China’s rising stars

by Anthony Bruton

Population, income and life expectancy by province

China’s ascendancy is common news fodder, but going beyond the headlines reveals a mixed picture of life in this emerging power.

Fortunately thanks to the efforts of the public-minded statisticians at, it’s very easy to access the data which reflect life in the world’s second largest economy. The numbers show that, outside the main commercial centres, China’s population is not so well off. Mainland China’s average GDP per person is around $5,000. This is boosted by the much wealthier coastal provinces, particularly Shanghai ($22,000). Half the provinces have GDPs per person of $3,000 – $5,000. Guizhou lingers in last place, its inhabitants earn on average only $1,900 each per year.

While the communist state shows surprising income disparity, life expectancy data show that its centrally planned health sector appears to provide a more uniform service. Tibetans are expected to die youngest, at 66; while wealthy Shanghainese lead the mainland with a life expectancy of 80. However, these outliers are not representative and the vast majority of provinces have life expectancies of 70-77.

Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao each have populations that are far healthier and wealthier than on the mainland.

Overall, while we commonly think that Africa is a country, we should think of China as if it were as varied as a continent.