All FSI Publications Journal Articles The Washington Quarterly

Complicating China’s Rise: Rural Underemployment

China’s economy has doubled in size every eight years since 1979, making it over 32 times bigger now then it was then and the second largest in the world today.1 Four decades of growth have ushered more than 400 million people in China into the global middle class.2 According to the World Bank, China is currently an upper middle-income country. The country is the only major economy on earth to report growth in 2020 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.3 What are the prospects for China to continue its spectacular economic rise and become a high-income country? In this article, we aim to draw attention to an underappreciated factor that we believe may complicate China’s continued economic ascent: hundreds of millions of poorly educated, increasingly underemployed workers hailing from China’s rural hinterland.