Comparing the GDP of China's Provinces to Countries

by Damien Ma

How massive is China's economy? Take for example the province of Inner Mongolia, which is the size of Chile in terms of economic output. I've been obsessed with Inner Mongolia ever since a visit to a rare earth high-tech zone there last November (and having been elbowed out of a doughnut shop on Sunday morning as Inner Mongolians were buying up the entire store of donuts it seemed). But the purpose of the comparison is that after having written on China becoming a $5.8 trillion economy, I thought it might be interesting to compare provincial economies to countries to see how many country-sized economies are in China. Californians, for example, probably bask in the glory of the fact that they live in the 8th or 9th largest economy in the world and can simultaneously produce a Lindsay Lohan and a Steve Jobs.

I happened to come across a Chinese report that compiled 2010 growth rates and GDP figures for individual Chinese provinces. (This exercise may also be a partial and limited answer to my fellow guest blogger Edward Goldstick's dispatch on China's 12th five-year plan, a topic on which I've written extensively in my day job.) So using World Bank GDP numbers for various countries, which were only up to 2009 unfortunately, I did a quick comparison (confession: I did not tally up the GDPs to see if they totaled $5.8 trillion).

In order from largest GDP to smallest:

1. Guangdong: 12.2% growth, $689 billion

2. Jiangsu: 13.5% growth, $620 billion =  Turkey: $614 billion

3. Shandong: 12.5% growth, $597 billion = Indonesia: $540 billion

4. Zhejiang: 11.8% growth, $411 billion = Sweden: $406 billion

5. Henan: 12% growth, $333 billion = Greece: $329 billion

6. Hebei: 12.2% growth, $306 billion = Denmark: $309 billion

7. Liaoning: 13% growth, $265 billion = Thailand: $263 billion

8. Sichuan: 15.1% growth, $256 billion

9. Shanghai: 9.9% growth, $255.6 billion

10. Hunan: 14.5% growth, $241 billion = Finland: $238 billion

11. Hubei: 14.8% growth, $239 billion = Colombia: $234 billion

12. Fujian: 13.8% growth, $209 billion = Ireland: $227 billion

13. Beijing: 10.2% growth, $208.7 billion

14. Anhui: 14.5% growth, $185.8 billion = Egypt: $188 billion

15. Inner Mongolia: 15% growth, $176 billion = Chile: $163 billion

16. Shaanxi: 14.5% growth, $151.8 billion

17. Heilongjiang: 12.5% growth, $150 billion

18. Guangxi: 14.2% growth, $144 billion

19. Jiangxi: 14% growth, $143 billion

20. Tianjin: 17.4% growth, $138 billion = Algeria: $140 billion

21. Shanxi: 13.9% growth, $137.7 billion

22. Jilin: 13.7% growth, $130 billion = Hungary: $129 billion

23. Chongqing: 17.1% growth, $119.5 billion = Kazakhstan: $115 billion

24. Yunnan: 12.3% growth, $109.4 billion

25. Xinjiang: 10.6% growth, $82.1 billion

26. Guizhou: 12.8% growth, $69.6 billion

27. Gansu: 11.5% growth, $62 billion = Libya: $62 billion

28. Hainan: 15.8% growth, $31.1 billion = Uruguay: $31.5 billion

29. Ningxia: 13.4% growth, $24.9 billion = Kenya: $29 billion

30. Qinghai: 15.3% growth, $20.5 billion = Turkmenistan: $20 billion

31. Tibet: 12.3% growth, $7.7 billion = Papua New Guinea: $7.9 billion

These are of course rough equivalents. And for some provinces, I didn't see a close enough proximate GDP. I know, I know, the figures are also far from a comprehensive look at economic performance, as measurement of per capita welfare, quality of growth, social welfare and so on are not reflected.

But the intention in juxtaposing provinces with countries is to help visualize how China is composed of--based on total output anyway--literally developed, middle income, and poor developing countries, from Sweden to Turkmenistan. It also highlights the regional disparity that you often hear Chinese officials talk about--for example, the wealthiest province (Guangdong) is roughly 10 times richer than the poorest (Tibet).The second point is to note how growth is shifting into interior China, as Qinghai and Ningxia, two of the poorest provinces in China, are growing incredibly at 13-15%. Meanwhile, Shanghai, for all its glitz and glam, was the only one that had a "paltry" single-digit growth rate. (Amy Chua would've given Shanghai a D- for economic performance.)

The last point is also related to the 12th five-year plan, billed as China's "economic rebalancing act". But it is not just a rebalancing from a production and export-intensive model to a more consumption-based economy. It is also meant to be a rebalancing of political and economic power beyond the coast to the "continent" if you will. Some of these dynamics have begun naturally, but the financial crisis brought a sense of urgency in further developing the interior. Judging by some of the growth targets individual provinces have set, the interior provinces are clearly more ambitious in their growth prospects as they play catch-up to the coastal behemoths. If nothing else, I think this means more doughnut shops in Inner Mongolia. 

As to Edward's points on national plans, I hope to address it more fully later.

Damien Ma is a China analyst at Eurasia Group.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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