Timeline of China Catching Up …

The US-China story is the ultimate tortoise-hare analogy. Most Americans now can’t believe that China is quite advanced, because they never noticed China’s individual accomplishments. In the American mind, China is just a poor country that is only capable of making t-shirts for Walmart. So, while America kept deluding itself with slogans of “We are the greatest,” China kept conquering one milestone after another.

No Here are some of the recent pivotal achievements of China that, when stringed together, undoubtedly demonstrates the staggering and relentless progress:

1996: #1 in steel production (overtook Japan and USA). Now China produces 10x as much steel as the US.

2004: #1 in Bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering (overtook EU)

2008: #1 in Internet users (overtook USA)

2009: #1 in goods exports (overtook Germany)

Exports historical 1a

2009: #1 auto market for new cars (overtook USA)

2010: #1 in manufacturing (overtook USA, another link)

2010: #2 in nominal GDP (overtook Japan)

2010: #1 in power (electricity) generation (surpassed the US)

2010: #1 in Ph.d graduates (overtook USA)

2010/2011: #1 in patents, after surpassing the U.S. (China surpassed Japan as #2 only the previous year).

In 2019, China accounted for almost half of global patents

2011: #1 in electricity generation (overtook the US). Consider that in 1978, the US produced 10x as much electricity as China!

2011: #1 in interstate highway or expressway (surpassed the U.S.). By 2020, China was 2x the U.S. in total length of expressways — 155,000 km versus 78,000 km.

2012: #2 in hi-tech manufacturing (overtook EU)

hi-tech manufacturing

2012: #1 in medium-hi-tech manufacturing (overtook EU)

2012: #1 trading country (overtook the US)

2012: #2 in Fortune 500 companies (overtook Japan)

2012: #1 in spending on luxury goods (overtook USA)

2012: #1 in patents (overtook the US)

patents chart

2013: #1 in fastest supercomputer in the world (overtook USA)

2013: #1 market for industrial robots (overtook Japan) (another Link)

2013: #1 in outbound international tourism (overtook USA)

2013: #1 in e-commerce retail sales (overtook USA) (another link from Bain). By 2019, China was 3x as big as the US.

2013: #1 in total exports (goods + services). Overtook the USA — watch the dramatic video below. China went from #15 in 1995 to #1 by 2013.

2014: #1 in PPP GDP (overtook USA)


2014: #2 in stock market (overtook Japan)

2015: #2 in R&D spending (overtook EU). Will be #1 by 2020.

R&D Research development China others

2015: #1 in middle-class population (overtook USA)

2015: Top 3 out of 5 smartphones in the world are Chinese brands (link)

2015: #1 in electric cars (battery + hybrid) (overtook USA). China went from 10,000 EV cars in 2012 to more than 1,000,000 by 2018. That’s a 100x growth in just six years!

EV electric cars - China

2015: #1 in solar power (overtook Germany)

2016: #1 in published scientific papers in science and engineering (overtook USA)

2016: #1 in fastest supercomputer in the world (again) and, this time, it was built without any US semiconductor chips (overtook the US)

2016: #1 in installation of industrial robots (surpassed Japan)

2016: #1 oil importer (surpasses the US)

2017: #1 in the best university for both engineering and computer science (overtook USA)

2017: #2 in international patents (overtook Japan)

2017: #1 in telecom infrastructure (Huawei overtakes Ericsson and Nokia)

2017: China enters the Top 5 list for US patents for the first time (link)

2018: #1 in rocket launches (overtook the US); #1 to reach the far side of the moon

2018: #1 in 5G patents — China owns more than one third of all core essential 5G patents (link); #1 to make a 5G phone call (link); Huawei overtakes Apple as the #2 smartphone vendor (link); and 4 out of the Top 6 brands in the world are Chinese; Chinese brands conquer more than 60% of the smartphone market in India and Africa, the two fastest growing and largest markets in the world (link, link).

Huawei smartphone trend 2

2018: #1 in Venture Capital (VC) funding in the world — although it was only for the first half of 2018, it is still an astonishing achievement, considering that ten years ago, there was virtually no VC funding in China. (overtook USA)

2019: #1 in flat panel display (overtakes South Korea). China also becomes the only country other than the US to mass produce its own CPU (link). Another Chinese company starts mass production of locally designed DRAM — computer memory (link)

2019: Almost #1 in the number of corporations in Global Fortune 500. US has 121 and China has 119. (If you include the 10 from Taiwan as China, then the US is #2)

2019: #1 in diplomatic outposts such as embassies & consulates (overtook USA)

2019: China’s BeiDou becomes #1 in satellite positioning system, with 35 satellites (overtook USA)

2019: China becomes #1 in the number of people in the wealthiest Top 10% of global households (overtook USA). Now there are 100 million Chinese worth $110K or more.

2019: TikTok surpassed Facebook, Instagram, YouTube etc. to become the most downloaded app in both Android and IOS platforms.

2019: China becomes #1 in international patents (overtook USA)

2019: China surpasses USA in Artificial Intelligence (AI) patents, with 110,000 patents. (link)

2020: China climbed up to #15 in Bloomberg’s Global Innovation Index

2020: Huawei overtook Samsung as the #1 smartphone vendor in the world in Q2.

2020: China beat the US in Global Fortune 500 companies by 124 to 121. Back in 1990 when the list was created, China had zero companies in the list! (link)

2020: China is expected to become the world’s largest retail market, surpassing the US, which had held that title for 100+ years. Chinese retail sales will exceed $5 trillion in 2020.

2020: China surpasses the US to become the world’s largest movie (box office) theater market. (link)

2020: China becomes the #1 market for 5G smartphones, accounting for 72% of global market. China is also the #1 in the world in 5G deployment, with 690,000 base stations installed by the end of September 2020.

2020: Expected to surpass the US in R&D spending (in PPP terms)

2020: China surpassed the US to become EU’s largest trading partner — based on Jan-Jul stats (link)

2020: China was #1 in Global Happiness Index created by Ipsos. 93% of Chinese said they were happy, a number 30 percentage points above the global average.

2020: #1 in IPO. First, Alibaba’s Ant Group became the biggest IPO ever — at $34.5 billion — in the world. Also, Shanghai will get the #1 spot in the world for money raised through IPO in 2020. Shanghai also surpassed Tokyo and became the #3 financial center in the world. Now, China has 4 cities in the Top 10 financial centers of the world.

2020: #2 in oil refinery, having surpassed EU. Will surpass the US within a year or two. (The US has held the top spot for 160 years!)

2020: China will the only major economy to experience growth in GDP in 2020.

2020: In the last one year, China created 5 billionaires every week.

2020: China became the world’s largest auto market — with about 280 million passenger cars. (Surpassed the U.S.)

2020: China will surpass the EU (27 countries combined) in GDP by the end of the year. EU will be about $14.8 trillion and China will be about $15.5 trillion.

Thus, methodically, China keeps advancing one step at a time, mastering one technology at a time, conquering one market share at a time and excelling in one field at a time. It’s all about planning, focus and execution.