In China, the change has been fast, and it has been remorseless. When Hu Jintao assumed the chairmanship of the Communist Party a decade ago, China's economy was only a bit larger than Italy's, it had just joined the WTO, and it stayed on the sidelines of global disputes.
No longer. Since 2002, China has gradually donned the mantle of superpower for the first time in modern history, locking up access to strategic resources across Africa and Latin America, pouring billions into its military, and throwing its newfound weight around the Pacific. At home, the 2008 Beijing Olympics, seen as an opportunity to showcase the country's progress on a global stage drove massive -- some would say too massive -- in new roads, airports, and high-speed rail. But the sweeping changes in China's fortunes go far beyond a few flashy bridges and skyscrapers. Here, Foreign Policy has selected 10 images that shows how China has changed in the last decade.
Above, China celebrates the one-year countdown to the 2008 Olympics in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
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As China has grown more comfortable in a superpower role, its reach in the world has broadened - in particular, to Africa, as China scrambles for raw materials to fuel its economic expansion. In 2003, China's trade with Africa was worth about $18.5 billion; by 2011 it had reached $160 billion. The partnership has brought African countries roads and schools, and contributed to the continent growing at a steady clip of almost 5 percent over the last few years. But not all are pleased. This year South African president Jacob Zuma cautioned against the unbalanced nature of the relationship and said that Africa should bear in mind its "past economic experience with Europe" when considering Chinese deals.
Above, China's ambassador stands with Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara at the official launch of construction on a highway linking Abidjan, the capital, to the south of the country. The project is expected to cost $117.4 million; China will provide $100 million.
As early as 2002, China had never launched a manned space mission. Today, it has four under its belt -- the first was in 2003 -- a research laboratory in space, and plans to put a human on the moon by around 2025. China's expanded space ambitions have coincided with a massive military modernization effort that has seen defense spending rise by double-digit percentages almost every year of the past decade. That money has gone toward building more professional soldiers as well as new stealth fighters, military satellites, and the country's first aircraft carrier, launched in September.
Pictured above is the September 2011 launch in Gansu province of a Long March 2F rocket carrying China's first space laboratory, dubbed Tiangong, or "Heavenly Palace."
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A 2002 study by Harvard Law School found that China had the most extensive system of Internet censorship in the world, denying users access to 19,000 websites, including those run by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. But in the decade since, the Great Firewall has only grown taller. Sites that were once only temporarily blocked -- Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter -- have been permanently banned since 2008. The government has stepped up efforts to monitor Internet activity, banishing sensitive words from social networking sites, and hiring monitors to "steer" online conversations. At the same time, Internet usage in China has skyrocketed -- there are currently 538 million Internet users in China and counting. And while many use it for recreation, China's online population has become increasingly sophisticated about staying a few steps ahead of the government's censorship tools.
Above, young men play online games at a café in Beijing in February 2010.
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The past decade has seen China grow steadily older, thanks to Mao Zedong, who encouraged a population boom in the middle of the last century, and Deng Xiaoping, who enacted a one-child policy beginning in 1979 that quickly cut that boom short. The numbers are staggering: The government estimates that by 2015, China will have approximately 220 million people over the age of 60. Beijing is struggling to plan for what to do with its elderly; China, traditionally a society where family members look after their own, has a limited safety net. And yet the family ties that once guaranteed that aging parents would have somewhere to go are unraveling in the process of modernization, leaving many of China's elderly facing an uncertain future.
Above, a group of elderly Chinese people gather at a park in
Zhengzhou, in China's central Henan province, in 2011.
China officially joined the WTO at the end of 2001, kicking off a decade of economic milestones. China passed Britain as the world's fourth-largest economy in 2006, then continued its relentless march, passing Germany in 2009 and Japan in 2011 to become the second-largest economy in the world. With the expansion, Chinese companies have surged up the Fortune 500 list, with state-owned energy companies like Sinopec Group and China National Petroleum all claiming top spots this year. Chinese banks in particular have recorded soaring returns, accounting for almost a third of global bank profit last year.
Above, people walk past a branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Beijing in July 2009. ICBC was the world's most profitable bank last year, with a pretax profit of of $43.2 billion.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
While the past 10 years have seen a GDP that grew more than fourfold, helping to maintain the Communist Party's vice-like grip on power, the country has also faced scandals outrageous enough to severely test its legitimacy. First was SARS, in 2003, when the World Health Organization accused the government of covering up the seriousness of China's outbreak, which hindered efforts to slow the disease's spread. In 2008, an earthquake measuring 8.0 in magnitude struck Sichuan province, killing around 70,000 people and injuring almost 400,000. Schools and hospitals around the province collapsed, raising serious questions about the corruption and incompetence lurking beneath the surface of China's building boom. These, along with ongoing food safety issues and the proliferation of suspiciously wealthy officials, have fueled calls for reform leading up to the power transfer.
Above, a woman cries amid the ruins of Beichuan county in Sichuan province on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake.
Feng Li/Getty Images
This year saw China's urban population exceed its rural population for the first time ever, as economic growth in the country's booming southern and eastern seaboards continues to lure migrants from China's rural heartland. Today, more than 160 cities in China have a population of over 1 million, compared with nine in the United States. The steady mass migration over the past decade has meant tremendous social upheaval: traditional architecture demolished to make way for tower blocks, cities running out of water, and millions of migrants who -- because of the way China's safety net is structured -- don't have access to social services outside of their hometowns. So far, central government reform proposals to give more services to migrant workers and their families have met with fierce resistance from some local governments and urban residents, but the urbanization trend shows few signs of stopping.
Above, migrant workers arrive at a bus station in Beijing in July 2011.
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Consumer spending in China has enjoyed double-digit growth for the past decade. It's come in the form of spending on luxury goods like name-brand shoes and clothing -- the World Luxury Association in their 2011 annual report predicted China would replace Japan as the world's top consumer of luxury goods this year -- and on travel: nearly 39 million mainland Chinese headed overseas in the first half of this year, double the number from 5 years ago. Analysts say the consumer market in China is still polarized between a superrich class taking shopping trips to Europe and an emerging middle class spending between $10 and $100 a day on average.
Above, Chinese women walk past a Prada store in Beijing in June 2012.
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The infamous smog hanging over Chinese cities has actually improved in some areas over the past decade. An unreleased World Bank study of government data found that pollution had fallen from 2003 to 2009 in 113 major cities, helped by the relocation of factories and reduced coal burning. Still, 2010 saw a viral tweet from an air-quality monitoring feed run by the U.S. Embassy describing Beijing air quality as "crazy bad," and pollution levels have continued to edge up in Beijing since 2008, when a push before the Olympics brought a brief period of blue skies.
The past decade has seen an increase in other forms of pollution as well. The results of China's eight-year national marine survey, released in November, have not been pretty: It found, among other things, an increase of pollution discharged into Chinese wetlands in the form of chemical fertilizers, manure, and in some cases heavy metals and insecticides. Today, China's leadership continues to struggle with finding a balance between the push for economic growth that has lifted millions from poverty and the casualties -- in the form of environmental damage, social turmoil, and others -- that come about from that kind of unrelenting forward sprint.
Above, heavy pollution hangs over Beijing and the landmark China Central Television headquarters building in January 2012.
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