CHINA: Connecting to the Future
Teacher Page

"There's no such thing as a foreseeable future," said renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough in an interview reported in The Wall Street Journal on June 18, 2011. Learning Enrichment (LE) agrees.... We can't foresee our future. But we can shape it, through the decisions and choices we make in the present. Take China, for example. Think about the series of five-year programs it has launched and fulfilled since 1981. Consider the nation's direction-changing guidelines for 2011-2015. With this brand-new social studies unit, LE offers high school students a chance to examine China's latest goals, the links it is forging to achieve them, and the energy with which it is connecting to the future.

In the following paragraphs, you'll find material to assist you in exploring and developing this unit's topic with students — plus a whole lot of additional sources you may want to explore, and a special section on sharpening students' Social Studies Reading Skills as they tackle the unit's three articles. For your own interest, you might want to start with this thought-provoking commentary by Stephen S. Roach: "Ten Reasons Why China Is Different." Beyond that, the following two sources should help you double-check basic information as you go along: (a) the profile on "China" in the CIA World Factbook, and (b) the website for the Embassy of the People's Republic of China.

The unit "China: Connecting to the Future" is especially appropriate for high school courses in Modern History, Global Issues, and Economics. Its materials were prepared to help students develop skills and understandings outlined under several curriculum themes in "Expectations of Excellence….," a publication from the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). Thus, after using this unit's articles, students should be better able to:

  • distinguish between ... domestic and global economic systems, and explain how the two interact. (Theme VII: Production, Distribution and Consumption, Item "i")
  • evaluate the extent to which governments achieve their stated ideals and policies.... (Theme VI: Power, Authority, & Government, Item "i")
  • analyze ... possible solutions to ... contemporary and emerging global issues, such as ... environmental quality. (Theme IX: Global Connections, Item "d")

Terms you might want to preview include: ancestral, carbon-dioxide pollution, communist, Confucius, developed nation, developing nation, environmental pollution, five-year guidelines, fossil fuel, fusion energy, G-20, green energy, gross domestic product (GDP), high-tech research, income gap, job-stimulus program, per-capita GDP, recession, renewables (energy), Silk Road, social harmony, socialist market economy, trade artery.

Is "China: Connecting to the Future" a part of LE's "widening-circles" series? Yes, indeed! Despite the new sub-titles on our student articles ("...with New Goals," "... New Links," "... New Energy"), LE continues to approach China as a dynamic nation, both within its region and in today's world — all three terms being hallmarks of a typical LE widening-circles unit. In today's world, however, "national," "regional," and "global" concerns increasingly overlap. For example: China's latest five-year guidelines focus on new goals for its domestic economy. But the guidelines' inclusion of new green-energy industries can also be seen as part of regional and global efforts to reduce environmental pollution. Thus, each student article touches on more than one "widening circle."

... Besides: LE thinks the new subtitles will appeal to young readers! The unit title, too! In fact, as you introduce this unit to your class, you might want to ask students: How do we humans "connect" to the future? Can nations really shape their "tomorrow" through policy choices they make "today"?

Each of the following sections (1, 2, and 3) begins with a brief summary of a Student Text Page (STP) article and then offers "TIPs" for expanding on — and reinforcing — key points in that article. Note that each STP ends with a "Log On...." section that would also be useful for prompting class discussion.

1.   Student Text Page No. 1: "... with New Goals." Beginning with a contemporary holiday scene involving young factory workers, this page profiles the impact of such workers on China's rapid economic growth since 1981. The article also looks at new domestic-policy guidelines that China's leaders have adopted for the next five years (2011-2015).

    World's second largest GDP. China's gross domestic product (GDP) can be measured in two ways: In purchasing power parity (ppp), its GDP came in at $10.09 trillion in 2010. But when based on currency exchange rates, it was valued at $5.88 trillion. Measured either way, China's GDP is now the second largest in the world. For an explanation of each yardstick, see the following: (a) the definitions for "GDP (official exchange rate)" and "GDP (purchasing power parity)" under "Notes and Definitions" in the current CIA World Factbook; and (b) "PPP Versus the Market: Which Weight Matters?" an article in the March 2007 issue of the IMF publication Finance & Development. TIP: Explain both forms of measurement to students. Ask them to speculate on — and list — advantages and disadvantages of each, so far as traders and investors in other parts of the globe might be concerned. Example: The "ppp" number tends to remain steady over a longer period — and thus seem more reliable — but it is harder to measure, in some economies; the conservative "currency-exchange" statistic is more appealing to global financial investors, but it can fluctuate rapidly.

    New five-year guidelines, 2011-2015. Every five years, the Communist Party of China outlines goals for the People's Republic of China. (PRC). The guidelines for 2011-2015 focus on such matters as economic expansion, clean energy, and the fair distribution of wealth among China's 1.3 billion people. For example, China has announced plans to take the following steps, among many others: (a) Promote strategic industries and scientific research in fields ranging from new information technology, to biotechnology, to environmental protection; (b) Shrink the income gap between rural and urban areas (e.g., by adjusting tax rates); (c) Invest $15 billion in farmland improvements, and thus boost farmers' incomes; (d) Increase consumer spending by raising minimum wages and controlling inflation; and (e) Reduce the release of major pollutants by 8-10 percent, while increasing the use of non-fossil fuels until they meet 15 % of China's overall need for energy. TIP: Share and discuss these goals with students, then have them vote on which one they think should be China's most urgent priority — and which might be the most difficult to attain. Urge students to explain and discuss their choices.

    China's administrative divisions. The "Goals" page includes references to Chongqing, Shanghai, and Beijing. All three cities play an important role in China's administrative system, which you may want to profile for students. At the highest level of government, the PRC includes: (a) 23 provinces (among which Taiwan is named); (b) 5 autonomous regions (Tibet, for example); (c) 4 special municipalities (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing); and (d) 2 "SARs" — special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macau). The provinces, special municipalities, and autonomous regions are directly responsible to the national government (though the autonomous regions are permitted self-government in matters related to their ethnic minority populations). The two SARs — Chinese territories that, for a period of time, were colonized by European powers — were returned to China under terms guaranteeing self-management in matters related to their local economy and governance. TIP: These administrative units would make good research topics! Each student might select one, and contribute his or her report on its history, location, local economy, etc., in the form of a "chapter" for a class booklet on China. For a map coded to show all four administrative levels (and the names of the top 34 provinces, cities, etc., within them), see Wikipedia's "Administrative Divisions of the People's Republic of China (PRC)."

2.   Student Text Page No. 2: "... with New Links." Opening with a glimpse of Chinese road-building engineers on the job, this page examines the extent of China's regional and global trade arteries today and recalls its role as a world trader centuries ago. The article also explains why China is considered both a "developed" and a "developing" economy.

    Maps. They're essential! LE's website includes several maps of China — for example: the "Seven Geographic Regions of China" and "China's Regional Neighbors" (a particularly useful map for use with the "Links" page). When it comes to portraying China within the world setting, cartographers offer a wealth of viewpoints. U.S. students may be familiar with an "Africa-centered" world map, in which the Western Hemisphere is shown on the left-hand side and Asia (including China) appears on the right. More recent depictions of the "Pacific-centered" world bring China into more prominence. See, for example, Wikipedia's blank map of the world, in which the Pacific Ocean and China are centered. TIP: Tell students that as map-making developed over the centuries, the focus of maps tended to shift in relationship to changing centers of world power. Encourage them to research and write a one-minute TV "news" report about the China-centered world map made for China's Emperor Wanli by Italian missionary Matteo Ricci at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Edward Rothstein's New York Times article "A Big Map That Shrank the World" offers a fascinating account of Ricci's goals and strategies in that endeavor.

    Trade: Part 1. This may be a good place to introduce (a) LE's Data Page and (b) our key source for that page, the CIA World Factbook profile of "China" — especially the subsections dealing with "Economy" and "People and Society." Urge students to focus on items that China produces, exports, and imports. In 2010, approximately one fifth — or $387 billion worth — of all U.S. imports came from China! TIP: Challenge your class to identify as many examples of China-sourced products as they can, from within their immediate environment (classroom items, as well as their personal belongings). After they pool this information, prompt them to discuss the impact of USA-China trade on their lives and on the lives of Chinese workers.

    Trade: Part 2. The "top 20 economies" (the G-20) mentioned toward the end of the "Links" page account for about 85 to 90 percent of the world's GDP. China is an active member of this group, which — as the article indicates — seeks a new role in setting international guidelines for global trade and financial transactions. G-20 members include: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, UK, USA and the EU. TIP: Urge students to start and maintain a class blog, pointing to articles that deal with China's role within the G-20 and with the G-20's growing influence. See, for example: "Lagarde Says IMF May Get G-20 Help to Counter Europe Crisis," by Sandrine Rastello and Raymond Colitt, in the December 02, 2011 issue of Bloomberg's Businessweek.

    Wealth, and poverty, and government. Under the title "The right to lead a good life," China Daily recently published an article whose author, Chung-yue Chang, observed: "It takes good governance, and people's hard work and sacrifices, to create national wealth.... [Now] is the time to deliver the benefits of this wealth back to the people, where it belongs." You might want to share that comment with students, as background for discussing the role of China's government in dealing with domestic poverty and with the growing gap between its most, and least, wealthy citizens (issues mentioned on the "Links" and "Goals" pages). TIP: Break students into small "20-minute" groups, with the challenge to develop brief group reports on two questions: (a) When and how should a government take action to reduce poverty among its people? As the Wikipedia article on "Poverty threshold" indicates, the legal definition of poverty varies widely across the globe. The World Bank sets the threshold at personal income equaling $1.25 or less per day. In the USA, the cut-off point is $11,344 per year. (China, which is acknowledged to have raised 600 million people out of poverty, recently raised its poverty threshold to an amount roughly equivalent to the World Bank's threshold.) (b) To what degree, if any, might/should a government take action to "narrow the economic gap" between the wealthiest and poorest segments of its population? As each group reports its findings to the rest of the class, ask its reporter how their study of China's recent experience may have influenced the group's discussion and report.

3.   Student Text Page No. 3: "... with New Energy." After "eavesdropping" on a group of university freshmen in Beijing, this page tackles the urgent and interrelated issues of China's increasing need for energy, its rising level of fossil-fuel pollution, and its vigorous search for greener sources of power. The article concludes by recalling the traditional Chinese term for internal energy: qi (pronounced "chee").

    Fusion-energy future? "Fusion energy," observed Stewart C. Prager in a July 2011 New York Times article, "generates zero greenhouse gases. It offers no chance of a catastrophic accident. It can be available to all nations.... [and] when commercialized, it will transform the world's energy supply." But there's a catch, continues the director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (a U.S. Department of Energy lab): "The development of fusion energy is one of the most difficult science and engineering challenges ever undertaken." TIP: As students turn their attention to the "Energy" page in LE's unit, share a copy of the Times article with them. If they have not already studied fusion energy in another class, point out the working definition in the article: "Fusion energy is created by fusing two atomic nuclei, in the process converting mass to energy, which appears as heat. The heat ... turns water into steam, which drives turbines to generate electricity, or is used to produce fuels for transportation or other uses." Prompt students to Google the term "countries working on fusion energy" (plus the current month/year), and consider inviting your school's science teacher to the follow-up discussion of fusion-research undertakings by scientists in China, the USA, and other nations.

    Urban growth. Approximately 50 percent of China's population is now urban, and the number is projected to keep rising. In fact, a September 2011 article in Scientific American reports that "over 350 million Chinese — slightly more than the entire population of the United States — are expected to flow from the countryside into cities within one and half decades." TIP: Share that observation with students, then ask them to brainstorm a list of the services, utilities, and new infrastructure (housing, schools, roads, etc.) that such a huge migration will undoubtedly demand. As students compile their lists, ask them to reflect on whether meeting this demand would further damage China's already-stressed environment. Maybe not! According to the Scientific American article ("China's City of the Future Rises on a Wasteland"), China, in conjunction with Singapore, is already at work on a solution — the new, very "green" Tianjin Eco-City, "a wasteland-to-community experiment," in which "people can work, play, and live without damaging nature." Urge students to keep track of this endeavor....

    Keeping informed. One of the basic skills we all need in today's world is a well-honed strategy for getting at the facts and, in the process, testing sources of information. As your students continue to follow China's efforts to shape a future with a clean environment, encourage them to sharpen their ability to find and weigh good sources. TIP: Prompt students to develop a class list of three or four criteria for evaluating information that they find on the Internet, in libraries, from news broadcasts, etc. Such criteria might take the form of questions. Examples: Does this website or newspaper identify the source and date of facts that it reports and/or the comments that it cites? Does it provide enough information for the reader to grasp basic concepts? Once your class has a working list of such criteria, you might suggest that they practice their skills by comparing the following two sources of information on China's efforts to "green" its economy: (a) the World Bank page on "Empowering China's Green Growth" and (b) the "Green China" page on the China Daily website..... (LE finds both sites useful.)

Prompted by any number of recent trends in education, teachers are placing increased emphasis on the reading skills of secondary school students. Here's LE's contribution to their effort — a range of reading-skills activities applied to materials in this unit (see also LE's website page on Reading Skills in the Social Studies):

    * Anticipation/Skimming. (Note: Some reading teachers call this "prediction.") As you distribute each of the student text pages, give your class a brief time-period (60 or 90 seconds) to (a) read its boldfaced introduction and (b) skim-read the entire page. Then, calling on volunteers, have students suggest a term or phrase to summarize what they think is the basic topic of that page. Thus, for example, one reader might assume (from the introduction alone) that the "Goals" page focuses on China's workers. Another might gather that the central topic is China's economy. The purpose of this exercise is not to see who gets "right answers," but to accustom students to the habit of zeroing in as rapidly and accurately as possible on the main topic of any article they read.

    * Recalling what is read. One of the toughest challenges that social studies teachers face is to help students recognize and correctly interpret the key concepts within a particular article. To help them practice that skill, you might give students copies of the following excerpt, adapted from a 1923 statement by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a Chinese leader in the early 20th century. Steps: (a) Have students read the material silently once or twice. (b) Then ask them to write a brief summary of what they've read — without looking back at the source. (c) As volunteers read their summaries aloud, note their ability to recall and accurately paraphrase the three boldfaced terms in the excerpt below.... You may also want to have them discuss those three concepts, in light of what they now know about China, almost a century after Sun stated these goals.

    Sun Yat-sen's "Three Principles"

    * Nationalism. History, wrote Sun, proves that the Chinese are "a people independent in spirit and in conduct," with a long-established national identity. Thus, he urged, they "should ... maintain independence in the family of nations," while they "forge ahead with other nations toward the goal of ideal brotherhood."

    * Democracy. "It is widely recognized," said Sun, "that the people constitute the foundation of a nation, and they are all equal in their own country." To make this goal a reality, Sun reasoned, China should become a constitutional republic.

    * Livelihood. Concluding that economic unrest within nations stems from "uneven distribution of wealth," Sun explained his economic goal for China: "I have come to the realization that the principle of state ownership is most ... reliable and practical."

    — Adapted from Fundamentals of National Reconstruction, by Sun Yat-sen.

The website for the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the USA is an excellent source for news and public-policy statements by China's government. For a broader spectrum of current news, data, and cultural insights into China today, see the website of the China Internet Information Center (also known as And to follow PRC policy vis-à-vis current world issues, check the website of the Permanent Mission of the PRC to the UN.

Finally, LE editors recommend the following publications to your attention. (A few have already been identified on this page but are repeated here for the purpose of fuller citations.)

Aquino, Carlos. "Challenges for China's Better Future." (Xinhua). March 29, 2011.

"Asia for Educators." Columbia University. Excellent source of teaching material for background lessons on China's history and culture.

Bolduc, Brian. "Don't Know Much About History." The Wall Street Journal. June 18, 2011. Interview with historian David McCulloch, cited in the introduction to this Teacher Page.

"China." CIA World Factbook. Updated regularly through the year. (See the "Definition" icon next to every category listing.)

"China Raises Poverty Line To Benefit at Least 100 ... [Million]." China Daily (Xinhua). November 30, 2011.

"China To Set Up Funds for Development of Green Energy Counties." (Xinhua). April 28, 2011.

Chung-yue Chang. "The Right To Lead a Good Life." China Daily. March 16, 2011. Socioeconomic goals behind China's new five-year guidelines.

Englum, Lynn. "China Releases Plan To Increase Renewable Energy Use." World Wildlife Fund Climate Blog. March 23, 2011.

Fallows, Jim. "Dirty Coal, Clean Future." The Atlantic. December 2010. Need for USA-China collaboration on finding ways to reduce pollution from use of coal.

Harper, Damian, et al. Lonely Planet China (Country Travel Guide). Lonely Planet Publications. Twelfth edition in paperback. 2011. An excellent source, highly illustrated, with almost 200 maps! (See also LPG's online page on "China.")

Hu Yinan. "A People on the Move." China Daily. June 1, 2011. Up-close account of factory workers migrating to China's cities.

International Energy Agency. "Key World Energy Statistics: 2011." Includes data for the People's Republic of China.

Jakobson, Linda. "China Prepares for an Ice-Free Arctic." (PDF) Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). March 2010. China looks ahead to two possible trade routes in Arctic waters. (And note, on Page 4, the novel "upside-down" polar map illustrating those routes!)

Kat Cheung. "Integration of Renewables: Status and Challenges in China." International Energy Agency. January 2011.

Kissinger, Henry. "The China Challenge." The Wall Street Journal. May 14, 2011.

Lewis, Joanna. "China's Energy and Climate Initiatives: Progress on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency." Environmental and Energy Study Institute. April 5, 2011. Presentation made during a U.S. Congressional briefing.

Liu, Coco, and Climatewire. "China's City of the Future Rises on a Wasteland." Scientific American. September 28, 2011.

Ma Shukun. "Transforming China's Economy No Easy Task." (Xinhua). March 10, 2011.

OECD. "China — Economic Forecast Summary (November 2011)."

-------. "Education at a Glance 2011: Country Note — China."

Pan Lijun, et al. "Chinese Villagers Make Bold Attempts at Democracy." (Xinhua). March 12, 2011.

"PPP Versus the Market: Which Weight Matters?" Finance & Development (IMF). March 2007. Comparison of measurements for gross domestic product.

Prager, Stewart C. "How Seawater Can Power the World." The New York Times. July 10, 2011. Overview of international efforts to produce fusion energy.

"Premier Wen Jiabao Answers Questions from Domestic and Foreign Journalists at the Fourth Session of the 11th National People's Congress." China Internet Information Center. April 13, 2011.

Rastello, Sandrine, and Colitt, Raymond. "Lagarde Says IMF May Get G-20 Help to Counter Europe Crisis." Bloomberg's Businessweek. December 02, 2011.

Reddy, Sudeep, and Davis, Bob. "G-20 Sets Plan on Imbalances." The Wall Street Journal. April 16, 2011.

Roach, Stephen S. "Ten Reasons Why China Is Different." Project Syndicate. May 27, 2011. A discussion starter!

Rothstein, Edward. "A Big Map That Shrank the World." The New York Times. January 19, 2010.

Sachs, Jeffrey. "China Has Left the West on the Sidelines in Africa." The Financial Times. September 22, 2010.

Sun Yat-sen. Fundamentals of National Reconstruction. Excerpts cited on this Teacher Page were taken from: Sun Yat-sen, Fundamentals of National Reconstruction. Taipei: China Cultural Service. 1953. Pages 76-83.

"Top 10 Countries in Clean Energy Investment: 2010." China Internet Information Center. March 30, 2010.

Wines, Michael, and LaFraniere, Sharon. "New Census Finds China's Population Growth Has Slowed." The New York Times. April 28, 2011.

Winning, David, and Chuin-Wei Yap. "China's State Grid To Buy Brazilian Power Firms." The Wall Street Journal. December 22, 2010.

World Bank. "Results Profile: China Poverty Reduction." March 19, 2010.

"World's Largest Movement of Humanity Begins as 700 Million Chinese Head Home for New Year." Telegraph (UK). January 28, 2011.

Xin Dingding. "Wheels Turning To Create New Silk Road." China Daily. April 15, 2011.

China Student Text Page No. 1 | China Student Text Page No. 2 | China Student Text Page No. 3 | China Map Page 1 (regions) | China Map Page 2 (neighbors) | China Data Page | China Gallery Page

Would you like to see other pages in this study unit? Or visit LE's Home Page?

LE wishes to thank the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United States for underwriting the costs of producing and distributing the original printed version of this unit. We hope that, in this new electronic version, our unit continues to serve teachers and students in Grades 7-12.

© Learning Enrichment, Inc. Content last updated: October 2011. Page last reviewed: December 2011.