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China is a booming country, in all aspects one can think of. Its economy is growing faster than that of any other country in the world, its population takes up over 1/7th of the world population, and the levels of industrialisation and technological progress are unprecedented. However, there is a different side to the story. Because with all its progress and growth, China still does not give the same human rights and freedom to its people that many other developed nations do. Its government arrests anyone who opposes it, specifically targets religious groups which they consider as 'threats', forces people to leave their homes when they want to use the land for development, and does many other terrible things, all because it is afraid that its power will be undermined.
The People's Republic of China is growing at a high rate in lots of sectors. One of the issues which is fast-growing is its economy. In 2010 China's economy defeated Japan's economy. China's economy was worth almost 5.88 trillion dollars, compared to just 5.47 trillion for Japan. So that is why in February 2011, China's economy became world's second after the economy of the United States of America, which has been largest since 1890. China has four times as many citizens as the US. This means that each one of them needs to be producing only a quarter as much as the US citizen, for China to become the world's number one economy. Still China's economy continues to exceed expectations, and is predicted to take the number one spot from the US within ten years, in 2020.
If you want to become the number one economy in the world, you have to be number one in nominal and PPP terms. When the GDP is nominal it is calculated by the current exchange rate on international currency markets. But it can also be calculated by the purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rate, which is a way of estimating national income by showing the number of currency units required to buy the same amount of goods and services in another country as one currency unit would buy at home. But how to get these two topics on the number one spot?
The US is helping China to become the world's number one economy, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) must be at the highest level of all countries. And because the US gave lots of jobs to China, the GDP in China is getting higher. Everybody knows the phenomenon 'Made in China'. Lots and lots of jobs are created in China due to other countries, because the wages are very low in China. It is very cheap to produce products in China, and sell them abroad. Also the US is their largest customer, so if they didn't buy their products, China wouldn't prosper either.
Of course China benefits from the fact that many jobs are created by other countries: because of the low wages, jobs are created, and the GDP of China rises, which means its economy grows. Also, the number of citizens is a huge advantage for China, because then the GDP per person won't have to rise much higher to make China the world's largest economy.
China's economy is the fastest-growing of all countries, because of the cheap labour, the big number of customers it has and the fact that it is exporting more than it is importing. Those three main factors will make China the world's largest economy in 2020.
China exports more than it imports. Why is that?
The People's Republic of China is the third biggest country in the whole world, which means it has a huge land surface area to produce products. Lots of those products can be sold in China itself, but also many are transported and sold abroad. China is the largest exporter and second largest importer of goods in the world. In 2010 the total export was 1,577.93 billion US dollars and the total import was 1,394.83 billion. But what is China importing and exporting, and why is it exporting more than it is importing?
China has a top six of trade partners which form over 50 percent of the world's total trade of China. Those are Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany and of course the United States. The US imports about 15 percent of their products from China, and exports only 4 percent of all the products to them.
In 2010 the total import was 1,394.83 billion US dollars. It is lower than the export because lots of products are produced in China, so less has to be imported. The main import goods are capital goods (computers, office machines), industrial supplies (oil and mineral fuels), optical and medical equipment, power generation equipment, metal ores, plastics, iron and steel, organic chemicals and copper. The main countries where China imports from are Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.
The total export in 2010 was 1,577.93 billion US dollars. As largest exporter in the whole world, China exports many different goods. The main export goods are capital goods (also data processing equipment), clothing, iron and steel, power generation equipment, furniture, optical and medical equipment, ships and boats, footwear and textiles. China exports to every part of the world, but the most to the United States, Hong Kong and Japan.
China is exporting more than it is importing. It seems strange, but it is not. As everyone knows China is one of the world's biggest countries and has a large surface area to produce products on. They have many resources in China, which is a huge advantage. It means less has to be imported to produce goods. To give an example, many Europeans set up their businesses in China because numerous costs are lower than in Europe, such as wages, and many resources are already there, which also cost less. Otherwise the businesses sector has to import all the goods needed. Then it exports almost all goods it made to other countries, and this is a main cause of the rise of the total export of China, thanks to the Europeans. Also the US has many businesses set in China. All these situations make China export more than it imports.
Are the working conditions really as bad as they are portrayed by the Western media?
It is a well-known fact that the standards for living and working in Chinese factories are not as good as they are in Western factories. Long workdays, low wages, poor safety equipment and bad treatment by the factory's supervisors are commonly known issues. But just how big are these problems?
Officially, a workweek in China should be similar to the Western workweek, with 5, 8-hour workdays (40 work hours a week) and a 2-day weekend. However, many factory owners do not comply with this law, and force their employees to work for more than 60(!) hours a week. Often workers need to use their overtime to finish the work, without getting any extra pay.
When the factory needs to speed up its production in order to meet a deadline, employees are denied vacations and weekends and are forced to work for even longer periods a day, sometimes adding up to 16 hours of non-stop labour (twice as much as allowed by Chinese law). If employees protest against these conditions, they risk a serious decrease in their already miserable wages. Blackmailing of this kind is commonplace in many Chinese factories, imprisoning the workers in a loop of continuous increase in working hours and decrease in wages.
But those wages are already hardly enough to sustain the workers.
An average worker earns about 600 to 700 yuan (60 to 70 euro's) a month. He or she will have to use this to pay for food, insurance, and even water and electricity, since even though the workers sleep in dormitories owned by the factory, they still have to pay for everything they use themselves. In addition to this, many workers come from rural areas and were sent to the factories by their families to earn money for them. The workers therefore send a significant part of their salary to their families, leaving little for themselves.
Safety is also a major issue in these factories. Employees often come in close contact with dangerous chemicals, without proper equipment and suits that would protect them against the effects of these chemicals. Using dangerous equipment, such as antiquated sewing-machines or an amortized metal press, can cost the workers a finger, or even a hand. The reason why the factory owners do not have safer equipment, is because it costs more money, and the factory cannot afford having to raise its products' prices to pay for it. The Western companies (mostly trans-national corporations like Nike) that buy their products would abandon them if they did.
Chinese factory workers are constantly being watched by supervisors; if they pause for a minute after hours of work, they are told to continue working. If they fall asleep, they get hit with a stick and are told to keep on working. Life for the Chinese factory workers is very tough indeed.
Why are human rights campaigners criticising China? Are they correct?
Human rights organisations like Amnesty International criticize China for its strict laws and inhumane treatment of prisoners. Such issues are frequently in the news, a recent example is the extremely rapid response of the Chinese government to the formation of civilian protester groups. On several occasions, the crowds of protesters were disintegrated by police forces, even before they had really started their protest. It is clear that the Chinese government is following a kind of 'zero tolerance policy', trying to prevent anything or anyone from opposing it.
To begin with, there are a lot of people in China who disagree with the government's policies, but when they try to speak their minds about it, they get arrested by the state police. In 1989, China's General Secretary Hu Yaobang died, a man who was famous among the Chinese people for his open view of communism, allowing more freedom. His death sparked off a lot of unrest in China, because people were afraid that the Communist Party would go back to the intolerant government it used to be. Thousands of young people gathered on the Tiananmen Square in Beijing on April 15th 1989.
It started off as a mourning gathering for minister Hu Yaobang, but as more people joined it, it gradually changed into a protest. The protesters used non-violent protesting methods and were a mixed group of Troskyists (supporter's of the original theory of Marxism), liberals (who were against the government's authoritarianism - a social organization characterized by submission to rule, and even members of the Communist Party of China. Because of this mix, they lacked a unified goal. They were lead by students and intellectuals, who had little or no experience with leadership. The protest lasted for 7 weeks, until, in early June, the Chinese army arrived on the square with tanks and heavily armed soldiers. In the evening of June 4th, the protest was brutally put down, costing the lives of an unknown amount of people. Survivors claim that the army drove into the crowds with armoured cars and tanks, crushing dozens of people. The protesters were dispersed and many fled to other regions of the city, leaving behind a landscape that looked like a battlefield, with hundreds, possibly thousands of bodies. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Communist Party of China denies that it ever happened till this very day. It is very difficult to find out the exact death toll, because the Chinese government has attempted to erase the evid ence. Witnesses were threatened with imprisonment if they would ever attempt to tell 'the World' what happened.
Secondly, completely innocent citizens were driven away from their homes because the government wanted to use the land for development projects. Some watched helplessly as their homes, which they loved and had grown up in, were being t orn down.
Also, it has been known that the Communist party of China persecutes all Chinese citizens who practice Falun Gong (a spiritual self-discipline originating from China). They are thrown into camps similar to the concentration camps built by the Nazis in the 1930's and '40's, having to work all day with barely enough food to keep them alive.
But why all this torture? In January 1999, the Chinese president of that time, Jiang Zemin, decided that the practice of Falun Gong, which was rapidly growing in popularity, was overthrowing his own legacy. Therefore, he ordered the elimination of the practice in its entirety. He used the state police, the army and the secret police to execute this plan. Today, it is still unknown how many victims Zemin has made, but specialists estimate they run into the thousands.