Economic reforms brought a surge of growth. In coastal cities, foreign investment created an economic boom. Some Chinese enjoyed a higher standard of living. They bought refrigerators, televisions, and cars. On the other hand, crime and corruption increased and a growing gap developed between poor rural farmers and wealthy city dwellers.

Protest in Tiananmen Square

Economic reforms and increased contact with the West led some Chinese to demand greater political freedom. In the late 1980s, students, workers, and others created a democracy movement similar to those sweeping across Eastern Europe. However, Deng and other Chinese Communist leaders were determined to preserve the communist political system.

In 1989, a political crisis erupted as thousands of protesters, many of them students, occupied Tiananmen (TYEN ahn mun) Square, a huge public plaza in Beijing. Protester waved banners calling for democracy. The government ordered the protesters to disperse. When they refused, the government sent in troops and tanks. Thousands of demonstrators were killed or wounded in the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Many protesters across China were imprisoned and tortured. The crackdown showed that the communist government was determined to keep its monopoly on power.

Photo of a man standing in the street opposing a line of tanks.

The day after the massacre in Tiananmen Square, a lone protestor stepped in front of a line of tanks. The “Tank Man” became a worldwide symbol of individuals standing against government oppression.

Reforms Bring Growth and Challenges

Economic reforms helped China become an industrial superpower and a rival of the United States. China's achievements were on display to the world when China hosted the 2008 summer Olympic games. Despite its spectacular economic growth, however, China faced serious internal challenges.

Rapid Industrialization

In China, as elsewhere, industrialization led to rapid urbanization. Boom times brought millions of rural workers into Chinese cities. They worked for low wages in manufacturing and other jobs. Their needs strained local resources for housing, education, and other services.

Urbanization and industrialization led to widespread air and water pollution. In many cities, air quality is so poor that parents sometimes keep their children indoors. Coal burning and emissions from automobiles are major sources of pollution. Although China has taken steps to fight pollution, economic growth is given priority over the environment. Huge mining operations scar the landscape in some regions, while arid regions face desertification.

The 2009 global financial crisis hurt China, as it hurt other industrialized nation, but its economy was one of the first to recover. By 2011, China had become the world's second-largest economy after the United States. Still, unemployment, which was kept low under Mao, became an issue in China's new economy.

Human Rights Abuses

For decades, human rights campaigners both inside China and outside have criticized the government for limiting freedom and jailing critics as well as torturing and executing large numbers of prisoners. Activists protested abuses such as lack of free speech and the use of prison labor to produce goods for export. The Chinese government has rejected calls from other countries to an end abuses, claiming that outsiders have no right to impose “Western-style” ideas of human rights on China.

China has faced growing unrest from minority groups within its vast country. The Muslim Uighurs as well as Mongols have protested ethnic discrimination and curbs on their religious and cultural freedoms.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments