An economist I am not. I barely got through sixth grade arithmetic at Coggin Ward grade school. And my only exposure to any kind of economics was in T. R. Havins’ Economic History of the U.S. That was a long time ago. The world has changed since then.

I still don’t know much about the world of banking and foreign exchange. But, as my grandmother used to say, I have studied about it. There are many good reasons to try and keep up with where all the money in the world is going and what it is doing. Which brings me to my favorite subject: China.

Most everyone knows China is booming. The city of Shenzhen, 25 years ago a border village just across from Hong Kong, is now a city of skyscrapers. The Pudong area of Shanghai was farm land; now it looks like Manhattan.

The expanding middle class in China is enjoying many of those amenities. There are now 200 million Chinese who earn enough money to afford a car and apartment.

While enjoying the benefits of China’s newfound riches, they live under more stress along with their expanding freedom. The previous generation was fortunate to own a bicycle. When we were there 20 years ago, the government was involved in almost all day-to-day life. The amount of freedom has improved dramatically. Now the pressure is on to make all the money they can all the time.

The fast-growing economy now demands more energy. Behind the U.S., China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal. Massive investment in hydro-power includes the $25 billion Three Gorges Dam. The world’s largest dam on the world’s third longest river–its construction displaced more than a million peasants.

It is expected that the country will become the world’s largest economy within a generation. The British Broadcasting Corporation estimated China will become the biggest economy by 2026. If I live to see it I will be 96.

This month China’s central bank announced that its total foreign exchange reserve has reached one trillion U.S. dollars. This huge surplus is a result of China’s success as an exporter to the world.

Brad Setsen, a former Treasury official, estimates China now holds $700 billion in U.S. long-term bonds. With wealth comes problems: there are over one million farmers and workers who are as poor as a church mouse–two million live below the poverty level.

The economic disparity between urban China and the rural hinterlands is among the largest in the world. Many impoverished rural dwellers are flocking to the country’s eastern cities. Social discontent continues to manifest itself in protests by farmers and workers. Such riots are seldom reported overseas or even in China. The press is still under the thumb of the one-party leadership. Last week thousands protested the inefficiency of a hospital that caused a young boy his life.

This modern Chinese generation has come a very long way in a very short time. They are on a journey that is only beginning.

Britt Towery, a retired Baptist missionary, writes for the Brownwood Bulletin in Brownwood, Texas. His book Christianity in Today’s China, in its fourth printing, is available for order by e-mail:

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