UNDP Resident Representative in China, Ms. Beate Trankmann giving opening remarks for the launch of the National Human Development Report event


As prepared and delivered in Chinese and English











Entitled ‘In Pursuit of a More Sustainable Future for All: China’s Historic Transformation over Four Decades of Human Development’, this report marks multiple special occasions, namely the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, the 40th anniversary of UNDP’s presence in China, and four decades of China’s Reform and Opening Up.  

It examines China’s transformation since then, using the Human Development Index, or HDI – which measures a nation’s progress through life expectancy, education and incomes of its people.

Since its Reform and Opening Up, China has made remarkable strides in human development. In 1978, its HDI was just 0.41, placing it in the ‘low’ human development category. By 2018, it had almost doubled, to 0.758, taking it into the ‘high’ category. Today, China remains the only country in the world to have moved from a low HDI to a high one, since the measure was introduced.

China achieved this because the capabilities of its people significantly improved. As of 2017, Chinese people live, on average, to almost 77 years old – one decade longer than in 1978. In the same period, the number of years Chinese children spent in school more than doubled.

But perhaps, most notable, are China’s efforts in fighting poverty and raising incomes. Between 1978 and 2018, China lifted more than 750 million people out of poverty – roughly one in ten people on earth. GDP per capita also jumped over 20 times, growing, on average, 8.5% a year.

Behind these vast numbers, China’s experiences and lessons in promoting human development, both positive and negative, deserve greater attention – which is why we produced this report.

This edition examines China’s progress at national and local levels, and reviews key reforms behind it: from transforming agricultural production and developing a market-based economy, to ongoing reforms in education, health and other public services. It also identifies key features of China’s specific approach to poverty reduction, such as the importance of local experimentation, gradual reform, and consistent policy guidance. The report presents case studies from across China, on restructuring state-owned enterprises, sustainable urban development and infrastructure investment, demonstrating development lessons in action.

Beyond 2020, China still faces complex challenges in realizing its long-term objectives, along with the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 – to end poverty, reduce inequality and protect our planet.  To realise these, China must tackle environmental degradation and climate change, as well as navigating slower economic growth and support an aging population, to meet rising public expectations for a better life.

China must also address the next frontiers in human development, including narrowing inequality between urban and rural regions, as well as within cities. And it must do so while anticipating the impact of technological changes and the 4th industrial revolution on the future of work and social security systems – so artificial intelligence, big data and automation can support, rather than undermine, human development. This report attempts to drill into these challenges compounding the next stage of China’s human development, and proposes recommendations for going forward.

We are encouraged by how China’s development policy has become more coordinated and balanced, with a focus on human development, as well as sustainability. This includes the ‘people-centered’ development vision ‘以人民为中心. This vision is now mainstreamed into almost all strategies and policies – as also demonstrated by the integration of all measures within the HDI as indicators into China’s 13th National Development Five Year Plan.

UNDP will continue to support China’s people-centered development, using our global expertise and platform to bridge stakeholders – including the government, businesses, NGOs and others. This includes today’s panel discussion, featuring leaders from industries, companies and local governments. Because the greatest gains are made together, combining policy leadership by governments, with business resources and innovation.

From remote villages, to mega-cities, measuring 1.4 billion people is far from easy. So, I would like to thank all our partners for their incredible research efforts. This includes: the China Institute for Development Planning of Tsinghua University; the State Information Centre; as well as experts from the Development Research Centre of the State Council; the China Academy of Social Sciences; and others who joined us. I also thank our government counterparts for their input. In particular, the National Development and Reform Commission; the Ministry of Commerce; the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment. We are also very grateful for the support from Phoenix TV Group as UNDP’s strategic communications partner and main donor towards this report.

We hope this will help the world to better understand China’s development, and deepen dedication to human development in China and beyond.  The changes in the lives of China’s people are proof of what is possible, offering lessons and hope in the global push towards the SDGs. Like China’s transformation, the SDGs will take time, investment and all of society to achieve. But as China has shown, when those commitments are made, even the most complex goals can be achieved.


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