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Chinese Economic Reform - Timeline of Key Events

Chinese Economic Reform - Timeline of Key Events

by Matt Slater 30 January 2020

Launched by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, the decades long process of Chinese economic reform has transformed China beyond recognition.

This article highlights some of the most significant events during this period in the form of a year by year timeline. 

Timeline of Chinese Economic Reform

Many events have shaped the extraordinary 40+ years of Chinese economic reform. Here are some key dates we have identified:


  • 18 December 1978 - Chinese Communist Party (CCP) adopts Deng Xiaoping's new "open door" policy to attract foreign technology and investment, starting the process of Chinese economic reform. (source)


  • 1 January 1979 - Formal establishment of Sino-US ties. (source)
  • 26 August 1979 - Special Economic Zones (SEZ) established in Shenzhen, Shantou, Xiamen and Zhuhai. (source)


  • 1 May 1980 - The first Sino-foreign Joint Venture (JV), "Beijing Air Catering Co., Ltd." was established. (source)


  • 18 January 1981 - Conti Chia Tai International (CCTI), an American-Thai JV, became the first wholly foreign-owned enterprise registered in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. (source)


  • 23 August 1982 - The Trademark Law of the People's Republic of China was adopted for the first time by the National People's Congress Standing Committee. (source)


  • 6 February 1983 - China's first international hotel, the White Swan, opens in Guangzhou. It was also China's first 100m tall building. (source)
  • 27 September 1983 - Fashion designer Pierre Cardin opened a branch of his restaurant Maxim's in Beijing, the first Western restaurant in China with foreign ownership. (source)


  • 12 March 1984 - The Patent Law of the People's Republic of China was adopted for the first time by the National People's Congress Standing Committee. (source)
  • 6 April 1984 - 14 "Coastal Development Areas" opened to foreign investment: Beihai, Dalian, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Lianyungang, Nantong, Ningbo, Qingdao, Qinhuangdao, Shanghai, Tianjin, Wenzhou, Yantai and Zhanjiang. (source)


  • 18 February 1985 - A further 3 "Coastal Open Economic Regions" were established in the Yangtze River Delta, the Pearl River Delta and the "Xiamen-Zhangzhou-Quanzhou triangle" in Fujian Province. (source)
  • 12 December 1985 - One million USD was exchanged at the Shenzhen SEZ Swap Center, the first transaction since government Swap Centers were established offering foreign currency at values higher than the official rate. (source)


  • 12 April 1986 - The Law on Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises was adopted for the first time by the National People's Congress Standing Committee, formalizing regulations on foreign companies operating in China. (source)


  • 12 November 1987 - The first KFC restaurant opened in Beijing. (source)


  • 10 May 1988 - China's first High Tech Zone was established at Zhongguancun Science Park in Beijing. (source)
  • 3 June 1988 - State Council adopts "Interim Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Private Enterprises", setting ground rules and marking the beginning of legitimization of private enterprises in China. (source)
  • 31 October 1988 - The Shanghai-Jiading Expressway, China's first highway, opens to traffic. (source)


  • 15 April 1989 - The death of CCP leader Hu Yaobang, a prominent reformer, leads to political unrest, slow economic growth and significant uncertainty over the direction of China's economic reforms. (source)


  • 7 September 1990 - The Copyright Law was adopted for the first time by the National People's Congress Standing Committee, which together with Trademark Law (1982) and Patent Law (1984) forms the legal framework for protecting intellectual property in China. (source)
  • 8 October 1990 - China's first McDonalds restaurant opened in Shenzhen. (source)
  • 26 November 1990 - After a 41 year hiatus, the Shanghai Stock Exchange re-opened. (source)



  • 18 January 1992 - Deng Xiaoping reaffirms the program of economic reform during his famous 'Southern Tour' with speeches in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai where he purportedly said "to get rich is glorious". (source)
  • 25 September 1992 - American International Assurance (AIA) received approval to open a branch in Shanghai, becoming the first foreign insurance company to operate in modern China. (source)


  • 31 August 1993 - Power operation commenced at the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant, the first large-scale nuclear power station in China. (source)
  • 29 December 1993 - The Company Law was adopted for the first time by the National People's Congress Standing Committee


  • 1 January 1994 - China abolished the official rate of exchange of their currency, the Renminbi (RMB), making the swap center rate official. This led to the official rate going from 5.8 to 8.7 RMB to the USD overnight, perceived as a major devaluation. (source)
  • 18 April 1994 - First foreign exchange trading center opened in Shanghai, starting China’s inter-bank foreign exchange market. (source)
  • 12 May 1994 - The Foreign Trade Law was adopted for the first time by the National People's Congress Standing Committee. (source)
  • 1 October 1994 - Construction of Shanghai's iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the tallest building in China at the time, is completed. (source)


  • 1 January 1995 - China's basic employment law, the Labour Law, came into effect. (source)


  • 1 December 1996 - China allows the Renminbi to be fully convertible into foreign currencies for trade purposes (source)


  • 1 July 1997 - Handover of Hong Kong from UK to China. (source)


  • 25 March 1998 - China launched a 3 year plan to reform and restructure State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) which led to widespread job losses but paved the way for China’s economy to boom in the coming years. (source)


  • 4 April 1999 - Alibaba, now the world's largest retailer and e-commerce company, was founded by Jack Ma. (source)
  • 1 October 1999 - A new unified Contract Law came into effect, replacing 3 previous laws: the "Economic Contract Law", the "Foreign-related Economic Contract Law" and the "Technology Contract Law". (source)
  • 1 October 1999 - Opening of Shanghai Pudong International Airport, one of the world's busiest for both passenger and cargo traffic. (source)
  • 20 December 1999 - Handover of Macau from Portugal to China. (source)


  • 10 October 2000 - Bill Clinton signed into law the United States–China Relations Act which granted China permanent normal trade relations, easing trade barriers and facilitating China's entry into the WTO. (source)


  • 20 October 2001 - For the first time, China hosted the annual gathering of APEC leaders. This was held in Shanghai and was APEC's 13th meeting. (source)
  • 11 December 2001 - China became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). (source)


  • 12 April 2002 - The first annual meeting of Boao Forum (aka the "Asian Davos") was held in China's Hainan province. (source)
  • 4 November 2002 - Framework agreement on the ASEAN–China Free Trade Area, China's most significant free trade agreement, was signed. (source)


  • 12 March 2003 - World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global health alert about "a severe form of pneumonia" which later came to be known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The outbreak particularly affected Guangdong province and Hong Kong and led to a few months of economic contraction. (source)
  • 10 July 2003 - Power generation commences at the Yangtze River's Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydropower project (source)
  • 8 September 2003 - China's Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) reported that foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows had surged since their accession to WTO, leading to China being ranked first in the world for the first time. (source)
  • 12 October 2003 - Opening of the Qinhuangdao–Shenyang railway, China's first newly built high-speed railway line. (source)
  • 15 October 2003 - Successful launch of the China space program's first manned spaceflight mission, Shenzhou 5 saw Yang Liwei become the first Chinese in space. (source)


  • 5 August 2004 - Opening of the new Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, currently China's third busiest airport. (source)


  • 21 July 2005 - After 8 years at a fixed rate, the People's Bank of China depegged the Renminbi from the US dollar. (source)
  • 10 December 2005 - Yangshan Deep Water Port, part of Shanghai Port and the world's biggest deep water port, commences operations. (source)


  • 1 July 2006 - Inauguration of the Qinghai-Tibet railway line, the world's highest train route and one of China's greatest engineering achievements. (source)


  • 18 April 2007 - High-speed rail (HSR) services were launched across China following the conclusion of the China Railway Speed Up Campaign and the introduction of high speed trains. (source)


  • 8 August 2008 - Beijing held the Summer Olympics under the motto "One World, One Dream". (source)
  • 9 November 2008 - The State Council announced a huge economic stimulus package to counteract effects of the global economic crisis. (source)


  • 26 December 2009 - Trains entered service on the Wuhan–Guangzhou HSR line, which claimed to be the world's fastest train link at the time. (source)


  • 1 May 2010 - Shanghai holds Expo 2010 for a 6 month period under the theme "Better City – Better Life". (source)
  • 16 August 2010 - Major news outlets reported that China had overtaken Japan to become the world's second largest economy. (source)


  • 19 March 2011 - The first China-Europe freight train departed Chongqing for Duisburg in Germany on the Yuxinou line, arriving 14 days later. (source)


  • 13 March 2012 - The European Union, United States & Japan jointly launch a trade dispute against China with the WTO, as trade tensions grow. (source)


  • 7 September 2013 - China leader Xi Jinping first announced the "Belt and Road Initiative" (BRI), a global infrastructure development strategy. (source)
  • 29 September 2013 - China's first Free Trade Zone (FTZ) opened in Shanghai. (source)


  • 10 November 2014 - Beijing hosted the 22nd annual gathering of APEC leaders. (source)
  • 17 November 2014 - Launch of the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect which allowed international and Mainland investors to trade securities in each other's markets through the trading and clearing facilities of their home exchange. (source)
  • 31 December 2014 - China's second FTZ opened in Guangdong province. (source)


  • 1 October 2015 - China introduced a new 18-digit business registration number, also known as the Unified Social Credit indicator (USCI), as part of reforms to create more simplified company registration and administration procedures. (source)
  • 30 November 2015 - The International Monetary Fund (IMF) decided to add the Renminbi to the special drawing rights (SDR) basket, joining the U.S. dollar, euro, yen and British pound. (source)


  • 16 January 2016 - The China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, headquartered in Beijing, opens for business. (source)
  • 4 September 2016 - China hosted the G20 summit for the first time, in the city of Hangzhou. (source)
  • 5 December 2016 - HK Stock Connect expanded to also include Shenzhen Stock Exchange. (source)


  • 5 May 2017 - Maiden flight of the first Chinese-built passenger jet, the Comac C919. (source)


  • 6 July 2018 - First major tariffs in China-United States trade war came into effect. (source)
  • 24 October 2018 - Opening of the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge (HZMB), the longest sea-crossing bridge in the world. (source)


  • 25 September 2019 - Opening ceremony for Beijing Daxing International Airport, which features the world's largest terminal in a single building. (source)


  • 30 January 2020 - Outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei province is declared a global health emergency by WHO. (source)

Matt Slater
Matt Slater


Hi there, I'm Matt, the Founder & CEO of China Checkup. Originally from the UK, I am now based in Brisbane, Australia.

Frustrated by the scarcity of concise, high-quality and timely information about Chinese companies, I setup China Checkup whilst living in Shanghai in 2013.

My team are proud that China Checkup's company verification reports have now helped thousands of clients from all corners of the world to do business in China more safely.


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