Monday, February 28, 2011

China Comparisons

China recently surpassed Japan as the second-largest economy in the world, according to total GDP. According the the CIA (i.e., the official U.S. government source on such things), the top ten are reshuffled as follows:
  1. United States: $14.7 trillion
  2. China: $9.9 trillion
  3. Japan: $4.3 trillion
  4. India: $4.0 trillion
  5. Germany: $3.0 trillion
  6. Russia: $2.2 trillion
  7. Brazil: $2.2 trillion
  8. United Kingdom: $2.2 trillion
  9. France: $2.2 trillion
  10. Italy: $1.8 trillion
Not only is China near the top, but it is growing at the incredible rate of 10.3 percent, a rate at which it could surpass the United States (2.7 percent) within a decade. Since Brazil -- at 7.5 percent -- is growing faster than Russia and Germany, it will be in sixth place within a year or two, and will soon be closing in on fifth place, while India climbs to third place.

The Economist has created a series of maps illustrating that China's meteoric rise does not reflect widespread wealth. When considered on a per-capita basis, only the special cases of Hong Kong and Macau exceed the wealth of the United States. Many of China's  eastern provinces are comparable to middle-income national economies, but in primarily rural provinces in central and western China, per-capita wealth is comparable to some of the world's poorest countries.

The map below is one of four in this interactive set, which includes similar comparisons for total GDP, population, and exports. These are perhaps more interesting, but I have chosen to excerpt the per-capita GDP map because it is the only one that is cartographically appropriate; it is a choropleth map (from the Greek χώρος (area) + πληθαίν (multiply)), which should only show rates, as this one does, not totals, as some of the others do. Totals should be represented by graduated symbols. (See the Map Forms article at NCGIA for more information about appropriate map forms for different kinds of data.)

Despite the cartographic misstep, I recommend these truly interactive maps for the story they tell of China's rapid and highly uneven development. The Economist has prepared a similar pair of maps for the United States, showing only total GDP and total population, from which I learned that Massachusetts has a GDP close to that of Saudi Arabia.

Click map to enlarge
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