China: Awakening Giant Developing Solutions to Population Aging

Ning Jackie Zhang, MD, PhD, MPH; Man Guo, PhD; Xiaoying Zheng, MD, PhD


Gerontologist. 2012;52(5):589-596. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


As the world's most populous country with the largest aging population and a rapidly growing economy, China is receiving increased attention from both the Chinese government and the governments of other countries that face low fertility and aging problems. This unprecedented shift of demographic structure has repercussions for many aspects of development including economic growth, social welfare, elder care, and other public welfare issues in China. Balancing population aging and economic growth requires innovative strategies and represents both challenges and opportunities for China.


"Here lies a sleeping giant, let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world." The French Emperor Napoleon made this prediction 200 years ago for the world's oldest civilization and most populous country—China. As China has modernized, its economy has expanded tenfold as measured in gross domestic product (GDP) because groundbreaking economic reforms began in 1978. It now stands as the second largest economic entity and the largest exporter in the world (International Monetary Fund, 2011). Napoleon's words sound even more prescient regarding the economy of China in the early 21st century. However, what Napoleon could not foresee was that, when China awoke from a two-century long sleep, rapid population aging and economic growth would become the two most distinguishing characteristics. Managing the aging challenge and its impact on social structure and economic sustainability will become a priority in the next few decades.

This paper briefly reviews the history, current status, and future outlook of aging demographics in China and presents concurrent and emerging public policy challenges and opportunities in the fields of economics, social security, family support, and health services as a result of population aging. Current directions of research on aging and relevant research databases in China are also discussed.