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Last Updated: Monday, 22 May 2006, 07:16 GMT 08:16 UK
China 2026: What will life be like?

By Quentin Sommerville
BBC News, Shanghai

China's economy has been growing at a rate of about10% a year for at least the past decade, a growth rate that has put it well on track to becoming the world's richest economy.

Composer Max Zhao
Composer Max Zhao says greater wealth turns up the pressure

The country has moved from relative isolation to become the beating heart of the world economy, with 80% of the world's consumer electronics goods now being made there.

The pace and scale of change has caught most people by surprise.

In some of China's cities, the future seems to have arrived early.

In the past 20 years, Shanghai has thrown up skyscrapers, bridges and highways where none existed before.

Twenty years of super-fast economic growth have left China transformed.

Slower growth

But where do we go from here? What will China be like in 20 years time?

In Shanghai's urban planning exhibition, they have already mapped out the answer: the entire second floor is given over to a scale model of the city, now - and what it will become.

Every building is shown in painstaking detail, and the most breathtaking thing about this permanent exhibition is how quickly so much of it became reality.

But Shanghai cannot keep growing at this rate forever, and neither can China's economy.

From highs of around 10% annual growth, economists believe China will settle down to around 6% growth a year.

Andy Rothman, China strategist for CLSA in Shanghai
Strategist Andy Rothman hails personal freedom in China

So in 20 years time, things will be moving a bit slower.

But China will still be growing, at rates most developed countries envy.

And that is not all that will be different, according to Andy Rothman, China strategist for CLSA in Shanghai.

"The amount of personal freedom has improved dramatically," he says.

"Twenty years ago the government was involved in almost every decision of day-to-day life. Today all of that's gone.

"In order to have a market based economy, you have to let people be able to do whatever they want to do, and allow the free flow of information."

Pleasure and pressure

The expanding middle class is enjoying many of those pleasures.

Composer Max Zhao is one of them.

Scavenger in India
We are dirty, they say, they don't want to touch us
Gayatri, Indian scavenger

He, along with 200 million other Chinese, are now earning enough money to afford their own cars and apartments.

He is enjoying the benefits of China's newfound riches, but in the future he says he expects more stress, as well as more freedom.

"Our generation is buying cars and houses, but compared with my parents' generation, we've got much more pressure," he says.

"The whole society is developing, others have got money, car and house, which forces you to make money all the time.

"Development has both a good side and a bad side."

The communist government faces a difficult balancing act as it tries to manage the growing demand for greater freedom from Chinas new army of consumers.

As they look to the future, those consumers can be virtually certain that their country will become the world's largest economy within their lifetime.

This generation of Chinese people have come a long way in a short space of time, but it is a journey that is only just beginning.

Find out how China and India are facing the future

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