1.3 billion people, China has the world’s largest
population. Although over 68 percent of China’s
population is rural, the rural population density in
China is extremely high, nearly twenty times that of
the United States. The land area of China is similar
to that of the United States, but extensive mountain
ranges and deserts, as well as urban encroachment, leave
only about 10 percent of China’s landmass suitable
for cultivation (U.S. Department of State 2003a).
population pressures and limited natural resources, China
is nearly self-sufficient in food production and even exports
some agricultural products, primarily to neighboring countries.
Due to the reforms initiated in 1979, China has achieved dramatic
improvements in agricultural production levels during the
past twenty years. These reforms have included agricultural
policy reversals that dismantled the communes and allowed
individual farm households to manage family farms. An average
farming household in China now cultivates about one hectare
(approximately 2.5 acres), often divided into several, non-contiguous
small plots. The farmers do not own the land but are allocated
usage rights based on family size and other factors. The extensive
use of fertilizer and, in some regions, double- and triple-cropping,
have helped maintain high yields. Rural per capita income
has increased dramatically since the early 1980s, but, with
about three farm workers per hectare of farmland, rural per
capita income remains less than 40 percent of that of urban
workers. (Gale 2002).
|Terraced fields in northern China
Photo by J. Willis
Taiwan is mountainous and only about one-quarter of
the island’s 14,000 sq. mile land area is cultivable.
Intensive cultivation and double- and triple-cropping
allow Taiwan to maintain self-sufficiency in rice and
achieve high yields in sugarcane, fruit, and vegetables.
Taiwan’s farmers also raise pork and poultry.
With a per capita GDP of US$12,876 (2001), the island’s
22.5 million (2002) people enjoy an increasingly high
standard of living by regional standards. Demand for
a variety of foods, including meat, is rising (U.S.
Department of State 2003f).
late 1970s, China’s communist government launched
a series of economic reforms aimed at transforming China
into a relatively advanced, industrialized nation by
the year 2000. The sectors targeted by these reforms,
labeled the Four Modernizations, included agriculture,
industry, science and technology, and national defense.
To stimulate economic growth, Chinese economic policies
emphasized export manufacturing, foreign trade, and
foreign investment. To support this growth and maintain
access to foreign markets, the Chinese government has
gradually improved the physical, legal, and economic
infrastructure. These reforms have shaped a gradual
shift away from the centrally planned economic model
toward what Chinese leaders term a “socialist
market economy with Chinese characteristics.”
The result has been a remarkable transformation of the
Chinese economy. The annual growth rate in the 1980s
was over 10 percent. In the 1990s, the Chinese government
adopted measures to govern the rate of growth and avoid
hyperinflation. Currently, China is still the world’s
fastest-growing major economy, achieving at least 7
percent growth in 2002, despite worldwide economic difficulties.
Hong Kong (SAR)—The
6.8 million (2002) residents of the Hong Kong Special
Administrative Region (SAR) live on only 1,100 sq. km.
(approx. 440 sq. miles), much of which is mountainous.
The US$24,750 (2002) per capita GNP suppports a high
standard of living, and Hong Kong residents demand a
varied diet (World Bank2003a). With very little land
devoted to agriculture, Hong Kong imports much of its
food supply from mainland China, primarily from nearby
Guangdong Province (U.S Department of State 2003b).
more general descriptions of China, as well as Hong
Kong and Taiwan, see the Department of State Country
Background Notes (U.S. Department of State 2003a,b,f).