Ask most Americans what they know about China and the response would probably be fairly simple: “Biggest population…run by a Communist Party…the Great Wall…China creates products we use…we owe them a ton of money.”
But as China appears in more and more newspaper headlines, there is a new interest in learning more about the growing superpower across the Pacific. If you’re one of those wanting to study deeper, here are 9 incredible facts about our Chinese friends to get you started.
1. CHINA WAS THE MOST ADVANCED SOCIETY FOR ALMOST ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY.
Chinese emperors ruled over more people than the Roman Empire, and constructed a larger road system as well, according to historian Chris Harman (A People’s History of the World). Building the Great Wall was a feat unparalleled in the ancient world, a structure at least 6,000 miles long, possibly 13,000 miles at its prime…that’s half the circumference of the Earth!
The Chinese were the first to invent iron in early 5th century B.C., then steel during the Northern Wei Dynasty (A.D. 386-557), modern paper during the Western Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D. 9), the mechanical clock and moveable-type printing during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the compass during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), and gunpowder in the 9th century. They were the first society to use gunpowder-based weapons.
2. FAMOUS CHINESE EXPLORERS PUT EUROPEAN EXPLORERS TO SHAME.
True, in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, to cross the Atlantic and make it to Asia. His first journey was with three ships and fewer than 90 men. But Zheng He set sail to explore the Pacific in 1405 with 62 ships and 27,800 men. Over several voyages, he explored the waters of Southeast Asia, India, east Africa, the Persian Gulf, and made it all the way to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Zheng He came from a Muslim family.
3. CHINA ONLY HAS ABOUT 7 MORE YEARS AS THE WORLD’S MOST POPULOUS NATION.
China currently has a population of 1.4 billion, yet since the 1951 the population growth rate fell from 2.8% to 0.6% today. India, which currently has 1.3 billion people, is estimated to pass China in population in 2022.
4. CHINA’S ECONOMY WILL SURPASS THE U.S. ECONOMY AS THE LARGEST IN THE WORLD IN 11 YEARS.
China already has the largest economy in terms of purchasing power (it has more people spending more money than the U.S. does, adjusting for currency value and cost of living). But by 2026, Chinese productive output will surpass that of the U.S. as well.
5. ISLAM IS THE MOST POPULAR RELIGION AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE IN CHINA.
According to research at Renmin University in Beijing, Islam has the largest proportion of followers (22.4%) under 30 than any other religion. Currently, China has some 23 million Muslims, more than some nations in the Middle East.
6. CHINA HAS HIGHWAYS THAT ARE 50 LANES ACROSS. 50!
And yet traffic jams are still a problem. On Wednesday, October 7, 2015, thousands of cars were delayed for hours on the G4 Beijing-Hong-Kong-Macau Expressway. Drivers were forced to merge from 50 lanes down to 20. Still not as bad as a traffic jam in 2010, which lasted 11 days and stretched back 60 miles.
7. AN ESTIMATED 1.6 MILLION CHINESE DIE EACH YEAR FROM POLLUTED AIR.
That’s about 4,400 people a day. As pollution from Chinese industry and energy use poisons and clouds their cities, China serves as an example of what will happen globally if carbon dioxide emissions go unchecked.
8. CHINA BUILDS MASSIVE CITIES WHERE NO ONE LIVES.
China constructs huge “ghost cities,” to meet the needs and interests of construction companies and keep their economy surging, but also to prepare for the 300 million Chinese expected to move from rural areas into cities by 2030.
9. YET CHINA HAS SOME OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL LANDSCAPES ON EARTH.
Not only is the northern slope of Mount Everest in China, and the Great Wall and Forbidden City as stunning as they are famous, this massive nation is home to many incredible lesser-known landscapes, such as the Yangshou region.
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