China is an ancient civilization with over five thousand years of cultural history.

In the 1980s, China’s reforms meant that the mysterious and ancient country’s doors were finally opened to the outside world. Since Deng Xiaoping introduced economic and business reforms in 1978, China has enjoyed economic growth of around 10% per annum, the fastest of any nation worldwide. A stable environment for doing business in China was developed through prudent government policies, which in turn attracted a tremendous amount of foreign direct investment. Companies from Hong Kong and Taiwan paved the way and later many multinational corporations began doing business in China and established manufacturing branches there.

China has become a hub for the world’s manufacturers and a trip to your nearest shopping mall will confirm that the “Made in China” label is ubiquitous. Chinese companies now comprise close to one third of the world’s top 500 corporations by market capitalization. In 2021, China’s possessed more Fortune 500 corporations than the US, notching up 143 listings. China is the world’s top consumer of iron ore and copper and the largest importer of crude oil. China now produces over 50% of the world’s steel, aluminum and coal. China has overtaken the US to become the world’s largest automobile market and has surpassed Germany to become the world’s biggest exporter.

Referring to Imperial China, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) once said: “here lies a sleeping giant, let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.” His foresight is remarkable given that China has overtaken the United States to become the world’s largest economy (measured on a purchasing power parity basis), granting the country tremendous geopolitical leverage. At the end of 2020, China’s nominal GDP was calculated at US$14.7 trillion compared the United States’ figure of US$20.9 trillion. An export-oriented economy means that China regularly posts trade surpluses and she now holds the world’s largest foreign exchange reserves of around US$3.2 trillion.

Not surprisingly, China and her 1,4 billion people have become the focal point of international analysis and punditry. But although many Westerners are fascinated by the richness and profoundness of Chinese culture, they have failed to grasp the implications of China’s much-publicized rise.

In the future, a basic command of Mandarin Chinese will be essential for anyone involved in international trade or business, and forward-thinking Westerners are now making an effort to get to grips with China’s national language.

Marco Polo’s wish that the outside world should know China is about to be fulfilled.