Interactive Map November 2009

The Nine Nations of China

This week, President Obama makes his first state visit to China. What kind of country will he find there? We tend to imagine China as a monolith: 1.3 billion people sharing the same language, history, and culture. The truth is far more interesting. China is a mosaic of several distinct regions, each with its own resources, dynamics, and historical character.

As a traveler, teacher, and professional investor who has been exploring China since 1986, I’ve come to think of these regions as the Nine Nations of China (inspired, in part, by Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America). Taken individually, these “nations” would account for eight of the 20 most populous countries in the world.

As China’s economy becomes more integrated, these regional differences are taking on greater importance than ever before. Each of the Nine Nations faces a unique set of challenges and opportunities in carving out its own competitive niche. Anyone who wants to do business in China, make policy towards China, or simply comprehend the dramatic changes happening there should understand the Nine Nations and the role each of them is playing in shaping China’s future.

Map designed by Anup Kaphle

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Patrick Chovanec is an associate professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management in Beijing, China. He blogs at chovanec.wordpress.com.