China has emerged as the likeliest challenger to the United States as a global superpower.
It has the world's fastest growing economy, with millions moving to the country's rapidly expanding cities.
The boom was triggered by a move towards a market-style economy and away from the centrally-planned communist model of 20 years ago.
However, economic change has not been accompanied by political reform and the government still maintains strict control over opposition and the media.
What does the future hold for China? Have you experienced the changes of the last 20 years? Do you live in China - or have you visited recently? If so, send us your impressions.
Hear what young Chinese people around the world think of the changes their country has experienced in our audio gallery.
I am an overseas Chinese currently living in Sydney. Although I grew up for most of my childhood and all of my teenager years in Australia, I've never forgotten my homeland, China. Every year's end I return to visit my hometown, Shanghai, for two particular reasons; not forgetting I am a Chinese, and to absorb inspirations. Shanghai in particular has modernized in an unimaginable manner, with constructions being carried out 24/7 and has one of the highest FDI rates amongst many (if not any) cities in the world. Each time I return, I wouldn't be able to recognize places if it wasn't for the street signs. Since I left China in 1991 at the age of 8, my memories of China were colourless. People had similar clothing, furniture and clustered housings. Now all of that has changed with the addition of private cars, an increasing taste for Western sports, music and culture. Indeed, China has somewhat tarnished in its own cultural uniqueness in many ways, but I think the reason is that the China has been deprived for too long (ever since the collapse of the Qing dynasty), hence it is no surprise that the Chinese want to rapidly absorb the best of all worlds.
Jia-Jie Xu, Sydney, Australia
Here in Anhui the benefits of trickle down from the new rich and middle class are evident. Sadly it doesn't seem to trickle down to the poorest. Begging is on the increase and people fight to take away my rubbish. Recently prices have begun to increase more rapidly and the wages of the poorest are static or even falling. Whether the wealthy can continue to uphold the facade of an improving life for all is probably the big question of the next 5 years.
Adam Porter, Ma'anshan, Anhui, China
Being a Chinese myself, I hadn't seen China in an objective way before I came to study in Australia. I never questioned or even bothered to think about Communism, since the impact of that "scary" word on my life is hardly noticeable. I'm from a middle class family. My life has been as comfortable as it can be. But while I'm here in Melbourne, and after witnessing the election campaign, I keep realizing how far we are from real democracy.
The bright side is, for the last 25 years China has been striving to open to the world. We started to understand each other more as distinct cultures, than political rivals.
Dan Wang, Melbourne, Australia
I was only a child when I left mainland China. Back then, there was only one McDonalds and one KFC. Most major stores were still very much state-owned. However, I've seen some amazing changes during visits to my homeland over the past several years. Everything has become highly commercialized and influenced by Western trends. McDonalds, Wal-Marts and even Starbucks have sprung up everywhere. Another big change has been the amount of information from abroad that has been exposed to mainland Chinese. Now everyone knows the major stars from America and what movies in the US have been top box office hits, as well as the political scandals and Bush's speech mishaps. These changes have all been very exciting to me. At the same time, the hutong and the streets leading up to all the places I knew as a child have been bulldozed and paved over - replaced by more modern-looking structures. Part of me misses the scenery of "Old China" that I know I very possibly would never see again, but I feel that change is good. Change might involve inequality and difficulties, but if China hadn't gone through these changes, it wouldn't have made any progress. When I visited China this summer, I dined in a little noodle shop where one bowl of noodle cost only 1 Yuan(a little more than 10 cents), I also ate at McDonalds, where it cost me 17 times more money. The inequality in the new Chinese society is very obvious, but I'm confident China has the potential to work things out. Let's give it time.
Yongdan Li, Berkeley, California, USA
I am a Beijing Born Chinese and have been living in the city for almost my entire life. I am going through the changing of our city and out country. I am fortunately among the crowd who have much better life than our parents, but I also see many more Chinese people are struggling to make their families survive than ever. People nowadays always say that China is the hottest hotspot for business opportunity. However, billions of ordinary Chinese people are paying a very heavy price for a few to achieve this so-called significant growth. Please think about how many Chinese families are still living under poverty! Their life is not at all so pleasant as that of children in the big cities, who have adequate toys, snacks and money in their daily life!
Brownie, Beijing, China
To understand China, one has to first and foremost understand 'Chinese Culture'. We Chinese have always placed great respect on elders, both within the family and outside it. This is probably the reason most non-Chinese people would think that Chinese wanted a strong totalitarian Government to lead them back to the greatness that we had experienced before. I am constantly reminded of a popular lay-phrase that I heard when travelling around China sometime ago - the Central Government set rules and regulations, we the common folks have methods to circumvent them (yet seemingly to comply with them)!
I am amazed by the tremendous improvements that have been achieved and am sure that this will continue. Whatever it takes to be a superpower, please try not to judge China with your own pre-conceived ideas of it. China is not the United States (or any of the developed countries). It is uniquely just China !
SO , Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Some may be worried that China will establish itself as a global superpower like the United States, and that it may send its trails around the whole world. Well, we do want to be strong, for we've suffered a lot in the past, but we don't want to be powerful. We have our own culture, which is peaceful, friendly, tolerant and wise - never combative, never furious. During the Tang period, China didn't conquer other nations, although the fact is that our culture did spread a lot. We want to be strong because we have to. We never want to be a superpower like the United States because our culture does not allow us to do so. We hate to mention a word about ruling the world. I'm a teenager, aged 18, and I will follow our great culture seriously in order to build a peaceful world, with a balance between the Western and the Orient. What's more, when I am 81 years old, I will also tell my grandsons and granddaughters to do as I have done. And that's for sure, they will fellow me, because of our Chinese tradition, and our culture.
Zhang Rong, Chinese now studying in Australia
A growing China will be a huge benefit to the west. They may lack democracy as the West knows it but they are liberal in their outlook compared to most other non-democratic countries. It could also be said that China will also curb the threat of Islamic extremism as the Islam in its aggressive form will be a hindrance to China in its growing prosperity.
Philip Shorter, Tonbridge, England
I am a 40-year-old Chinese and have experienced the big change myself in the past 20 years. I have two basic points. First, in spite of the economic growth, the main task of China is still nothing else but to fight against poverty. I believe that, at least in my life time, I will not see China become a real global superpower. Secondly, although there is not a total qualitative change in social life, compared to the time of the cultural revolution, the situation of human rights in China has been improved and this is the main comfort of the most Chinese people.
Chun, Han, Berlin, Germany
To fully understand China's future, you must understand its past. Communism in part was a nationalistic movement and one that was a reaction to the degradations that the West visited upon her in the 19th and early 20th century. For my part, I believe that communism will be replaced, if it hasn't been already. China wants to regain its true place amongst the current world order, and will keep progressing towards that goal.
Roberto, Bristol, UK
The fact that China got this far is a miracle in itself. Chinese people are not too interested in politics but rather in creating wealth. The people are quite happy to accept whatever form of government as long as everyone has the opportunity of bettering themselves. I do not think we want a repetition of the form of government between 1900s1970s. My father had to leave China at the age of 14 to seek his fortune because they were all starving!!
Soon, Exeter, UK
I was in Beijing and in a very remote village in north China in 2002. The transport infrastructures being constructed, even in remote places, are impressive. But you can also see many poor people who are living on less than $2 a day. A nation cannot be successful based on some economical statistics but leaving its people behind.
Prasun, The Netherlands
The rich get richer and the farmer gets left behind. I've been to China several times a year and have seen people complaining about corrupt party officials demolishing their homes without any compensation as originally promised and unreasonable tax collection demands. This is a country that has no respect for human rights and will not tolerate dissenting view. This a country where the Communist Party official is the law of the land.
Wei Chun, Boston, USA
I went to China last year with my dad on a tour of Tianjin and Beijing. China has come a long way and still has a long way to go before becoming the next "superpower". The West tends to exaggerate the threat from Beijing but it's true that China still wields much power in Asia. For example, 6-Party talks were organised by the Chinese government to defuse North Korea's nuclear crisis and I thank China for their constructive role.
Michael Jun Sung Shim, Korea
Shanghai is amazing! From the air it makes Manhattan look insignificant. And my stay in Beijing left no doubt in my mind that the army runs the show. From Thailand to Korea and Japan, as China's economy soars, the perceived power of the USA is melting into impotence.
Peter Gamache, Anchorage, Alaska
I recently spent 6 months teaching English in China in Guangzhou and also spent 10 days touring Beijing and Shanghai in 2000. I am struck not only by their determination to become a superpower but also that it is backed by a willingness to sacrifice now to achieve their end goal. Their approach to life and way of thinking is different from the questioning, individualistic way of thinking of the West and I think this is going to take them to the top as a country. I have only seen a glimpse of this extremely complex and beautiful country and love it!
Lindsay Palmer, Johannesburg, South Africa
I see all these opinions from people of Chinese origin and they confirm my fears. They are not interested in a peaceful China, a tolerant China, a democratic and liberal China, they want to see the superpower, the best country in the world throwing its weight around and bullying the rest of the world. It seems to me that they want an imperialistic China as much as they detest any western superpower. Not good, not good at all.
Carlos, Toronto, Canada
It is probable that the Beijing Olympics will give China the platform it needs to show the world that it is interested in development and is looking forward rather than back. If this is the case, I would like to see China take a leading role in bringing North Korea closer to the international community.
Luke McLachlan, Auckland, New Zealand
The fact that China is getting stronger should not be feared by the rest of the world. It could be worse in the future if there was only one superpower in the world as they would throw their weight around in the world of politics, military and commerce. With two superpowers, there will be balance in the world and the fear of total domination by one nation will be diminished.
China will become increasingly multi-faceted. Even now Chinese movies fill our theatres, Chinese peacekeepers patrol in Haiti, and two Chinese engineers are hostages in Pakistan. They've come a long way from the blue-jacketed masses of the Chairman. My biggest concern in terms of stability and human rights will be that China shifts from communism to oligarchy, much like America's 19th century "robber barons" - or like pre-1949 China. That being said, China will be the most interesting, dynamic nation of the coming century.
Josh, Denver, USA
The future of China will be bright and it will also a next superpower. Yes, I have recently visited China, the growth is tremendous in every way.
Philip Loke, Singapore
I have been to China, and lived there. I think the move to a market economy will not be affected by the political system. If anything the government will seek to extend its control - as is happening in every other country in the world. China will not become a world power. The reason is simple. Their ability to produce high return products will be affected by the concentration of that ability in a few select countries - namely, the US, Europe and Japan.
Peter, Melbourne, Australia
China has made a big progress in the last two decades. We must realise it. Although it still has some disadvantages, we should be more tolerant when the Chinese government implements the reform and opening policy. Human rights are being respected. You can go to China and have a look. Please do not criticise too much if you do not understand a country. Respect others and you will be respected. Please remember! China has been making a big progress!
Yajun Zhang, Henan, China
I was in China in August, it struck me as a country that faces great problems, but also has great potential. What Rayan, New Orleans, USA said is quite true. If you look at what US-sponsored "democracy" has led to in Russia, compared to the prosperity of the booming Chinese cities, Chinese people would rather have "Socialism with Chinese characteristics" and one party rule than that. At the same time, I was very interested to see the propaganda films on TV which showcase altruistic behaviour, like the story of a village elder who paid off his village's debts with great self-sacrifice. That and the very courteous and generous manners of many of the people I met there, is encouraging because it suggests that they are trying to build a compassionate and civic-minded society, to try and temper the materialism and the growing gap between rich and poor that capitalism brings. As for being a super power, I think China certainly wants to exert a lot of influence in its neighbourhood in Asia, but I don't think it has ambitions of dominating the world, unlike some.
Beng Tang, Singapore (in UK)
During the economic transition, characterised by a massive influx of western businesses and investments, the Chinese government deters political movements by exerting rigorous control over the media. The effect of this has been significant; today, anyone who is critical of the government's actions is labelled as "anti-China." China cannot and will not be a superpower if the 1.3 billion people are always "pro-China" in every action the government takes.
Will, Stockholm, Sweden
It seems to me that the turnaround in China's fortunes started about the time that Hong Kong was handed back to them. If the Chinese Government continue to listen to voices from Hong Kong, Taiwan and other parts of the world, their economy will continue to grow as western influence makes it mark. They must be careful, however, not to leave their poor population behind.
Graham Rodhouse, Helmond, The Netherlands
I disagree that Chinese are going to be satisfied with consumer goods for the foreseeable future. Behind closed doors, the Chinese I have met and lived with do have a clear desire to be more free and to have their say as individuals. What's more, there's a whole generation of young Chinese growing up now that have been educated in the West and come back to their homeland wondering why they don't have the rights we take for granted. One day there will have to be political reform, but I just hope it doesn't take another Tiananmen to do it.
Greg, Nottingham, UK
I see no immediate need for a change in China's political system to follow the western system of popular Government. A popular leader does not equals to capable leader. As long as the governing power is able to lead and manage, the specific type of government is not immediately important for China at this moment.
Wong Wan Kit, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
I have just visited China recently (two weeks ago). My impressions are that they will become a economic superpower. However it can only have strong positive impact to the world if it can open up its media and allows a second political party to exist. By the way, in China, I cannot access BBC news website and I wonder if there are any other countries in the world which block all BBC websites.
I am proud that China is once more becoming the most important country in the world. China has never in it's history set out to cause trouble in the world. It traded with the Americas way before Columbus "discovered" America. I hope China will play a part on the world stage as a strong powerful but peaceful nation that has given the world so much, and will give the world so much more.
Mike Cheng, Hong Kong
People from the west are keen to put the human rights issue on the table when talking about China. In my opinion, China is on the way to a country with greater freedom and greater democracy. Food and shelter is the basis of human rights. I couldn't imagine a country where people want freedom of speech, even freedom of gay marriage when they're starving. The party in power had done well in ensuring basic human rights. I hope my country will grow stronger, fight against corruption and provide better social welfare to Chinese people.
Chenfu, Tampere, Finland
As a Chinese, I want to see China to become the next superpower more than I want to see China become a Western style democratic country. Of course, I want to see democracy in China, but not now! China has a lot of problems to face when going the way to a superpower. Such as Taiwan Issue, Poverty, etc...
Echo, Guangdong, China
I used to live in Beijing and I found that everyone I spoke to, from teachers to taxi drivers, was acutely aware of the freedoms they lack. Did the students in Tiananmen Square or the practitioners of Fa Lun Gong "not know any different"? I doubt it. In the end, I think China will have no choice but to liberalize: either the government will fail to deliver on the promise of long-term growth and have to offer the incentive of civil liberties to keep the support of the people, or, as the educated, affluent middle class grows in size and strength, so too will its hunger for something more satisfying than McDonald's and Starbucks.
Alexander Wille, Kakamigahara, Japan
Today, we (at least I) complain about the fact the US throws its weight around with little care for the damage it causes. The China of 50 years from now will be much more difficult to handle. If only speaking Chinese could be as easy as speaking English...
Vassili le Moigne, Prague, Czech Republic
The future will indeed be a scary place as China will likely be another superpower. A superpower that is undemocratic and has no respect for human rights. A nation that is getting stronger economically and militarily every day.
Gerod Wattier, Carnation, WA, USA
The problem is the system that China is setting up is something that could very easily work. The people have had their freedoms repressed by their government for generations - they don't know any different. And as long their government allows them to make more money than they normally would under a centrally-planned communist market, you're not going to get many complaints from them. They can put a roof over their heads, food on the table, and have some money left over for entertainment that they wouldn't normally have. You really think they're going to care about a one-party system and strict government control over the media when they're hanging out at a Chinese Starbucks with their friends, sipping a café' mocha? I don't think so.
Ryan, New Orleans, USA
I agree totally with Ryan of New Orleans. After speaking with many young Chinese people overseas, I was astonished by the amazing effect of nationalistic propaganda imposed on the new generation. Any criticism towards the communist party is regarded by them as an attack on the people and nation of China. The Chinese communist party has reinforced its grasp of power very well after putting down the massive democratic movement of 1989. I believe the students had good intentions 15 years ago but were overly naïve and hasty. The movement achieved exactly the opposite of its goals: Even if the government at the time was starting to slowly concede more political freedom to the people, it certainly changed its mind in 1989 and decided instead to re-educate the youths to ensure that such challenges to the absolute authority of the Party never happened again. Chinese people now immensely enjoy their new found economic freedom and very few are longing for a deeper level of freedom. The reality is bizarre: China is actually democratic in its own way because the authoritarian one-party rule is really what most Chinese people want.
J Yang, London, England
It took over 200 years for democracy to develop in the Western countries like the UK and the US. Why should China be expected to change overnight? What is happening in China right now is similar to what occurred during the Industrial revolution in the UK. I don't seem to hear any people complaining about that?! China may well become a super power... and what of it? China was once a great empire - and it will be again!
Lynne, London, UK
The prospect of China becoming a military and economic power is frightening indeed, especially with absolute power being held by a corrupted and authoritarian government that is not accountable to anybody but itself.
Idris M, Sydney, Australia
As someone who is half Chinese, I am very happy to see China succeeding after decades of failure. I do not think the West should be afraid of China. China wants to do business, not war, with the west. Let China develop itself and slowly give freedom back. We all remember what happened when Russia moved to quickly towards freedom. China is gradually becoming more and more free, but you have to eat to be free in the first place.
Mark, Brisbane, Australia
China has changed a lot in economic policy, and it has improved the living standard in China. Mostly in urban areas of China. That means still a lot of people in rural areas are living in poor environment. The communist government abuses basic human rights and bans freedom of religion. China has greatly threatened regional peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific area, because China has systematically increased the number of missiles those pointed to Taiwan. China has ignored all the Chinese peoples' rights and freedoms. If China won't change the political system, it won't become the superpower, but will cause military competition between Taiwan. It may lead to war in Asia-Pacific or China will spend high volume of money on military.
Johnson Kao, Australia
China will necessarily undergo a social revolution in the next 25 to 50 years even greater than its economic revolution of the last 30. China is communist today in name only. Like a snake outgrowing its skin, the current system will prove far too restrictive to allow the kind of expansion it has come to expect. Along with prosperity for many tens and even hundreds of millions will come expectations of freedom of movement and expression that will be irresistible. Look for China to undergo upheavals leading to a thriving democratic nation at peace with itself and the world and preoccupied with its own growth and development by mid century.
China's economic improvement is worth praising but in order for China to become a "real" superpower in the stage of worldwide, interrelated economy, the central government infrastructure MUST change from the top down. I live in Taiwan and my work involves travelling to China. Any foreigner to China would know that without political change, economic miracle of China will go bust, and burst like a bubble.
J.C.F.H, Taipei, Taiwan