Chinese lives have improved dramatically in the last 40 years, data shows

Digital Originals

Chinese lives have improved dramatically in the last 40 years, data shows
(Photo: VCG)

Forty years after China’s reform and opening up, Chinese people have seen significant improvements in their standard of living. We looked at data on per capita GDP, income, meat consumption, household consumption, and education that shows the extent of the changes China has seen since 1978.

Per capita GDP

From 1978 to 2017, China’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew from 367.9 billion yuan ($150 billion) in 1978 to 827.1 billion yuan ($12.2 trillion) in 2017, with an average annual rate of 9.5 percent.

Per capita GDP shows growth from 385 yuan ($56 ) in 1978 to 59,660 yuan ($8,630) in 2017, according to data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics.
(Line chart from 1978-2017)

Per capita income

From 1978-2016, about 730 million Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty. The per capita annual disposable income of urban households in China grew from 343 ($38) yuan in 1978 to 36,396 yuan ($5,266) in 2017.

In 2013, China began tracking annual per capita disposable income for rural households showing growth from 9,430 yuan ($1,364) to 13,432 yuan ($1,943) in 2017.

Meat consumption

Along with higher incomes, one indicator of standard of living is the growth in meat consumption in China.

Prior to its reform and opening up, eating meat was considered a luxury. In 1978, the annual per capita consumption of pork, beef, and mutton in rural areas was 5.8 kilograms (13 pounds). By 2016, it reached 22.7 kilograms (50 pounds).

In urban areas, it grew from 18.6 kilograms (41 pounds) in 1981 to 29 kilograms (64 pounds) in 2016.

Household Consumption

The total amount that Chinese households can now spend on items such as food, clothing, and housing has also increased significantly.

In 1978, annual household consumption expenditures were 405 yuan ($59) in urban areas and 138 yuan ($20) in rural areas.

In 2017, household consumption grew to 31,032 yuan ($4,490) in urban areas and 11,704 yuan ($1,693) in rural areas.


China has the largest public education system in the world. The Chinese government resumed it’s college entrance examination known as the gaokao in 1977, after it was halted for 11 years.

This increased the rate of students in higher education from 89 per 100,000 people in 1978 to 2,576 per 100,000 people in 2017.

In 2017, Chinese colleges and universities were educating nearly 27.5 million undergraduate students and 2.6 million graduate students, according to the Ministry of Education.