With a population of almost 1.2 billion people, China (or the "PRC," as we will sometimes refer to it in this article) is the world's most populous nation. It is also one of the largest in terms of land area, being slightly larger than the United States. China is, however, poorly understood by most people, so we will begin this article with a few facts about this ancient land and its history, before turning to the main subject of the article-recordkeeping and records management.
A THUMBNAIL SKETCH
China's history dates back at least 4,000 years. Although most Westerners are not aware of it, during much of what is referred to in Western history as the "Dark Ages," China was the most technologically and culturally advanced country in the world. During the past several hundred years, however, China has experienced a decline with respect to its status among the world's great powers, due to a long series of invasions, wars, revolutions and other national calamities.
Because of its huge population and the fact that it now enjoys one of the fastest rates of economic growth of any country in the world, China has already regained its status as one of the world's leading nations. Indeed, many observers believe that, if China can sustain the right mix of political stability and economic growth, it may surpass the United States as the world's most powerful nation sometime during the next century.
China is, however, still a very poor country-the country's 1990 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was reported to be just under $400 billion (as compared to just under $7.0 trillion for the U.S.), while its per capita GDP stands at $360, or about $2,400, when expressed in terms of equivalent U.S. dollar purchasing power.
China is the world's last great Communist nation. The communist form of government was installed in 1949, and the country was ruled by its founding leader Mao Zedong for many years thereafter. During Mao's regime, the "Great Leap Forward" (1958-60) and the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" (196568) were two major efforts to achieve economic progress and/or Communist ideological purity. We mention these events because they had a significant impact on recordkeeping in China, as we shall see.
In 1972, U. S. President Richard Nixon visited China on invitation of Premier Zhou Enlai, ending many years of antipathy between the two nations. China's record on human rights and its desire to reestablish control over Taiwan are continuing sources of friction between the two countries.
After Mao's death in 1976, there was a continuing "reassessment" of his policies, marked by reforms in education, culture, industry, and better relations with noncommunist countries. By the mid-1980s, China had adopted far-reaching economic reforms, highlighted by the departure from rigid central planning, together with an emphasis on market-oriented socialism. These reforms are credited with stimulating China's strong economic growth. In fact, the economic growth of Guangdong province in Southern China has been the highest in the world in recent years.
In 1989, some 100,000 students and workers staged a march in Beijing, China's capital city, to demand democratic reforms, and there were protests in at least twenty other Chinese cities. In early June 1989, Chinese army troops entered Beijing and crushed the pro-democracy protests. Tanks and other military equipment attacked Tiananmen Square, outside the Great Hall of the People, which was the main scene of the demonstrations. These events cast a pall over China's economic and political reforms, and prompted many Western multinational businesses to reconsider whether to continue making heavy investments in the country.
In June 1997, China regained political control of Hong Kong, which had been ruled by Great Britain as a Crown Colony since the late nineteenth century. This small island colony (which lies at the mouth of the Canton River just across from mainland China) has one of the world's most dynamic capitalist economies. …