Visualization of the world distribution of income over 200 years

Visualize China’s $18 trillion economy in 2021

China is the second largest economy in the world after the United States, and it is expected to eventually rise to the top in the coming decades.

While China’s economy has had a much tougher start this year due to zero-tolerance COVID-19 lockdowns and supply chain issues, our visualization covers a full year of data for 2021⁠, a year in during which most economies have recovered from the initial chaos of the pandemic.

In 2021, China’s gross domestic product (GDP) reached 114 trillion yen ($18 trillion in USD), according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The country’s economy exceeded government growth targets of 6%, with the overall economy growing by 8.1%.

Let’s take a look at what powers China’s modern economy.

Breakdown of the Chinese economy by sector

Sector Total GDP 2021
Total GDP 2021
% Share
Industry ¥37.3T $5.9 billion 32.6%
Wholesale and retail trade ¥10.5T $1.7 billion 9.2%
Finance ¥9.1T $1.4 billion 8.0%
Agriculture, forestry, livestock and fishing ¥8.7T $1.4 billion 7.6%
Construction ¥8.0T $1.3 billion 7.0%
Real estate ¥7.8T $1.2 billion 6.9%
Transport, storage and post ¥4.7T $0.7 billion 4.1%
Transmission of information, software and computer services ¥4.4T $0.7 billion 3.9%
Rental and leasing activities and business services ¥3.5T $0.6 billion 3.1%
Accommodation and catering ¥1.8T $0.3 billion 1.6%
Others ¥18.1T $2.8 billion 15.9%
Total ¥114T ¥18T 100.0%

Industrial production – activity in the manufacturing, mining and utility sectors – is by far the main driver of the Chinese economy. In 2021, the sector generated 37.3 trillion yenor a third of the country’s total economic activity.

Despite a slowdown in December, wholesale and retail trade also performed well in 2021. As the main indicator of consumption, it was affected by containment measures and the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant towards the end of the year, but still grew by double digits, reaching a total of 10.5 trillion yen*.

“Other services,” which includes everything from scientific research and development to education and social services, generated 16% of China’s total economy in 2021, or 18.1 trillion yen.

*Editor’s note: At the time of publication, the Chinese government appears to have since adjusted this figure to 11 trillion yen, which is not consistent with the original dataset provided, but it is appropriate to note it.

Where is China’s GDP going?

China’s economy recovered significantly faster than most major economies last year and, as the general trend below shows, the country has seen steady growth in previous years.

Before the pandemic hit, China’s quarterly GDP growth was fairly stable at just over 5%.

After the initial outbreak of COVID-19, the country’s economy faltered, mirroring economies around the world. But after a strong recovery in 2021, the upsurge in cases has prompted a new round of crackdowns on the private sector, significantly slowing GDP growth.

As the slowdown continues into early 2022, China’s economic horizon still looks uncertain. The lockdown in Shanghai is set to continue until June 1, and over the past few months hundreds of ships have been blocked outside the Port of Shanghai amid ongoing supply chain challenges.

China’s zero COVID policy: good or bad for the economy?

While each country has responded differently to the COVID-19 pandemic, China has adopted a zero-COVID policy of strict lockdowns to control cases and outbreaks.

For most of 2021, politics did not dampen GDP growth. Although some major cities are fully or partially shut down to control regional outbreaks, the country’s economy is still well ahead of many other major economies.

But the policy faced a challenge with the emergence of the Omicron variant. Despite the shutdowns and an 88% vaccination rate nationwide, seven of China’s 31 provinces and all major cities have reported cases of Omicron.

And China’s zero COVID policy has not affected all sectors equally. Industrial production rose more than 10% in the first 11 months of 2021, despite city shutdowns across the country. Indeed, many factories in China are located in suburban industrial parks outside cities, and employees often live nearby.

But many sectors like hotels and restaurants have been hit harder by the city’s lockdowns. Many global economies are beginning to live with COVID, with China remaining one of the last countries to follow a zero COVID policy. Does this guarantee that the country’s economy will continue to slow in 2022, or will China manage to recover and maintain one of the fastest growing economies in the world?

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