain says, what on earth is that? I've found I can spend a good half hour to hour losing myself in this way, in this infinite web of knowledge, and I come out of it inspired. Refreshed. I feel smarter, more knowledgable. And it feels practical. I feel I can make better decisions now, in a wide range of domains.

There's just something about that Wikipedia tone of voice that is so uniquely satiating.

I thought I'd share things I learn on the way that I find interesting. My sharings will be anecdotal. It's a casual interpretation, as if I were having a drunken conversation with a friend. My goal is not necessarily to educate, but to hopefully inspire curiosity.

What on earth is China?

Ok, it's a country, sure. There's a lot of people. They're communist or something? They're smart. Western countries don't seem to like them. Why though? They're doing really well, economically. How? Isn't communism not supposed to work? And is their leader elected, or chosen, or is it a dictatorship, or what?

I have no clue. So here's what I learned.

China has been a constant beast of a country for the last two thousand years. But they started to hiccup in the 20th century. They weren't doing too great. Some 88% poverty rate. Their GDP in 1978 was $150 billion USD.

Today, their GDP is $12 trillion USD. They're the world's largest exporter and the second largest importer. So what happened? Apparently in 1978 the leaders took on a series of economic reforms. The main article doesn't go into detail about what those were.

China is officially an atheist country. Some 73% of people claim not to belong to any traditional religion. That's pretty badass, not gonna lie.

They are called the People's Republic of China (PRC). Every organization within China seems to starts with "The People's". They used to be called "The Republic of China" before the communist takeover in the late 1940s. There's also some dispute about an area called Taiwan. The PRC wants everyone to deny their existence as a nation. Not sure why.

The chief leader is not elected, but chosen according to some pyramidal election scheme. The person on top is chosen by the group of politicians in the row below in the pyramid, and so down to the lowest local level, where it's a vote-based people election. It's a one-party system though, so there's some question as to the legitimacy of the whole thing. A huge portion of the pyramid are called "rubber ducks" by Western nations, which is someone with a lot of ceremonial power, but no real actual power.

They're not fully "communist". They're a so-called mixed economy. Lots of things are government controlled, but they have and encourage a huge private sector. Freedom, as a concept, is not really in their vocabulary. They heavily restrict "free access to the Internet, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, the right to have children, free formation of social organizations and freedom of religion." But, that's fine. We don't need to go save those people. It's their system and it seems to be...working? It's all software anyway—the things we think are right and wrong. It's all learned. Freedom sounds really logical and inherent, but it's definitely invented and learned.

They signed a $400 billion USD deal with Russia to import gas. They like to make friends with "odd" nations for some reason—Iran, North Korea, Russia. They're clearly not in the same Western propaganda ring as we are. When I hear the words Iran, North Korea, and Russia, I feel a sense of alarm. But let's be honest. That's just propaganda. They're just people. And everyone has their own ideas about how to form a country. We English-speaking people tend to not like those ideas, so we alienate them. But given how fast China is coming up, it doesn't seem that's a good attitude to have anymore.

It's estimated that by 2030, China is set to overtake the United States for largest GDP. That's...scary. Scary in like a planetary way. Like woah, that thing is huge.

Throughout the entire article, size and rank were very frequently recurring themes. Whenever the article mentioned a figure, it would almost always say, "ranking #2 in the world after the United States." In almost everything, they're right behind the US, but gaining fast. They have the #2 biggest military expenditure in the world. They rank #1 for most number of skyscrapers built in a four year span (some 300 compared to the US's 30 from 2015-2018). They have very low unemployment rates (4%), and very high education rates.

And it's no wonder now why China seems to be occupying the Western hivemind.

Some interesting pastes:

  • The word "China" has been used in English since the 16th century. It is not a word used by the Chinese themselves.
  • China had the largest economy in the world for most of the past two thousand years.
  • In 2018, China had 9 out of the Top 20 most valuable Internet companies in the world.
  • In 2019, the Chinese retail market is expected to overtake that of the US and become #1 in the world.
  • As of 2018, China was second in the world in total number of billionaires and millionaires—there were 338 Chinese billionaires and 3.5 million millionaires.
  • China brought more people out of extreme poverty than any other country in history—between 1978 and 2018, China reduced extreme poverty by 800 million, and reduced the extreme poverty rate from 88% in 1981 to 1.85% by 2013.
  • China is a major owner of US public debt, holding trillions of dollars worth of U.S. Treasury bonds.
  • China is a recognized nuclear weapons state and has the world's largest standing army and second-largest defense budget.
  • China was one of the four major Allies of World War II, and was later considered one of the primary victors in the war.
  • Major combat in the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949 with the Communist Party in control of most of mainland China. The regime consolidated its popularity among the peasants through land reform, which included the execution of between 1 and 2 million landlords.
  • The Chinese population increased from 550 million in 1950 to 900 million in 1974
  • Deng Xiaoping took power in 1978, and instituted significant economic reforms. The Communist Party loosened governmental control over citizens' personal lives, and the communes were gradually disbanded. This marked China's transition from a planned economy to a mixed economy with an increasingly open-market environment.
  • The level of public support for the government and its management of the nation is high, with 80–95% of Chinese citizens expressing satisfaction with the central government.
  • The PRC has diplomatic relations with 175 countries and maintains embassies in 162. Its legitimacy is disputed by the Republic of China (Taiwan) and a few other countries.
  • Much of current Chinese foreign policy is reportedly based on Premier Zhou Enlai's Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, and is also driven by the concept of "harmony without uniformity", which encourages diplomatic relations between states despite ideological differences. This policy may have led China to support states that are regarded as dangerous or repressive by Western nations, such as Zimbabwe, North Korea and Iran.
  • China has a close economic and military relationship with Russia, and the two states often vote in unison in the UN Security Council.