Nothing shows the relentless rise of China better than this mesmerizing animation of world GDP growth since 1960

The Intercontinental Shanghai Wonderland, a hotel built on the site of a former quarry. It's the kind of thing you can build when your economy is the size of China's.

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The Intercontinental Shanghai Wonderland, a hotel built on the site of a former quarry. It’s the kind of thing you can build when your economy is the size of China’s.
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REUTERS/Aly Song

  • An elegant animation of GDP growth among the world’s top economies since 1960 dramatically shows the rise and fall of nations.
  • Whoa, China!

If you want to get a really visceral idea of just how far and how fast China has come in the last 30 years, then check out this animation of world’s top 10 countries’ GDP growth since 1960, which we found on the Visual Capitalist web site. (This Twitter embed below shows the same thing, playing on a loop.)

There are three striking things about it:

  • China: At the beginning of the 1960s, China’s economy was just $50 billion, one-tenth that of the US and a poor fifth place behind the UK, France and Japan. China remained an also-ran among the world powers until the early 2000s, when it opened itself up to world trade. It now looks set to overtake the US and become the most powerful economic nation on earth.
  • Japan: Japan’s rocket-ship ride in the 1990s briefly made it look as if the nation would overtake the US. But the infamous “lost decade” is a real thing. Japan shrank in the 2000s and even during periods of growth it lost ground, relatively, to the economies around it.
  • Growth is not guaranteed, and countries decline if they don’t get it right. While China is the dramatic mover on the chart, spend some time watching Japan or Italy or any of the major European countries. They go through humbling periods of decline. As much as the rise of China, the chart also underlines the decline of Italy and Russia as powers to be reckoned with.

China had the advantage of having a massive, young population of working-age people it could suddenly bring into the world economy. Japan and Russia have both suffered from a lack of young workers and a surfeit of retired people, who consume goods and services but don’t produce them. Russia’s population was in decline until recently.

But it’s not just about the luck of demographics. China and Germany both made long-term political choices to grow, and there is a high level of consensus among their people about what they have to do to maintain that growth. This chart suggests that grit has paid off.